10 Reasons to Put Community Before Content

Education is a moving train. We are constantly collecting data, teaching lessons, doing evaluations, and grading student work. With COVID-19, we are doing this nonstop. With classrooms looking different than they did before COVID-19, we are still under the same pressure to get the desired outcomes from our student and our classes. Though content and outcomes are part of our classroom life, they are not everything. Our classroom community is far more important than any content that we could possibly teach.

Here are 10 reasons why community is more important than content.

1. Social-emotional learning is learning.
Taking about emotions and goals is just as important as learning a new grammar item. Social-emotional learning presents a unique opportunity for students to share who they are, connect together, and find authentic ways to communicate. This is priceless knowledge.

2. Content doesn’t stick to criticism.
When students are asked to focus on learning content without the support of a community, how can we expect this learning to truly take root? New learning does not stick to criticism, it sticks to compassion. We need to listen to each other and check in with one another. When we slow down the content and make room for community, we are enabling the garden of knowledge to take root more deeply.

3. Learning is everywhere.
Technology, textbooks, and lessons can help classes to move through content faster. But, is faster better? Do students learn the content in meaningful ways? Are they able to grasp a concept and use it on their own? Learning is everywhere. Focusing on the community allows for everyone to learn from each other in meaningful ways. They can practice and dig deeper into material instead of just coasting alone.

4. Textbooks don’t teach, people do.
Textbooks are helpful, but they are not the sole solution. They can start conversations, but a teacher is the one who opens the door. A teacher is able to reach students and read the room. They can check in to see how everyone is doing and make adjustments as needed. It is the focus on community that allows an educator to act in meaningful ways.

5. Compartmentalizing our lives isn’t possible.
No one can turn off their personal life. We cannot simply walk away from our home lives and personal goals. This is part of who we are; this is part of our core. By creating space for this, we are allowing the community to direct learning. Our interests and lives become the threads used to hold the class and teach content.

6. We are not robots.
We are humans. We are living and breathing. Some days we can learn better than other days. Some days we simply cannot learn at all. It is okay if we feel like we are at capacity and cannot learn something new. This is normal, but this does not mean that we are not learning. We need to create space for the ebb and flow of life.

7. Any use is better than no use.
Opening up to others is huge. Sometimes, our society takes this too lightly. It is not always easy to share or to listen, to speak or to be spoken to. By focusing on community over content, we are building our voices and our confidence. Creating space for use, regardless of content or focus, opens doors for all in the community.

8. Filling your heart fills your mind.
When we share ourselves with others and create space to connect, we are filling our heart. We learn about the world and we learn about ourselves. We have new thoughts that stick with us even after class is over. No textbook or online resource can ever replace the lasting thoughts that can stem from meaningful, heartfelt conversations with others.

9. Compassion creates confidence.
One of the best feelings that someone can have is when they are listened to and when they are heard. In a world that often closes, holding space for each other and our students is vital. When we take time to share our hearts and share compassion for each other, we are not only supporting ourselves but others as well. Compassion can reduce barriers in order to help students feel more confident.

10. The difference between walking and running is our breath.
The semester and academic year move quickly. Sometimes, things are calm so we can walk slower. Other times, we are in a constant marathon. However, regardless of how things are going, there is one area that we have to focus on—our breath. Creating time to breathe together and share together with our community will give us the energy and support needed to keep things moving regardless of the speed.

Regardless of what you teach or who you teach, HOW you teach is most important. During these unusual and uncertain times, consider shifting the focus from content to community. Community is the single biggest thing that can bring learning to life.

About Stephanie Marcotte

Stephanie Marcotte
Stephanie N. Marcotte, EdD, is the nursing resource coordinator and an adjunct professor of academic ESL at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts. She is passionate about supporting and advocating for credit-bearing academic ESL community college programs. In May 2020, she completed her doctoral studies at the University of New England in Maine, where she focused on transformative leadership in higher education. Stephanie is a MATSOL board member, and she has previously served as an NNETESOL board member and as president. Lastly, she has served in various union leadership capacities at the community college, including the position of union chapter president.
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7 Responses to
10 Reasons to Put Community Before Content

  1. Melissa Aberle-Grasse says:

    Thanks for these thought-provoking reminders about community-building as teachers. I especially liked the heart to mind reminder, which is something I try to activate with my oh-so-serious academic writers through photos, music, and other means of reflection. Several connections to your post in my recent article about strategy-based teaching online:

    Warm regards,

  2. Belinda Martin says:

    I completely agree with you. Instead of overloading students with assignments and resources, talk to them more, and discuss different things. I try to take this approach.

    • Stephanie Marcotte Stephanie Marcotte says:


      I agree with you 100%. This is the time to treat each other like humans. We all have so much on our plates. Before we can dive into big assignments, we need to build community and a safe place for discussion.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  3. Mary Eileen says:

    What a great article! Thank you so much! Helps me as we begin 2021 with lots of uncertainty about whether we will be fully remote, hybrid, or just some in person.

    • Stephanie Marcotte Stephanie Marcotte says:


      Thank you for responding to my post. I am happy to hear that you found it to be helpful. I agree that we are living in such uncertain times. It is important that we move step-by-step with a focus on community and communication. This will allow other content exploration and assignments to bloom later.


  4. Joseph W Hester says:

    I couldn’t agree more.

    • Stephanie Marcotte Stephanie Marcotte says:

      Thank you, Joseph! This is such an important time to provide a supportive, safe, and stress-free environment for our students. Thanks!

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