I miss the presence of my students. I miss our physical interactions. I miss the sound of laughter and cheering over silly things. I can’t image how much our students miss their friends, their escape, their normal. Even though we’re not in our classrooms in a traditional sense, it’s more important than ever to nurture our classroom community. Our students need that support and encouragement. Plus, if you’re like me, you need that community too.
As you already know relationships are the cornerstone of good teaching. There is nothing more important than the relationships you build with your students. Even though we can’t physically be there for our students, we do need to be as present as possible.
In this post, I’ve shared a few strategies of things you can do with your students to help maintain your classroom community.
The importance of frequent communication cannot be overstated. On Sunday nights I send home a document that outlines what to expect during the week. Students need structure and predictability, and it’s still hard for many students to stay organized digitally. I know I like a hard copy of my to-do lists! Of course, as we learn and adjust that overview will change.
For immediate or time sensitive information, I also use Remind which allows me to send texts to parents. I also share class announcements on Google Classroom. I found that Google Classroom was quickly cluttered with content, so I learned that you could adjust students’ stream to ONLY see announcements. Just change the settings to “Hide Notifications”.
This is a super easy to navigate and free resource. If you haven’t used Flipgrid before, here’s a tutorial I wrote that will help you get set-up in just a couple of minutes. In Flipgrid, students can use any device to record themselves and privately share their video on a class board.
You can use Fligrid for jigsaw activities, presentations, number talks, or even book talks. It can also be an excellent tool for building classroom community. If it’s someone’s birthday, you could have students send a happy birthday message. You could start each day or maybe week morning meeting message. I’ve created a collection of morning meeting cards that you can download here. While not all of these cards are useful for distance learning, you should still be able to find plenty of topics to share for a morning meeting.
You could post “Would You Rather” or “Who Would Win” questions. If students get desperate, a class magic show or lip syncing content. At that point, I would definitely recommend requiring teacher approval before the video was posted. As with all other platforms, students will need to demonstrate proper digital etiquette.
Padlet is a brand-new tool to me. It’s been around a while, but I’ve never had the time or need for it. However, it’s awesome for distance learning. One great way to use Padlet is for a weekly status of the class update. We’ve always done a status of the class in reading, so this was a natural transition for my students. This allows students to see what each other are currently reading. This increases accountability and allows students to get an idea of what they want to read next.
You can also use this tool for class communication. I made a separate board for general purposes, because I didn’t want my more academic Padlets cluttered with “hi” or “what’s up” or the ever popular “I’m bored”.
I love incorporating breakouts into my instruction. They’re so much fun, and my students absolutely love them! Once we moved to distance learning, one of my first projects was to completely digitize all of my Math Escape Lessons. Before sharing the digital version, I tested it out on my students. The only complaint I heard is that an escape activity was WAY more fun in a group. They thought it was really hard on their own.
One way to allow students to work in groups with a digital breakout is through Zoom Breakout Rooms. You can see a tutorial here. You can assign a certain time for students to log-in to Zoom. Once you see how many total students are there, use the breakout room to automatically place the students into groups of about four. Then, message all of the groups the link to get started with the breakout. See what teams can finish before the room closes. Of course, the live aspect of this is also the disadvantage because it’s unrealistic to expect all students to be able to log-in at the same time. But as with everything, we’re going to have to comprise and do the best we can to continue fostering our classroom community.
We can’t forget about our small group instruction. Yes, there is a tremendous academic benefit to our small groups, but students also benefit emotionally from that small group time. I’ve started creating a weekly Sign Up Genius form where students can sign up for small group instruction. I found that my groups were getting way too big to really be effective. Instead of writing the location of the meeting, I add the topic I would be teaching during that time slot. Then, I’ve set the groups for a maximum of six students. After students, or their parents, sign up, the Zoom link will be emailed to them.
Sign up genius is another free tool that’s easy to use! You can share the link on Google Classroom and email it to students’ parents. You can also set-up different time slots for different subject areas.
If you’re looking for a starting place on distance learning, be sure to check out this blog post. There’s so much involved that it can’t all be accomplished in a single blog post!
Hopefully, some of these strategies will help build classroom community as you as you navigate new territory!