How to Create Community in a Virtual Classroom

Creating a strong classroom culture is priority number one during the first weeks of school. This year should not be any different—in fact, creating connections and a sense of belonging has never been more important. And yet, as coronavirus numbers soar, many schools are opting to return at least partly to remote learning in the fall. So, how can we create a positive classroom culture when we can’t even see our students face-to-face?

It’s going to take a mixture of adapting the old tried-and-true beginning-of-the-year traditions to digital media and creating whole new practices and activities.

CYBER ICEBREAKERS

Instead of the usual round-robin name-learning games, we can ask students to share a drawing or an object that represents their personality or interests. As you move around your virtual classroom from student to student, they will hold their item or drawing offscreen while the rest of us try to remember. Students can also complete one-pagers or a Frayer Square on themselves on a shared Google Slides deck and then present to the class.

Other ideas for online icebreakers include favorite pastimes such as Hangman, interviewing partners in breakout rooms, and Flipgrid introductions. For the first several weeks of class, continue short get-acquainted activities. Often students enjoy a round of thumbs up/down with slide shows of foods, sports, and other images. Instead of (or in addition to) the “two truths and a lie” game, try “two objects and a lie.” That calls for students to show two objects that belong to them and one that doesn’t. After completing these activities, a fun way to cement these impressions is by playing a Kahoot! or Quizizz game about the members of your class.

CREATING CLASSROOM RULES AND EXPECTATIONS
Another culture-building activity is collaborating on a list of classroom rules. Since most students just had their first taste of digital learning in the spring, this is the perfect opportunity for them to use their own experiences to create a vision of how we can set up a virtual classroom that supports learning and community.

Use a plus-delta chart, so that students can indicate what worked well in remote learning in the spring and what they would like to change this school year. You can use a digital idea-sharing platform such as Mural or Google Jamboard to collaborate. This will give each student a chance to voice the positives of remote learning and to make suggestions for how we can improve it for the new year. This list of rules and expectations will then be displayed on the class’s virtual classroom wall or resource page.

CREATING CLASS TRADITIONS

As with in-person teaching, we can establish traditions that bind our classes together as a community in a virtual setting. Begin with a bell-ringer or a short journal-writing assignment and then ask students to share their answers. Assign students different roles such as question-asker, connection-maker, or participation-encourager.

During the spring, my students enjoyed closing class with one or two acts from a semester-long talent show or show-and-tell. I also posed a sign-off question for students to answer before disappearing from our computer screens. Examples include: What is a kind of food you like that most people don’t? Or, which superhero power would you choose? In the new school year, I plan to assign different students to create and pose their own sign-off questions.

COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS

As we move further into the year, collaborative projects involving student voice and choice put classroom culture into practice. Service projects such as a climate change awareness campaign can work well in a virtual format. Students can also work to solve community problems, such as by creating a canned-food drive to help alleviate food insecurity.

Art projects also work well in a collaborative format. Students can create whole-class or small-group books on Google Slides on any subject or create an anthology of short fiction or poetry. They can work with a partner to create digital notebooks or reading journals that are partly written conversations among peers. Students can even work in small groups or as a class to write their own reader’s theater scripts. They can compose on a shared Google Doc and then perform virtually or create short dramatic videos that stitch together different characters’ monologues.

FORGING INDIVIDUAL CONNECTIONS

Getting to know our students as individuals in a remote setting can be challenging. One way is to facilitate individual conferences through Google Meet or Zoom. We can also take care to respond individually to students’ work through comments on Google Doc assignments or through personalized video responses to Flipgrids.

We should remember, though, that remote learning does not have to be exclusively digital. Nothing makes a student feel more valued than a teacher going out of his or her way to connect with them. Driveway visits, phone calls, letters in the mail, and drive-by celebrations are just a few of the possibilities. As an added bonus, seeing students’ faces in real life boosts teacher joy.

Even before the pandemic, young people were increasingly feeling disconnected and isolated as a result of social media and other digital distractions. This global crisis has only made the isolation worse—much worse in some cases. However, with a little creativity and willingness to adapt to new media, we can create a vital and very real sense of community in our classrooms—in any format.

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Charlie Demmel

Recruitment Manager

At the age of 17, Charlie started his career as an apprentice within Education Recruitment in 2015. Starting initially as a Candidate Resourcer, Charlie quickly rose through the ranks and was promoted to Recruitment Consultant within his first year.

Since then, Charlie has had the opportunity to work in partnership with schools across London and Regional areas and in doing so, Charlie has grown a sizable network of schools to work alongside and support.

