Building Community in the Classroom

Building Community in the Classroom

Online learning shook up the way educators had to think about building community in the classroom. The effects of lockdowns and social distancing have created an aftershock that’s still present. Creating a sense of community and belonging has never been more important as students are more distanced than before the pandemic.

Building community in the classroom is vital because it allows students to form positive relationships and feel included. It also teaches them social skills and collaboration.

In this article, we’ll explore activities that help to build community in the classroom. We’ll also identify characteristics of successful community building to evaluate implementation.

How do you build community in the classroom

Building community in the classroom

Building community in the classroom is more than assigning group work or teams. A community is created through sharing. Shared beliefs, shared values, shared ideas or attitudes all play a part. While classrooms are shared spaces, that doesn’t mean learners share the same ideals. When fostering community, it is important to encourage sharing, even when this leads to disagreement.

When utilizing small groups, sometimes it is best to let children choose their own groups to give them more autonomy. However, it is also important to assign groups on other occasions to get students interacting, who might not otherwise talk on the playground.

Community is about sharing but it’s also about compromise. This means that the best approach to building community is both fostering existing relationships and developing new ones. Use a balanced approach and keep it fresh.

Online learning and classroom community

online learning and community in the classroom

Online learning can make it difficult to replicate the methods used in classrooms pre-pandemic. Missing from virtual learning is the opportunity for children to regularly converse in small groups, not only to learn but also to develop their social skills. While some teachers do their best to create small group opportunities, there are fewer of them, and interaction is often limited. Social interactions are sometimes limited to typing on a keyboard or “raising” a virtual hand. While teachers work to nurture discussion, some students are less responsive to the new medium.

When online learning is present, it’s important to utilize breakout rooms and create social games to give students a sense of connection. Icebreakers like human bingo, where children record a short video introduction, and students must match listed interests on a bingo board to a name, are a great way to promote classroom community. In this activity, students discuss answers through microphones and typed messages. Find more examples of virtual social learning activities, here.

Activities to build community in the classroom

Activities to build community in the classroom

There are methods for creating community in the classroom that can be used both offline and online. Here are core ideas to create classroom community activities:

  • Create classroom goals and rules together. To promote teamwork and community, have students help create group goals and rules together. This creates a shared purpose.
  • Encourage your classroom to discuss their ideas. Through sharing beliefs and values or even approaches and methods, children are able to understand more about each other. They can also figure out their own position within a team. This helps them to become more aware and mindful in general. It also helps to combat assumptions to enable children to learn, rather than make judgments.
  • Develop social awareness. Children require knowledge about their peers. They need to understand that differences are common parts of life and can be celebrated. Use a range of tools such as stories relevant to younger people to give them reference points and something to identify with. Implement games that encourage children to discuss likenesses and differences. That’s Me is a game where the teacher makes a statement, such as “I have a brother” and the children who can relate, chime in and say “that’s me” if it applies to them. Implement social icebreakers regularly throughout the year, rather than restricting to the beginning of the year. More substantive interactions may occur when used more frequently.
  • Develop emotional awareness. Children need to grasp their own feelings to manage them. This also helps them to understand others through empathy. Ask your class to get introspective with creative writing and role play. Using their own feelings and emotions, and collaborating or sharing this with others will develop their personal and social awareness. Playing “Feelings Charades” where a child demonstrates an emotion and students guess the emotion is one activity that promotes emotional awareness.
  • Take inspiration from businesses. Businesses are always looking to improve their working communities through team-building exercises. These are fantastic opportunities to create a social learning environment. Adapt online team-building games and activities meant for business to the classroom.

How to identify characteristics of classroom community

Characteristics of classroom community can be identified in multiple ways. Look for these moments to confirm that a classroom has indeed become a community.

  1. Note whether classmates are answering questions for others. Not only does this take a bit of pressure off of you as a teacher, but it also demonstrates that kids are willing to share with one another. 
  1. Take moments to discuss things beyond the curriculum. If children are sharing details about their personal lives it shows that they are comfortable with each other. It also helps them to build trust because they begin to understand their differences and build their empathy skills. 
  1. Use self-reflection to measure how well activities are working. After working in a group, children can fill out a worksheet to detail what they have learned, how they have learned it, and also indicate areas of improvement. This helps you plan future sessions that incorporate community building activities.
  1. Identify leaders in the classroom. Children might not always be confident in taking charge. Assigning a group leader, especially ones that wouldn’t normally occupy this position, gives them the opportunity to develop leadership skills and show that they are willing to engage. It also prevents children from being excluded when more confident kids automatically fill these roles. It’s a balancing act where you may reward natural leaders but also persuade others to take on the challenge.

