Community-making in Virtual Teaching

by | Sep 22, 2020

Of the many different teaching options happening right now virtual teaching is hands down the most difficult within which to build an engaging community.

I wrote about this in the Joy in Teaching book and I’ll happily restate it here:

click to tweet: The culture of a school exists whether you take an active role in creating it or not

With the obstacles we face as educators this year, it’s necessary to spend some time focusing on actionable steps to help build rapport and relationships while teaching virtually for BOTH your students, and your staff.

Everything changed – and,  just as the pendulum began to swing away toward the value of relationship building in schools. So, where does that leave us now when so many educators are now virtual. How does this impact both the school community for students and for the teachers?

Community-making in virtual teaching

Innovative online teacher 

Speaking from personal experience, virtual teaching is a much different beast when it comes to developing a sense of community that supports engagement and encourages depth in learning. What follows are actionable tools to foster community while teaching virtually.

**These tips can easily be applied to developing staff community rapport virtually as well.

Multiple touch-points

Teacher with Glasses

Design your class so that there is more than one way to stay in contact – this way if a student can’t gain access they can still reach you. This also allows you to reach out whenever you need to. Make sure you’re giving feedback, and include the positive, to let students know how they are doing.

Model behaviors

Teacher on computer celebrating the win during pandemic

We know to model appropriate behaviors in the classroom but it’s doubly true for virtual community buildings because this is new territory without established norms or points of reference for most students. Active listening, thoughtful responses, and engaged learning all should be clearly represented.

Establish norms collaboratively

Student online Zoom meeting celebrate

Many teachers set up rules together on the first day of class and this is an exercise that should be continued in the virtual class – discuss and ask for feedback and suggestions on ways to make the class successful  – when students (or staff) have a voice in the expectations they take ownership of the community and learning environment.

Adjust expectations

Plan a, b, c crossing out ideas

You can not teach as you did before, but just online – it doesn’t work that way. Switching to a new format means changing expectations – whether that is what assignments look like, what learning looks like, or just what productivity looks like. This is a whole different approach and deserves flexibility in considering what that means for teaching as well as learning.

Create space for sharing

Student on computer

Develop time and space for students (or staff) to share how they are doing, how things are going… Don’t force it, but make it available – whether it be office hours, breakout rooms, or even just an announcement that they can email concerns, it is important that they know their individual issues can be heard.

A round of grace

calm teacher relaxing - not stressing about what she can't control

Perhaps most importantly, this year more than ever we all need to extend a little grace to each other and to ourselves. There is a lot going on behind the veil of the screens. Assume best intentions and proceed with grace -don’t’ forget to give that to yourself also when things get overwhelming or you face a new obstacle.

This year is tough on everyone.

For more ideas of how to take charge of this school year and make the most of it check out the my blog with over 100+ articles to help educators reclaim their joy in teaching!

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