It’s May. Many schools are preparing for the end of the school – some as soon as this week while others of us wait until early June. Remote learning continues on and I hear from more and more of my colleagues and teacher friends that student participation and motivation continue to drop. With four more weeks of instruction left, how do we continue to foster a strong sense of community within our digital classrooms and learning environments?

In a recent Edutopia article, writer and high school educator Leah Henry offers some tips for building culture within the digital classroom based on her experience with virtual teaching.

Complete a culture inventory: Henry recommends to plan with the end in mind – what kind of culture do you want in your digital classroom? Henry states, “If everything seems to be working, keep doing what you’re doing. But if you find that your online classroom isn’t focused on learning, plan the culture that will lead to it.” She says to ask yourself the following guiding questions:

Do students show up for live sessions?
Are they interacting with the material I provide?
Does their work reflect the objectives of the course?
Are they communicating with me regularly?

Establish digital community agreements: Henry also recommends establishing community agreements based on the National School Reform Faculty. She states, “The key to building a culture is revisiting these agreements during every class session.” Henry encourages educators to revisit those agreements at the beginning and end of class and have students self-reflect on whether those agreements were met through exit tickets.

Establish trusting relationships: Building relationships through empathy, trust, and understanding is crucial for any classroom – including virtual classrooms. Henry states, “Building trust involves daily contact, via a phone call, email, LMS announcement, Remind message, or even a letter to keep students connected, especially early in the course. And everyone must have equal access to the learning experience.”

Build respect: You can’t really respect someone without knowing them. Henry recommends “getting to know you” surveys and states, “A culture of respect is fed by relevant, interesting tasks, and the information from [a] survey can help you design those.” She also favors assigning jobs during small group work to ensure accountability of all students. “This simple strategy also builds responsibility through both the roles that students take and the expectation that everyone contributes,” Henry states.

Scaffold responsibility: Having clear expectations and a set routine from the beginning will help students, Henry says. “Responsibility can be the toughest and most important aspect of a virtual classroom to build. Students have to juggle a lot when they’re working from home, and you can help them develop some basic time management and coping skills.” She also recommends that students have their own learning space at home – a place that they can learn without distraction.

To read Henry’s article in length, visit Edutopia here.

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