In shifting to remote and online learning, schools may find it difficult to foster the same sense of community in face-to-face classrooms. Research shows that strong relationships between school community members form the bedrock of student success. A strong sense of community is even more crucial when transitioning to remote and online learning environments, as students and instructors can easily feel isolated.
Remote or online learning can make community-building seem more difficult, but it is possible. In fact, there are several ways to foster a similar sense of community in remote learning environments.
Carry Over Already Existing Routines and Rituals
Students become accustomed to the rituals and routines of school life. Seemingly mundane school activities we once took for granted contribute to the sense of belonging that shape our school communities. Lunchtime socializing, homeroom announcements and school spirit events can all be translated into digital spaces. Moving to remote or online learning platforms does not have to translate to a loss of these routines and rituals.
School leaders can use social media platforms to re-establish a sense of normalcy for students to carry out simple routines that once characterized an average day. Take, for instance, one Maine school principal who broadcasts morning announcements, complete with the Pledge of Allegiance, via Facebook Live each morning.
Digital communication platforms like Zoom and Google Meet are useful for carrying out daily routines that foster a sense of community. For example, lunchtime can be virtual, allowing students to gather and chat freely with their friends as they once did in the school cafeteria.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many school communities have had to cancel major events that typically built school spirit, such as sports events, pep rallies and homecoming gatherings. However, not all spirit-building events have to be canceled. They can be moved online, like this Cincinnati school that hosted a virtual spirit week across social media platforms and its school website.
Celebrate Special Occasions
School leaders can also use virtual communication and social media platforms to celebrate special occasions and milestones. Participants can host Zoom parties to celebrate birthdays, holidays and other special occasions. Classes can sing songs together, send virtual well-wishes and share a virtual snack to celebrate. Old-school technology is also useful for celebrating small milestones: classes can host drive-by parties or dedicate class time for creating cards they mail to each other.
As in-person ceremonies are canceled or moved online, graduating students may feel they are missing out on an important experience with their classmates. However, graduates still feel special and connected to their school through various celebration techniques, virtual and otherwise. Possip offers a host of fun ideas and recommends using the CARES framework when planning milestone celebrations for distance-learning students: Community, Acknowledgment, Reflection, Excitement and Special memories.
Generate Opportunities for Asynchronous Engagement
Students may not always be available to attend live virtual gatherings or lessons. However, that doesn’t mean they should feel left out. Educators can engage students through asynchronous activities as well. Teachers can record themselves reading aloud or encourage students to record their own videos congratulating another student or reflecting on a special occasion. Students can also respond to one another’s work and engage across virtual platforms like SeeSaw.
Teachers can also gamify the classroom in order to provide asynchronous learning opportunities. Online and mobile educational gaming resources can contribute to student engagement, material comprehension and classroom community-building. Schoology has some fun ways to gamify classrooms, including resources like Kahoot! and virtual escape rooms. Students can work on their own, but many of the activities listed enable them to collaborate toward a goal, effectively building a sense of classroom community.