Building Community with Virtual Students: Ideas for Educators
When students and educators experience a strong sense of classroom community, amazing things can happen. Not only does nurturing a positive classroom environment provide space for students to develop social-emotional skills, but it also helps establish a place where students can feel valued and included. Likewise, building community with virtual students can help them build relationships with their peers and take ownership of their learning. Below, we explore some tactics educators can use to build community with virtual students effectively and intentionally.
Tips for Building Community with Virtual Students
For those new to a virtual or hybrid environment, building a strong classroom community may seem a little daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few quick tips on how you can begin to cultivate your classroom community virtually:
1. Hold classroom meetings
Once or twice a week, hold a classroom meeting where schoolwork can take a rest, and your class can just be together.
This could be a great time for your class to play a game as a group, engage in a reflective activity (like sharing a rose and a thorn for the week), shout out praise to their peers, or simply chat. As long as you’re setting aside a few minutes to connect, your classroom meeting can look however you like.
2. Make a Classroom Constitution
This is a great strategy to start the year or semester off with everyone on the same page. In a class meeting, ask your students what is most important to them in a learning environment. Maybe it’s setting the expectation to accept others’ ideas, to be outstanding listeners, or to offer each other compliments on good work.
Create a shared document where students can write down their ideas and decide on four or five guidelines to stand as the class constitution. Record them in the final draft, which everyone can digitally “sign” and save it.
As a reminder to students of the expectations they set for themselves, choose one or more students to read the class constitution aloud at the start of each week or when you hold your virtual class meeting.
3. Have fun with virtual icebreakers
Just like you would do in person, kicking things off with a few virtual icebreakers is a terrific way to lighten the mood and help everyone get to know each other a little better.
It may feel a little silly at first, and one icebreaker won’t suddenly bond your classroom together for life. But there’s a reason icebreakers are still around, and it’s because they work. Check out this blog from Symonds Research for a few ideas!
4. Establish routines
We’re all creatures of habit, and that’s why some well-established classroom routines can make such a big difference for you and your students. Routine breeds comfort and familiarity and deepens shared experiences—all of which can help with building community with virtual students.
Consider starting class with a similar “bell work” activity every morning, incorporating a regular mindful practice to help students reset after lunch, or celebrating a week of hard work every Friday afternoon with a moment for shout-outs. The options are endless; what matters is consistency!
5. Encourage everyone to branch out
It can, of course, be normal and healthy for students to tend to gravitate toward certain peers over others when working collaboratively. However, making a point to occasionally pair or group students who don’t typically interact with each other can be key when building community with virtual students. This gives students a chance to get to know one another better and teaches students how to work together in new ways.
Building Community with Virtual Students: Final Thoughts
As you embark on the quest to build a community with your virtual students, remember that it’s okay to think outside the box. These ideas are meant to help you get started but are certainly not an end-all-be-all. How you connect with your students – and encourage them to connect with each other – is largely up to you. What matters most is that you communicate and foster a welcoming environment for all.
For more tips on making group work a success in your class, check out our blog on the magic of small-group instruction. Interested in more tips for building a collaborative classroom environment? Consider how developing a growth mindset can play a role with this blog post, 5 Tips to Develop a Growth Mindset in Your Classroom.