How to Build a Community in a Virtual Classroom: Teachers Share Their Insights
Today is World Teachers' Day - the annual day where we celebrate the people who have dedicated their lives to the education of others.
This year, teachers have faced a gauntlet of challenges to ensure that their students are healthy, thriving, and learning. The pandemic has moved many schools online, and virtual learning has become the new normal for millions of students across the country.
At a time like this, building a community in the (virtual) classroom is more important than ever. And there’s no one that knows that better than the teachers who are living it.
In honor of World Teachers' Day, we connected with some incredible educators in the Red Nose Day in School community to hear why they believe building a classroom community is so important this year, and what they are doing to build that community in the ever-changing virtual landscape.
“What’s the best way to build a community? Get to know your kids and help them get to know each other!” - Educator Jill T., from Walnut, CA
“Building a classroom community is more important than ever because although we are far apart, we are truly stronger together. Students, from preschool to seniors in high school, need a sense of belonging. That’s one of the main purposes of attending school, right? Students who feel a sense of belonging and ownership work harder. Students who have a strong relationship with their teachers push themselves when they usually wouldn’t. They ask questions and they share because they feel safe. Building a classroom community through the computer is harder, but it is far from impossible.
In these new Zoom classrooms, building a community isn’t as easy, but many of the same best practices still apply. Greet your students by name. Notice little things about them like a haircut or a cool shirt. Encourage students to compliment each other’s work and celebrate things like birthdays, virtual recitals, and losing a tooth. Share silly things about yourself and teach them to laugh with you when you make a mistake. Grow together.
We are all learning how to do this distance learning together. What’s the saying…we are building this plane while flying it? Well, the kids are not only our passengers, but are our co-pilots, too. This is a team effort, and just like in person school, building a community isn’t just led by the teacher, but the best moments often come from the students making those meaningful connections to each other. I use scouts in my class and students recognize their peers for showing respect, solving problems, and making good decisions. We sing and dance together. We tell jokes. We use breakout rooms to collaborate. We self-reflect on our work and students select what to post on the Seesaw class blog.
What’s the best way to build a community? Get to know your kids and help them get to know each other!”
“Students need to feel safe. They crave boundaries and rules now more than ever.” - Educator Stacey H., from McKinney, TX
“Building a classroom community is so important this year. Now more than ever! [In balancing both students in the classroom and students learning virtually], students on Zoom need to feel included in everything we do as a group. That is a very challenging act!
We began the year with everyone learning virtually. I started to help the students build their classroom community from day one. They have thrived on this – some of my virtual learners are the hardest workers! They do not hesitate to ask questions.
I did show my virtual learners the classroom through my computer. At the beginning of the year, we took a field trip around the room and then out the door and into the hallways of the school. I wanted them to know we are all here for them. Teachers responded with waving and yelling “HI!” to my students. It made me feel better, too!
Students need to feel safe. They crave boundaries and rules now more than ever. In my 23 years of experience, this is a first. Students are working together, but from a distance. I have seen students help each other from across the room, without any prompting from me! To see them building a small community within the classroom makes my heart just sing!!”
“As teachers we need to reassure them they will be ok. Everything we are doing, we are doing to keep them safe.” - Educator Jodi Z., from Roslyn, NY
“I was selected to be one of the remote online teachers so building our virtual community has been so important. We are pairing up with both the other virtual classes and the in-person classes and making Fun Fridays. We want all the kids to know each other and let them know we are here for them. Through social emotional lessons we are making sure that the children know we are here. The days are long but the smiles in the morning make it all worth it.
Children are scared. Both the ones who come in everyday and the ones who stay home. As teachers we need to reassure them they will be ok. Everything we are doing we are doing to keep them safe. We remind them daily...be brave, be kind.”
“We need to embrace our community within classrooms, whether that is in-person or virtual, so students experience a sense of belonging and safety.” - Principal Jason C., from Howards Grove, WI
“Our world is ever-changing, however, the human need to connect with others remains constant. It’s vital for our students' social and mental well-being that we seek ways to connect and build positive relationships. We need to embrace our community within classrooms whether that is in-person or virtual so students experience a sense of belonging and safety. They need an outlet to share their feelings, thoughts, and ideas in a safe place. Our belief at school is that “You Matter” and we continue to invest in our students to ensure they don’t ever forget “You Matter”.
The virtual platform of engaging students in education from home environments is new for our school. Building a classroom community has been a work in progress. It’s taught us a tremendous amount of patience and flexibility by everyone involved and in a strange way has brought people closer together. There is a deeper sense of empathy for each other and patience. Technology doesn’t always work as we hope, there are glitches, freeze frames, no connections, and other technical interruptions. However, just as we experience these glitches in life, we figure out a way to go through, over, around the challenges and rise above the obstacles.
Virtual learning and building classroom community in this manner is no different. Students are engaged with each other in zoom or google meets, using different platforms to work on projects collaboratively which extends the learning beyond the four walls. Our teachers find creative and fun ways to bring smiles to our students' faces and challenge them to think deeper, no matter what the platform may be. I think at the end of the day it is about building relationships and connections.”