Charlie is an essential part of the recruitment process for many schools in Central and West London and regional areas too. Through his continuous support, his network of schools are able to recruit experienced staff as well as high-calibre graduates to put through their own Initial Teacher Training programme.

Charlie has an honest, transparent and personal approach which enables him to build strong, long lasting relationships with candidates and clients alike.

If you feel that Charlie could support you with your first or next step within the world of education, head on over to his LinkedIn page to arrange a time to discuss your current situation!

Matt Burgum

Recruitment Manager

Matt has always held a passion for education. Having long-considered a career as a Primary Teacher himself, he considers himself very fortunate to have spent much of his career to date working in an industry where he can positively enhance educational outcomes from a wider-perspective; through the quality of teaching and support staff that he provides to schools.

Matt has worked in Education Recruitment for the past six years. During this time, he has successfully supported Primary and Secondary Schools across London, East Anglia and the Home Counties with permanent teacher appointments and long-term graduate appointments. In addition, he has been heavily involved in Initial Teacher Training and is particularly invested in supporting school leaders to ‘grow their own’ teaching talent. Matt gets great enjoyment from speaking to ‘future teachers’ and listening to what has inspired them to consider teaching as their future careers. Being able to support these graduates in securing their first school-based role and then seeing their careers progress is incredibly rewarding.

Away from work, Matt loves spending time with his family and he can usually be found either on a long-walk somewhere in the countryside or at home watching Disney films. However, when not watching Moana or Frozen (his daughter’s choice, honest…), he is probably either playing five-a-side football, attempting to play golf or adding to his collection of obscurely flavoured gins.

Tom Stoten

Recruitment Manager

In a hugely competitive and saturated market, Tom has forged a proven track record of success across his 6 years in Education Recruitment, consistently delivering high-calibre Graduates, Teachers and Leaders to Primary and Secondary schools all across London, earning him several individual accolades along the way.

However, it is perhaps the manner in which he achieves this that stands him out as one of London’s most consistent and respected Recruiters.

Tom believes passionately in offering his schools quality, but perhaps more importantly, value, showing a clear understanding of the need for children to have the best educators in their classrooms, but also acknowledging the financial restraints placed upon London-based schools.

By sticking to his core beliefs – high-quality Candidates, dedicated Client service, and an approachable, solution-based manner – Tom is the first port of call for numerous schools across the Capital, and has even been working closely with several London-based Universities to aid the development of students looking to enter the wonderful world of education at source!

He is also a Father, giving him that extra, personal, incentive to ensure that those he represents to his Client schools are the strongest possible.

Hit Tom’s LinkedIn page for more about his journey and to read various Testimonials from happy Clients!

Jack Ribbons

Recruitment Director

Jack has worked in education recruitment since 2008, having started his career at Protocol Education. During his time at Protocol, he was one of the most successful Recruitment Consultants and led teams to achieve record levels.

Leaving Protocol, Jack went onto join Pertemps Education Network to open and manage offices in London and East Anglia. Recruiting and growing a team of Consultants in multiple locations. It wasn’t long before Pertemps Education Network became a competitor to more established companies.

Before starting Ribbons & Reeves, Jack’s last role in another education recruitment business was as Regional Director at EduStaff. He oversaw their operations from their office in London for two and half years before leaving in 2018

In 2019 Jack worked for a year at Frank Recruitment Group, a niche IT recruitment company. Here Jack managed the London Mason Frank team, focusing on Salesforce recruitment. He also launched their Nelson Frank brand into the UK, focussing on ServiceNow recruitment.

“My passion is to support schools in appointing the right staff, allowing them to become the schools greatest asset in pupils education. This is what drives me to be the best I can be and to support my team to deliver the best service to schools and candidates.”

Ben Reeves

Recruitment Director

Ben is one of Ribbons & Reeves founding partners, whose work experiences have centred around providing a memorable service. He considers himself to be extremely fortunate having worked alongside many outstanding business leaders and people in operational, strategic and delivery focused roles within SME to Global Enterprise level organisations.

Ben has been an award winning consultant throughout his recruitment career, he boasts one of the largest client portfolios within the Education Sector. One of the many great things about Ben’s approach to recruitment is he listens intently to the needs of the individual and schools he works with, to ensure the best match for both parties. His passion comes from providing a world-class service, he relishes and enjoys interaction with people on all levels and believes in the importance of lifelong learning.

“Learn from your colleagues, take on new challenges and push yourself beyond your comfort zone in order to truly grow”