The beginning of the school year is all about building a classroom community. But how do we build community in virtual classrooms? In this blog, Dr. Laura Wilhelm provides words of advice and practical strategies for educators seeking ways to build a sense of classroom community amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the new realities of remote learning.
As schools and centers consider the safety of reopening classrooms, and experiment with new learning formats, teachers are searching for ways to connect with new classes this fall while keeping everyone safe. With virtual, or remote, learning becoming the new reality at many schools for students of all ages, educators are now asking the question: "How do I create a classroom community if my students aren't in the classroom?"
Here are 19 tips for building strong classroom communities:
- Keep this quote in mind as you approach the unknown: "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." — Maya Angelou
- Assign homework to watch an animal webcam and talk about what you observed the following day. Children will love taking virtual trips to the San Diego Zoo or the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Engage with children through games like BINGO, providing them with BINGO cards that showcase words, sounds, or pictures ahead of time. You can download free BINGO cards here. You can even share a virtual storytime with your class by listening to celebrated actors read children's books as a group.
- Create lesson plans for when you have an online substitute teacher, just like you would if they were subbing in your classroom.
- If you have a PE teacher, maybe they can host a virtual class on yoga, exercise, jump rope, or another movement activity. It could be recorded and shared with all your classes. This would be a great way to start the day!
- Consider partnering with another teacher or an assistant teacher during your online instruction. One teacher could take the lead in some sessions and then act as a monitor to keep the other participants muted, help with the chat, or answer questions in later sessions.
- Schedule time for parents to call in or do a short update via Zoom to the group. Set some boundaries. Give families specific times that you can accept calls and respond to emails.
- Plan some one-on-one teacher and child connection time just to catch up on things that are important. Perhaps schedule a lunch each day or once a week with one or two children.
- Remember that it often takes longer to deliver a lesson online than it does in person.
- If after school activities get canceled, encourage parents to try these new hobbies out at home with their children:
- Start a garden in some containers on your porch or patio
- Learn to sew a simple pillow
- Make a frame for a family picture using sticks and rocks from the yard
- Learn to do some simple weaving
- Set up an art area outside
- Have a family scavenger hunt
About the Author
Laura Wilhelm, EdD, is a semi-retired professor returning to her first love, childcare. Starting this fall, she will be directing a new early learning center. She has taught in public schools, graduate and undergraduate courses for teachers, administrators, and childcare providers. She has led study tours in Germany, England, Wales, Belgium, France, and Italy. Her research interests include best practices for people under three, nature literacy, and urban education. The upside of social distancing has been spending extra time with her husband and teenagers.