Creating Classroom Community Virtually! Part 4: Connections
An essential part to building a relationship with someone is finding similar interests and common passions. These connections allow for easy conversations and make students AND adults feel more comfortable when engaging with that person they’ve found something in common with. Many ice breaker games are about asking questions to establish these sort of connections and commonalities. That’s because once again, ice breakers aim to build community quickly, and make individuals relax and feel more comfortable before diving into whatever workshop, lecture, class or course the teacher plans to present.
I want that for my students. I want them to feel safe, and comfortable in my classroom, even if we are virtual. I want them to realize (as quickly as possible) that my classroom “space” is one where they can be themselves, and celebrated for their differences. However, they also feel connected to the class or several members of the community because of the commonalities we’ve worked to discover. This means, in the first few weeks of school, I put a LOT of energy and time into finding connections between students and myself and students and each other.
In my asynchronous forms, I’ve been making videos using Zoom and mmhmm (I am a lucky Beta tester and have been having WAY too much in the last few weeks), and I am spending a lot of time talking about ME… what I like…who I am…
You may want to skip to 3:30 on this one… to see how I start talking about what I like and setting it up for a video we watch….
Now, after kiddos have watched these videos (that are built into their Google Forms) they go back to that Google form and answer questions like these:
Sometimes these questions check for comprehension, sometimes they are to gather information about the students’ likes and interests. I also include questions that very intentionally ask students if they found anything they had in common with me after watching the video. I am asking them to really think about how we may have a connection.
In follow up videos, I am telling students about the results of the forms. I am telling them that 80% of the class said they like icecream but 20% said they don’t. This is important because all too often, kids who don’t like something that is often very popular amongst other kids, they either won’t say, or they’ll let you know as long as they know it won’t be shared publicly. Now, I am not stating any names, but I am saying hey 6 other kids have the SAME feelings as you. I had THREE students in a LIVE class last week speak up (in the chat) to find out WHO ELSE was just like them and didn’t like ice cream…. this tells me that 1. YAY! They’re watching my videos! 2. It really DOES make a difference when building community to intentionally find connections between the kids in your space.
Another way it has been made evident to me that this time is so important is in the faces of my NEW students. I have a TON of new kids in my 6th and 7th grade classes. These students look SERIOUSLY intimidated about starting the year at a new school and VIRTUALLY no less. Since I have the opportunity in my class to talk about our favorite animals, foods, and places in the city, (because language IS my content….) finding connections between these new students and their peers feels EASY in my class. This is especially important for these new students who don’t have a chance to talk to others in the hall, during lunch, or recess. In doing this, I am helping facilitate those connections and possible future friendships. I watch their faces go from visibly uncomfortable and nervous, to laughing and smiling as I turn myself into a pineapple when I realize that 3 kids in the class chose THAT as their favorite fruit just like the new student! (I will blog about SnapCamera eventually I swear….)
I think you get the picture. Whether you are teaching asynchronously or synchronously, choose your high frequency words for the beginning of the year, based on those that are easiest to ask students about their interests, and FIND those CONNECTIONS! You’ll see it makes a huge difference in building classroom community!
That’s all for now my friends!
Until next time,
Stay happy, stay safe, stay well, stay sane,
and HAPPY TEACHING!
La Maestra Loca