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Teacher to Teacher: Building Community in a Virtual Setting

by Lynne R. Dorfman

In the beginning of the new school year, establishing a strong class culture is our first priority, whether we are face-to-face or virtual. We cannot assume that this culture exists, even if many of the students have had other shared classroom experiences. Last year, we started online classes in March or shortly thereafter. Students and teachers had to make big adjustments in how they navigated a school day.

In a traditional classroom, there are practices that most teachers use to build a classroom community. In shifting to online learning, things are going to look different, but a community of learners can be built in the online setting based on the same core values of a traditional classroom setting: trust, respect, human kindness, and responsibility. It is possible to stir excitement and fun into our virtual classroom, and we can begin with opportunities to build personal relationships with our students and help them to get to know each other as well.

One thing you should try to do as a teacher is to get to know your students’ names as quickly as possible and something about them that will help you make a connection with each and every student in your classroom. If it is possible, ask students to send you a photo with a sentence or two about what they love to do in school and at home. You could create a slide deck in Google Slides with space for your students to upload images of themselves, their pets, and things they enjoy doing. Visuals are a great way for students to connect with classroom members in your virtual classroom community. Your school may be able to provide you with a picture file, or you can take a screenshot of each student with a good camera, but either way, you’ll want to find out what your students are interested in.

Take a quick survey. Ask students to fill out an online interest survey. If they are young, spend a week to highlight five or six students every day and ask them two or three questions to give you some information. You might ask them about their reading interests, their favorite foods if they have siblings or pets, and something about them, their favorite school subject, their favorite game (indoor and/or outdoor). What would they like to learn about this school year?  Be sure to model with your own responses to the interest survey you are giving your students.

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