Creating a School Community During Covid

In this post Kristin Harrington explores various options for creating a school community during a pandemic.  

Creating a School Community During Covid

Many of us are entering or halfway through the second quarter of school during a pandemic, making this a great time to stop and reflect. To call this year challenging is an understatement, and the amount of flexibility needed has left many educators frustrated and exhausted.

So how are our students doing?

When talking with and reading posts from educators across the globe, a common theme I am seeing is frustration over lack of student engagement and attendance. This is particularly true for our online students, and students in classes with a combination of in-person and online learners. Spicer (2016) provides evidence to show that high student achievement is directly linked to a positive school culture. Additionally, Elias (2019) presents similar findings to show the impact that a positive school culture can have on student attendance. Numerous other studies echo these findings.

So how successful have we been with making our online learners feel like part of the school community? Here are some questions to ask yourself and some ideas for solutions that may help you engage your students, and create a more inclusive learning environment.

How are you helping all students feel valued?

During traditional brick and mortar classes, there are many opportunities to connect with students, show support, and provide encouragement. Most teachers greet students at the door, compliment them in the hallway, and have casual conversations at the end of the day as we wait for the bell to ring. This is more difficult to facilitate in an online environment, but can still be accomplished. Here are a couple ideas that I have seen implemented successfully this year.

Morning or Anytime Meetings- Set aside time to chat with your students. Encourage online and face-to-face students to find a quiet and cozy place away from their desk. They can even go outside. This will help define this time, and make it feel more special. Find out how your students are doing, what they are interested in, and their goals for the year.

Dialogue Journals- Another idea is to find time to communicate with students individually or in small groups. This can even be an online dialogue journal, where you write back and forth with any interested students. Here is a template you can use.

How are you keeping all students and parents in the communication loop?

One way to ensure our online students feel like part of the community is to include them in all communication. Additionally, it is important to try to provide information to them at the same time it is shared with your in-person learners. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

Stream Your News Show- At my school, we are fortunate to use StreamYard to stream our daily news show. Our live broadcasts feature anchors and crew members comprised of both in-person and online students. You can view an example here. By broadcasting online, teachers can display the news in their classrooms, while parents and students watch from their homes. This keeps everyone in the loop about important events and information. If you don’t have access to Streamyard, you could use Zoom or another video conference tool to provide important daily or weekly updates.

Inclusive Newsletters– When creating your weekly or monthly family newsletter, reflect on how frequently you are showcasing your online learners. Encourage students to send in photos, and make sure you are sharing their projects and quotes in any pictures or announcements you include.

How are you checking in on student social emotional learning needs?

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is important now more than ever. It is important to address student needs at the district, school, and classroom level. Teachers shouldn’t feel alone in this effort, so consider opportunities for support staff and community members to help address student needs.

Student Mentors– One idea is to provide an adult mentor to any struggling online learners. This person’s role isn’t to tutor or lecture their student, but to get to know them and check in on their SEL needs. Students need to feel like they are cared for and supported, and this can go a long way to encourage student attendance and participation in their classes.

Nobody has all the answers when it comes to teaching during a pandemic. I encourage you to reflect, make changes, but also let yourself off the hook when things don’t go as planned. By building a classroom and school culture that includes all students, we can begin this next chapter in a positive way.

Elias, Maurice J. (2019). A Two-Step Process for Reducing Chronic Absenteeism. Retrieved 14 November 2020, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/two-step-process-reducing-chronic-absenteeism

Spicer, F. V. (2016). School culture, school climate, and the role of the principal.

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