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Are you returning to the virtual classroom? Whether you are doing so by choice or because of closures due to COVID-19, you need to build connections with your students if you hope to educate them successfully.
Most of all, your students need your reassuring presence during these unusual times. When it comes to building connections in the virtual classroom, here are eight tips for cultivating bonds.
1. Implement a Morning Meeting
Even though most students now feel comfortable with their homeschool arrangements, they might still feel unnerved when sitting down to work without the accustomed structure. A morning meeting marks an official commencement to a new school day and helps you get your learners on track.
While you want to use this time to go over critical reminders about upcoming assignments, you also should involve interactive activities to get their brains powered on and working. You can have students complete a journal entry and share their responses with partners or small peer groups in a breakout room.
Another idea? Post a poll where students can vote on a positive, uplifting theme for their day. Have them select from options like, “I will utilize my endless talents,” and, “My future is a projection of what I envision and do now.”
2. Establish Digital Community Agreements
You want your virtual classroom to be a warm, nurturing place where all students feel safe. To establish trust, all participants must know how to behave and treat others respectfully.
Give your students ownership by having them help to create this agreement. Ask them to brainstorm the following prompt — what guidelines would help us work best together — and let them discuss in breakout groups before sharing with the class.
Examples include, “Using ‘I’ language” — “I heard you say,” instead of, “you said,” and criticizing ideas, not people. Post your classroom rules on your discussion board and make them living — students can petition to change them and vote on alterations.
Keep in mind you need to model appropriate behaviors. What does it look like to respect another person while nevertheless criticizing their ideas? Show students an example of how it looks in action with a short video demonstration and then act out skits to illustrate their mastery.
3. Screencast Your Weekly Announcements
Students miss seeing your smiling face — yes, even the ones who give you silly nicknames. Build connections in the virtual classroom by screencasting your weekly announcements instead of relying on emails.
When on camera, don’t feel shy about letting your personality shine. Make the occasional joke. Give your pet kitty a cameo.
4. Lights, Cameras, Action
It’s tempting to hide behind the screen when it’s a bad hair day. However, you couldn’t wear a bag over your head in the traditional classroom. Turn your camera on during live sessions and have your students do the same.
Turning on your camera serves a dual purpose. You can perform periodic attendance checks by looking at the screen to see who remains in their seat. More vitally, you give participants the feeling of joining a “real” class. Plus, you can observe facial expressions and gestures, which add depth and meaning to communication.
5. Pair Students from Day One
What do you do to break the ice on the first day of class? Such activities are even more vital to building connections in the virtual classroom — they aren’t fluff. They are every bit as critical as reviewing the syllabus, so tackle them first to get students engaged.
Pair students in breakout rooms and have them share three boring facts about themselves. Their partner’s job is to introduce their buddy to the class when you reconvene and vice-versa.
If you master nothing else in Zoom, learn how to manage breakout rooms so that you can assign students to groups. Letting them discuss ideas before sharing them eases anxiety and also helps build camaraderie with their classmates.
6. Use Technology to Foster Collaboration
Don’t necessarily rely solely on the software your institution provides. Learn how to harness free technology resources to make collaborative learning possible.
For example, Google Drive and Google Docs allow students to complete group assignments even if they work at different times of the day. As a teacher, you can control whether individual members can edit existing documents or merely comment on finished work and add new materials.
Online software such as Prezi enables students to collaborate on presentations. Such technology encompasses the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic spheres to engage those with various learning styles.
7. Hold Unusual Office Hours
The virtual classroom gives you much more leeway for hosting parent-teacher conferences and one-on-one tutoring sessions alike. You’re no longer bound to the traditional school day — if a 10 p.m. meeting suits both you and one of your students’ caregivers, arrange to chat then.
You don’t have to bind yourself to an 8:00 to 4:00 schedule. Throw in the occasional weekend or evening office hours. Such timeframes immensely benefit high school students who may have work obligations that make traditional class times problematic.
8. Host a Class Spirit Week
Who said you couldn’t have a little fun in the virtual classroom? Why not raise spirits and build connections by having a spirit week?
Your event can coincide with a broader, school-wide affair, but it doesn’t have to do so. Create a theme for each day — like a pirate day. Have students dress in costume and bring props to Zoom sessions. You don’t have to worry about rules, such as whether that plastic sword qualifies as a weapon in the virtual world.
Build Connections in Your Virtual Classroom With These 8 Tips
One of the most seemingly insurmountable challenges online teachers face is how to build connections in the virtual classroom. The eight tips above can help you foster an inclusive and supportive learning environment for your students.