Fostering connection and community during remote learning

“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids to work together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important” Bill Gates. 
Even though a lot has changed recently, this stays the same. Yes, we are relying much more on technology to communicate with our students, and it can seem very impersonal and removed, but the role of the teacher to connect with and motivate students has never been more important. The more connected that students feel to their teacher and their classmates, the more motivated they will be to engage with the tasks that you set for them. 
This is a strange time, one that none of us foresaw. Thankfully, schools and teachers around the world have been working around the clock to make sure that kids everywhere still have access to education via online and remote learning. How this looks in each school can be very different, depending on access to technology, demographics, skills and budget. It can also depend on the home environment of each student, both in terms of their physical environment and parental support.
What all students have in common however is that they are now isolated from their peers and forced to learn independently. Whilst this can have some positive benefits (for example, they may be more compelled to develop the skills of self-regulation and take more initiative in their learning), it can also have negative consequences. They may become unmotivated, lost or bored, they might lack the support that they need, and they are also losing the opportunity to foster the important skills of collaboration and teamwork. 
Studies show that people learn best when they are in a safe and supportive environment, where they feel a sense of belonging. This often depends on the students relationship with their teacher and their peers. If there is a strong sense of connection and community within the class, students are more motivated to learn. So how can we foster this connection and community when students are learning remotely? Here are a few ideas to get you thinking: 
  • Incorporate group work into your lessons (here are some ideas for how to do this). 
  • Have a video conference where everyone introduces their pets to each other
  • Try to have a one-on-one conversation (via phone, video conference, live chat, email etc) with every student on a consistent basis depending on your time commitments. It could just be 5 mins every fortnight which might not seem like much, but for some students it will mean the world. 
  • Set up online discussion boards - some discussion topics could be related to the curriculum, but also include fun topics like what their favourite tv show is at the moment. 
  • If you don’t do video conferencing, either record some video or audio of you saying a quick hello everyday with a short update on how things are going in your life, tell a joke, or something along those lines.You could include a guessing game, where you say a quote from someone famous and students have to figure out who it is. If you can’t record video or audio, write it in an email.
  • Celebrate student birthdays 
  • Include parents in the conversation as much as possible. Some ideas for this could be: 
    • Send an email at the beginning of each week with the learning intentions that will be covered and some ideas for questions that parents could ask their children.
    • Include activities in your lesson plan that utilises parents as a resource - for eg have students interview their parents or ask parents to take their child on a ‘field trip’ (observing social distancing rules of course).
    • Recognise student achievement by email parents or sending a note home via mail.  
  • Run a fun quiz using a program like Quizizz with your class that helps everyone to learn more about each other, including yourself. 
  • Have ’themes’ for each day - for eg. Purple Mondays, Hat Tuesdays, Wacky Wednesdays, Sport star Thursdays, crazy hair Fridays, etc. 
  • Run competitions 
  • ‘A photo a day’ challenge - students (and you) post one photo every day that depicts something about their lives. 
  • Encourage a gratitude practice by setting up a Padlet board and asking students to write what they are grateful for. 
  • Encourage acts of kindness or 'good deeds' and ask students to share what they have done, received or seen in the wider community. 
If you try any of these ideas, let me know how they go! You can reach me at [email protected] or @futurefocusedteaching on Instagram. 
Kelly 🙂 
PS. To access a range of free teaching tools and templates to make your life a little bit easier, check out the Freebies Vault
For more ideas regarding online teaching and remote learning, you may be interested in these articles: 

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