[Teaching Unpacked] Designing Authentic Real-World Lessons

The team here at Teaching Unpacked believes that it all starts with building a collaborative learning community. The real question, however, is how to maintain and excel at this?

Danika Tyminski is here to share all of her top community-building teaching tips. Throughout her 24 years of teaching experience, Danika has taught graduate courses for teachers at Antioch University and currently teaches the 6th grade at Swift River Elementary School. 

She strongly believes in the message “#SmallSchoolBigHeart” and that teachers must go above and beyond for their students, supporting, encouraging, and cherishing them in every possible way. Above all, though, the message that she’d like to share with us today is the power of community-building. 

Episode 1 — Building & Maintaining Classroom Community

In episode one of the Teaching Unpacked series, Danika delves deep into exactly how she successfully builds a strong classroom community through her lesson plans. This is largely down to her excellent teacher prep skills and is something that we can all take from. 

An example of her community-building exercises is her “The Giver” film challenge, in which she breaks her students into teams of five or six and tasks them with creating a short film telling the story of the book in just three minutes. Students must work effectively to write, film, and edit their projects together. While Danika is there to offer her assistance if needed, the main goal is to stay out of the way and let the teams work together with independence. The class even ends the task with a film premiere — red carpet and all! 

She believes that it’s tasks like these that truly demonstrate the power of community. They teach students how to collaborate, communicate, and take ownership of their learning. While the process may be difficult, and there may be disagreements along the way, it’s her goal as a teacher to provide them with the tools to make it through. 

Teaching Tricks

One of Danika’s most prominent teaching tricks is that a community must be built from the very beginning of the school year. If it isn’t, then tasks like “The Giver” film challenge would never succeed in further developing on this. 

Throughout her episode of the Teaching Unpacked webinar, she shares all of her proven methods and strategies. This includes the “expectations carousel,” in which classes of all ages answer questions together to better understand matters such as what does a positive learning environment mean to each individual, how we as teachers can best help students learn, and more. 

She also encourages participation in a “give to get” wherein both the teacher and students share what they’re willing to give in exchange for the ultimate learning experience. Just one example of this could include concentration in exchange for patience and understanding. 

A Year-long Effort

Building a classroom community doesn’t just happen at the beginning of the year. To maintain it, it’s a year-long effort. Danika believes that this should take place in several forms: 

  • Team Building Challenges: Challenges, both academic and otherwise, significantly boost team morale. 
  • Mission Statements: Creating a team name and writing down shared classroom goals to commit to. 
  • Trips: Danika takes a full week trip away with her students each year to nature’s classroom, a community-building experience like no other. 
  • Mid-year Debrief: This keeps everyone on the same page and can help determine where we are as a group and where we want to be. 

Above all, Danika shares that community-building must be an evolving and constant aspect throughout the year. It’s important as teachers that we encourage students to be positive group members. If they’re guided onto the right path, they’ll excel, and the community will truly become the heart of the classroom. 

Discussion and Certification

In her episode of Teaching Unpacked, Danika further elaborates on her methods and teaching tips alongside AUNE faculty Laura Thomas and Tom Julius. The group discusses her tried and tested strategies in detail. 

The webinar also includes a short evaluation and a certificate of participation for those who take part in the event. If you’d like to learn more and delve deeper into how to design authentic, real-world lessons based on community building, or for any answers to questions you may have, episode one is available to watch now!