Practices for building community and student belonging virtually
Today’s teachers are in a tough position. There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us all to the brink of our professional limits.
In response, faculty members have jumped into action. They have begun the journey of integrating technology with quality education! Research shows teachers quickly trying to scale from using a web tool in their classroom to full adoption of their school system’s learning management system, virtual web conferencing tools, and a host of online tools to facilitate innovative instruction online.
Students have watched teachers attempt to master effective “classroom” management online, all while pressuring themselves to build routines, stick to the schedule, and create content.
Understandably, teachers are pressuring themselves to teach content right away. Teachers tend to feel an obligation to provide students with lessons they have missed.
This is precisely the reason why it is necessary to build a community.
Whether students are online or in a physical classroom, long-lasting learning occurs when students feel a sense of community. Meaningful learning occurs when students first feel a sense of belonging. This is achieved by making all students feel welcomed and valued.
TIPS FOR BUILDING A STRONG COMMUNITY IN YOUR ONLINE CLASSROOM
No matter the audience, creating a learning space where students feel safe to take risks and express themselves. So, what can teachers do to build community online?
Here are a few ideas:
- Create Regular Opportunities for Social Interactions
Social interactions are absolutely important for students. Instead of treating it as an extracurricular activity, treat it as a feature part of the system. The goal should be to incorporate social connectedness in every subject, every day. This includes opportunities for interactions between students and regular teacher-to-student interactions. These teacher-to-student conversations can best be achieved in small group discussions or one-on-one teacher-student sessions. High quality learning can take place by regularly creating these opportunities into a daily university schedule, these sessions will allow students the opportunity to establish meaningful relationships with the faculty as well as their peers. For students and those with disabilities, these social opportunities may require structure through discussion prompts, formative check-ins, and visual support to encourage full participation.
- Include Parents in the Community-Building
If students are learning remotely, it’s essential that teachers also make parents feel welcomed and appreciated. Teachers should take steps to demonstrate to their students that their parents are important and valued members of the learning community they are trying to build. Parents should be encouraged to participate. Allow students the flexibility they need to acquire knowledge in the home environment, since this isn’t a normal classroom. This means talking to students about this and acknowledging that their parents aren’t distractions or interruptions; they are part of the learning environment, and it’s okay for children to ask them questions and communicate about what they’re learning.
- Structure Responsibility as You Build Routine
As you teach online, slowly phase in parts of your routine. Set a long-term goal for how you and your students will master all of the components of the education routine. Exhibit flexibility with both students and parents, particularly when it comes to the submission of online work. To create a safe learning environment, reinforce students’ early attempts to complete and submit academic work online.
- Consider Flexible Options for Online Participation
There is an important debate as to how we can reliably measure and encourage learners’ participation online. Those who closely subscribe to the synchronous model of virtual learning tend to argue that students must have their cameras on at all times and document their full attention through evidence of a distraction-free environment. Active webcam is helpful for the teacher to receive feedback from his or her audience, Trust also poses some alternatives that can be used to formatively assess students’ learning and ongoing participation in an online environment.
- 3 R’s: RESPECT, RELATIONSHIPS, and RELEVANCE
Remember that learning right now, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, is about respect, relationships, and relevance. It is not about achieving absolute academic rigour. Only after we establish respect, relationships, and relevance can we attain rigorous learning. At this time, teachers’ focus should be on ensuring meaningful relationships with students, creating a culture of respect for and with students, and creating relevance again for content learning during an unsettling time. Due to the lack of instruction that occurred in the spring of 2020, we must also expect the need to re-teach skills and provide remedial instruction.