About Us

These are just a few ways to build community in the classroom and evaluate the results. Soul Shoppe provides professional development for teachers online with social emotional learning opportunities for students. See how our online courses can help.

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Teaching Empathy to Kids and Teenagers

Teaching Empathy to Kids and Teenagers

While the focus in school is often on literacy and STEM subjects, emotional intelligence is an important part of learning. However, often there isn’t time to focus solely on emotional intelligence when already on a tight schedule. Fortunately, leading by example is one aspect of teaching emotional intelligence, especially the concept of empathy. Teaching empathy to kids is a matter of creating a safe environment for children to express themselves and ask questions. In other words, both teachers and parents can teach empathy through example and daily activities.

What Is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand the thoughts, feelings or experiences of others. It is an action that requires being aware of or being sensitive to other people’s emotions. There are two aspects of empathy: affective empathy and cognitive empathy (UC Berkeley). Affective empathy is when you feel what another person is feeling and mirror them. Cognitive empathy is understanding the emotions of others. In this article, we’ll focus on cognitive empathy.

Empathy is a key ingredient in relationship building. Studies have shown that it helps to reduce prejudices, leads to greater happiness, and even improves health (UC Berkeley).

Teaching Empathy To Kids Through Daily Tasks

teaching empathy to kids through daily tasks

Parents or guardians can teach empathy to kids when conducting daily tasks such as catching the bus or when you’re at the store. Pointing out body language and explaining how someone else might be feeling enables young people to begin identifying a world outside their own. It is also important to encourage children to ask questions. When they ask questions, you know they are internalizing your explanations and can start to think for themselves, rather than relying on external guidance.


Teaching empathy to elementary students requires that they are given the opportunity to make mistakes. Younger children learn better from mimicking behavior. Therefore, being patient and allowing them a chance to make errors enables them to adopt this kind of behavior in the future when they are supporting their friends. It will also help them when resolving conflicts of their own. They begin to build a picture that emotions aren’t about expectations and planning, but about reacting to life as in unfurls before them. This will enable them to build healthy relationships with those around them. Especially in cases where the other children and people they come into contact with are different from them.


It is also crucial that you teach kids empathy by encouraging them to listen. This is not just listening to your explanations, but listening to their own thoughts of feelings and that of others. In these conversations, they have the opportunity to understand differences and develop the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Asking your children to think about their own thoughts and feelings is a starting point. Then they’ll need to apply that to how others may be thinking and feeling. A greater self-awareness develops a deeper understanding of emotions more generally.

How To Teach Empathy To A Teenager

how to teach empathy to a teenager

Teenagers are different from younger children as they stop mimicking behavior they learn from their teachers and parents or guardians. Instead, they begin to find their own way. Often these choices can seem like an act of rebellion. However, this is just a matter of trying to figure out the world in their own way. It is vital that you continue to allow teenagers to make mistakes as you would any young person, and that you continue to lead by example. As a role model, you can recall times you have also made mistakes and teach them empathy by practicing it yourself. 

At times, you may need to call out behaviors that are inappropriate; more so with teenagers than you would with younger children. However, this should not come as punishment. Instead, you must check and balance their reactions with your own response.  Contextualize the situation and create space for them to express themselves freely. By listening and responding accordingly, you are demonstrating empathy in your own actions. So, it is therefore reasonable that you ask them to do the same. This helps them to develop their conflict resolution skills as you aren’t shying away from more difficult conversations. At home or in school, they can practice empathy in a safe environment. Then they can apply this to situations they face in the real world.

Activities To Teach Empathy

There are many ways to actively teach empathy that supplement day-to-day interactions. Empathy activities for kids include stories, role-playing, and even creative writing or art. Here are a few:

Read. According to research, children who read fiction are more likely to understand other people’s emotions and intentions.

Study facial expressions. Children can learn to identify other people’s emotions by studying facial expressions. You can find a variety of worksheets and games online to help children better identify expressions and emotions.

Play games. When children compete in games they are creating a mental model of other people’s intentions and thoughts.

Play music in a group. A recent study showed that playing music together, such as in a band, increases empathy.

Sports. Sports and team activities provide children with knowledge of how others behave and why they behave in the ways they do in conversation with their own. In these instances, it is important to emphasize teamwork and sportsmanship above competition and winning.

Active Imagining. Activities where children are actively imagining situations involving others is another great way to boost empathy.

Check out Soul Shoppe’s Pinterest board for activities on emotional intelligence and empathy. Experience the emotional intelligence online course for children in 4th and 5th grade.

