As summer break comes to a close and the upcoming school year draws nearer, many teachers are still attempting to simultaneously recharge from the past several months and prepare for multiple scenarios that could change instantly.
We can all agree that it’s “mildly” stressful.
Whether your school is beginning with remote instruction, a blended model, or face-to-face, a top priority should be how to build a community within your learning space. It is vitally important to cultivate strong relationships with our students, especially during this time of uncertainty. It’s through that bond that real learning begins to take place.
Some of you are wondering, “How am I supposed to accomplish this when my students have to be six feet away from each other?”
Here are some simple ideas and strategies on How To Build Community in the Socially Distanced Classrooms that will engage your students and foster deep relationships.
Let Them See YOU
Face masks are going to be a reality in a blended or face-to-face learning environment. The number of times each day your students will get to see your whole face will be extremely limited. While that may be the case, students can still see your smiling face each day, and you can see theirs!
Create Autobiography Posters
Have students bring in photos (digital or print) and create a customized poster with their photographs and details about themselves. Make one for yourself and attach it to your door.
Use a program like Canva to customize it with the style and theme of your room and a simple message like, “Welcome to Room 120! I’m so glad you’re here” or “Come on in! Let’s go on a learning adventure!”
Create a Photobooth Area
Take things one step further and have a fun picture day in class where students can strike a mask-free pose. Put all the images together, then add your whole class to your classroom door. Consider doing this several times over the year to see new pictures as the year progresses.
Involve Students in Daily Routines
Students love feeling like they’re part of the living, breathing culture of the classroom, and creating classroom jobs is an excellent way to build community. Letting students help with small tasks also promotes self-accountability and responsibility.
Push yourself to think creatively about socially distanced student jobs. Maybe your classroom needs a Positivity Person, responsible for naming one positive thing that happened in class at the end of the day!
Create a job chart on a section of your classroom whiteboard, or even create and edit Google Slides that you project daily when those tasks need to be completed.
With the added amount of sanitizing and cleaning that is going to be required, we need our students’ help more than ever.
With so much emphasis on staying physically distant from one another, an unintended side effect has been emotional isolation. We begin to build a community with our students when we create avenues for open dialogue outside of the focus of the day’s lesson.
Digital Paired Journals
For upper primary grades, a weekly check-in Google Doc that you share with each student in your class could become a digital journal. It takes some time to set up each student’s document and share it at the beginning of the year, but it’s a worthwhile investment over the long run.
At the end of the week, have your students write a note to you in their individual Google Doc. It could be a response to a prompt, or simply ask them to let you know how they think the school year is going. Perhaps ask them to write about their favorite and least favorite part of the school week.
If you need some ideas, here are 67 Questions to Build Community.
Respond to each student in a few sentences. If it helps, create a schedule to respond to a set number of students a day or week. Simple connections can have powerful and lasting results.
Build in time for reflection
An adaptation of this activity for younger grades might be to ask them to draw a picture or use colors describing their feelings about the week. Ask them to draw emojis to illustrate how they feel their week went. Young children can’t always articulate their feelings and emotions verbally, but this is a nonverbal alternative to achieve a similar outcome.
Take it Outside
As much as possible, get outside. Students can sit in a large circle, smaller concentric circles, or stand in an inside / outside circle (6 feet apart). Use the questions to prompt discussions. Have students switch partners and ask a different question. If you can, build some tin-can telephones and do a science lesson on sound waves and vibrations.
This school year will be a learning process for us all, and it’s important to remember to be gentle with both ourselves and our students as we navigate these uncharted waters. Your teaching style will direct your actions. These suggestions on How to Build Community in the Socially Distanced Classroom will add engagement and love to your classroom.
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