Building Community

Many of us are wondering how we are going to build a sense of community in our classrooms, labs, student organizations, residence halls, etc., given the constraints of the remote and physically distant environment. On August 19, 2020, about 80 of us came together for a Community Building workshop facilitated by Marjorie Trueblood, Laurie Adamson, Marina Ito, Bethany Miller, Kate Larson, Joan Ostrove, and a fantastic group of students (access to the recording of the panel sections of the session is available to Macalester community members). One key perspective the students offered: as we ask students to come together in authentic and vulnerable ways, it is important that we too are willing to be authentic and vulnerable in our interactions with students and with one another. Marjorie Trueblood opened the session asking us to examine how we were feeling, with the assistance of the Core Feelings Wheel. We are living through very intense times, and it will be important – as we strive to build meaningful learning environments inside and outside of the classroom – to create and hold space to be honest about how we are feeling, and to allow everyone to come to the space as their full selves.

Building community and facilitating a sense of belonging can sometimes be achieved through developing a shared set of guidelines or agreements for a group’s time together (in or outside of class). Guidelines can allow us to be attentive to the ways in which social identity and social structure shape our relationship to the group, and to how much we do or don’t talk or feel comfortable or signal to others that they belong. Here are some specific questions you can ask one another as you build these agreements/expectations:

  • How can you bring your most authentic self to an online setting?
  • How do we hold each other accountable and navigate disruptions?
  • How do we best affirm each other?

Contracting” is a similar strategy, in which all class members co-create a set of expectations about engagement.

Resources from Entrepreneurship & Innovation


Looking for ways to spark innovation, curiosity, and connection in your hybrid or remote classrooms? Partner with Entrepreneurship & Innovation to schedule an “Idea Lab Shakeup.” We hope to support your work in engaging students and building community through play, collaboration, 2D modeling and creative inquiry. From a 20 minute session to a class long workshop, the Idea Lab staff is available to pop into your zoom class and shake things up by activating students to connect, reflect, scream, pause, share, laugh, and create. To explore how this might work in your classroom, contact Jody Emmings,

More fantastic resources and ideas from the Idea Lab/Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Additional resources

5 Grounding/Body-Based Exercises anyone can Facilitate (from Director of Counseling Liz Schneider-Bateman)

2020 Programs with a Community Building Focus from Career Exploration

Equity Unbound – OneHE (open educational resources for online community building)

Icebreakers to Reduce Stress and Build Connection

Five Ways to Build Community in Online Classrooms

21 Icebreakers That’ll Make Your Zoom Happy Hours The Highlight of Your Day (not limited to use during happy hours, obviously!)

A Game a Day: Fun and Dynamic Synchronous Online Learning

Professor Cate Denial’s Twitter thread on how she builds community in an online environment

How to Build Community in a Zoom Class with Personal Essays