Soul Shoppe creates cultures of compassion, connection and curiosity. We teach social emotional development to children, teachers and professionals across the U.S. 

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Culture of Inclusion

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Culture of Inclusion

Culture of Inclusion

A Culture of Inclusion

A culture of inclusion is defined as creating and maintaining an environment in which people of different backgrounds can achieve their fullest potential (Harvard). It is a culture where different strengths are valued and celebrated. Whether in schools or in the workplace, building a culture of inclusion benefits both students/workers and the classroom/organization as a whole.

The Difference Between Diversity and a Culture of Inclusion

Though a culture of inclusion and diversity can sound similar, they are very different. You can have a diverse classroom or work environment and still not have a culture of inclusion. Diversity is simply referring to demographics. A culture of inclusion means that everyone is contributing their different voices, ideas and experiences to the overall classroom or workplace culture. This contribution supports a richer and more successful environment.

How to Create a Culture of Inclusion

Importance of Respect and Empathy

teen acceptance - culture of inclusion

Empathy is a critical skill and a building block of creating a culture of diversity and inclusion. It is defined as the ability to emotionally understand the feelings of another. Commonly, it is described as being able to “walk in another person’s shoes.” This skill is necessary in order to create emotional growth, as well as a culture of compassion and connection. When people learn empathy, they are better able to respect other people’s thoughts, feelings, and world experiences. It is a transformative skill that changes our behaviors and the way we see others. Consequently, this is a strong focus of creating a culture of inclusion.

Culture of Inclusion in Schools

Creating a culture of inclusion in schools is important because it’s the main place young people will learn and emulate team behaviors. They are likely to carry these behaviors into the workforce and society as a whole. In addition, a culture of inclusion creates a safe classroom environment where children from all backgrounds can academically thrive.

Building a culture of inclusion in schools requires all stakeholders to share responsibility for inclusion. Some ideas for creating a more inclusive culture include:

  • Anti-bullying workshops
  • Diversity training
  • Writing a value statement

However, it goes beyond that. Even when enacting inclusive policies and practices, inclusive culture requires a shift of attitude. The entire school must embrace it and share the responsibility for it to come to fruition. This is where empathy and teamwork is important. Building a culture of inclusion takes everyone.

How to Promote Inclusion in the Workplace


Community building in the workplace is an important aspect of cultural inclusion. Workplace community is the culture of a company and its morale. It is influenced by individual perspectives and experiences. Therefore, it is critical that the workplace community is safe, productive, and cohesive. When workplace culture is positive, employees bring their authentic selves to the team and value their work. In order to build community, a sense of belonging and connection is required. This can be done by appreciating individual and group contributions, and being responsive to employee concerns. Similarly, holding spaces to listen to employees is necessary. Inclusive behaviors in the workplace begin at the leadership level first. Leaders can model empathy in their daily interactions, which demonstrates how employees should act. Actively demonstrating empathy and respect, helps businesses and individuals to thrive.

Creating policies that promote inclusiveness is an important first step. In addition to policies, empowering team members to solve problems and come up with new ideas promotes inclusiveness. Along with empowerment, a work culture that promotes courage is one that fosters inclusiveness. Employees should feel they can stand up for what they believe in. Lastly, promoting humility in the workplace is important for creating a positive workplace culture. Humility allows team members the ability to take constructive criticism and overcome limited viewpoints by listening to others.


Building a culture of inclusion is more than just a one time training event. It is creating a shift in the overall culture. It requires commitment from everyone from leaders to employees to students alike. By creating positive environments that foster empowerment, humility and courage, both schools and workplaces are more likely to succeed.


Whether you want to improve your school, community, or workplace, Soul Shoppe provides social emotional learning programs and resources. We offer programs on cultural inclusion from teacher professional development to workplace culture training. Our team is highly trained, informative, and makes training fun. We offer a transformative experience that will leave lasting results.

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Child Emotional Development

Child Emotional Development

When we think of children developing skills, our thoughts often drift to milestones such as learning to ride a bike or acing their first test. However, children need more than physical achievements to thrive in life. Child emotional development includes several skills that help children understand themselves and others better. These skills help them navigate life in a fulfilling way. Furthermore, these skills promote future success well into adulthood.

What is Social and Emotional Development?

What is Social and Emotional Development?

Social and emotional development refers to a child’s experience and expression of emotions and how they manage them. It also includes the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships (Cohen and others 2005).

Social and emotional development is crucial in the first five years of life. However, emotional development continues well into adolescence. 

Why is Teaching Child Emotional Development Valuable?

Nurturing a child’s emotional development helps to promote future happiness and success. Studies have shown that teaching emotional development improves students’ social and emotional skills and behaviors. Furthermore, it positively affects classroom organization, classroom management, and more. 

4 Skills of Emotional Learning

Emotional development leads to five important skills, according to the National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning Environments. These include: emotional regulation, self and social awareness, learning how to establish positive relationships, and good decision making. These skills are vital to the success of children and adolescents.

Emotional Regulation

Child Emotional Development through Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is an essential part of development. It is defined as “The ability to exert control over one’s own emotional state. It may involve behaviors such as rethinking a challenging situation to reduce anger or anxiety, hiding visible signs of sadness or fear, or focusing on reasons to feel happy or calm” (PsychologyToday). Emotional regulation is critical to children’s relationships with themselves and others. Those that don’t have this type of regulation often experience emotional outbursts and isolation. It can also lead to depression and self-harming behaviors. However, it is a teachable skill. Through workshops and lessons in the classroom, we can teach children how to regulate emotions and have control over their thoughts and feelings. 

Self and Social Awareness 

Learning self-awareness is a critical aspect of emotional development. Self-awareness helps children acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses. This allows them to actively participate in their own success. 

Self-aware children typically have more social awareness. Social awareness is the ability to have empathy for others. This leads to understanding the perspective of other cultures and social groups. Both self-awareness and social awareness are vital to the growth of each child and help children grow up to be conscientious adults.

Learning How To Have Positive Relationships

When children learn self and social awareness, they are better able to experience positive relationships. Building positive relationships encompasses several skills. One key aspect is knowing how to express emotions appropriately. At the same time, children need to learn how to respond to others with empathy. Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand the feelings of another. 

Other skills children need to learn when building positive relationships include how to:

  • make friends 
  • respond to conflict in a relationship
  • listen to others
  • give and receive feedback

These are just a few of the wide array of skills needed to build and maintain relationships. Successful relationships and rich social lives produce lasting benefits throughout life.

Good Decision Making

We tend to think good decision-making skills are developed through “trial and error.” However, that is a fallacy. Good decision-making is more than learning from successes and failures. It is a way of thinking about making decisions before a consequence occurs. This skill involves teaching children how to identify the problem, and possible solutions and consequences. By thinking critically about decision-making, they can make better choices. 

Good decision-making affects children well throughout childhood and helps them to become more responsible and self-confident.

What are the Emotional Development Stages?

Early Childhood Emotional Development

Social and emotional development occurs rapidly in the first five years of life. This time of development is essential to the ultimate happiness and well-being of children.

In the early stages of child emotional development, children begin to learn self-awareness. In addition, they start exploring how to express emotions. They also learn how to interact with others. Furthermore, they learn how to safely explore their environment. In the early stages, children look to others to learn social cues. These cues help them navigate how to respond and play with others. 

These building blocks of emotional development in early childhood are nurtured through positive reinforcement. 

Elementary and Middle School Emotional Development

Elementary and Middle School Emotional Development

Between the ages of 5-13 emotional development progresses to include more self-regulation, problem-solving, social awareness, and more.

The child emotional development stages are listed below. Note that the time frame may be different for each child: (Source: Child-Encyclopedia).

Early Elementary (K-2nd Grade)

  • Learning how to fit in with other children
  • Continuing to learn self regulation
  • Learning self conscious emotions (such as embarrassment)
  • Needing support from adults but growing their self reliance skills

Middle Elementary (3rd-5th Grade)

  • Increased problem solving skills
  • Distancing self from adults and becoming more peer focused
  • Focus on problem solving
  • Understanding of multiple emotional states in the same person
  • Typically following norms for behavior

Middle School (6-8th grade)

  • Increased dependence on peers
  • Focus on social awareness and roles
  • Learning how to differentiate between close friends and acquaintances
  • Becoming more fluent in problem solving with multiple solutions
  • Increased emotional empathy
  • Learning impression management

High School

  • Learning how to communicate emotions and thoughts effectively 
  • Becoming more proficient with impression management
  • Character integration and moral development
  • Increased self awareness, particularly emotional awareness 


We can increase children’s emotional intelligence to provide them with a better quality of life. Self-confidence, better relationships, and resilience can all be achieved through emotional development. When children are emotionally resilient, they can manage adversity and difficult times. In addition, research has demonstrated that intervening in children’s emotional development has a positive impact on their academic success. Whichever stage of emotional development children are in, there are appropriate lessons and support.

Soul Shoppe has workshops dedicated to the mission of creating safe learning environments. They help eliminate bullying, as well as teach empathy, emotional literacy skills, and conflict resolution. Learn more about social emotional learning for elementary students and social emotional development for middle school programs.

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