Continuing Community

After sharing about the word “welcome” in my first post, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss how we continue to make our students and parents feel welcome at a time when we cannot see them face to face like we used to. How do we continue to build community with purpose and intention?

Community of Learners

We are using OneNote in Office 365 as our platform for receiving and recording daily tasks but regardless of the platform you are using, there are ways to adapt these ideas. Here are some things I started doing with my students since remote learning began (some ideas evolved over time):

  • Inserting an audio or video greeting to listen to in the mornings. One of our first online assignments was to record a positive and encouraging audio message to their classmates. Then over the next few days, when they logged in to see the day’s tasks, they could listen not only to my greeting but one from their classmate too! It warmed my heart to listen to their kind messages to each other.
  • Students receive daily tasks so leaving a personal note to read on their personal page that includes their name makes them feel welcome. It’s just like at the beginning of the day when I open my doors with a smile and a greeting that always includes stating their name. So their page starts with “Hello or Good morning, [name]! How are you?” with other messages specific to them. I have always believed there is great power in using someone’s name to make them feel welcome. [This will be a topic for another post.] If I know that a specific parent is directly supporting the learning at home, I also include a direct hello to their parent and include their name too! It takes just a minute or so but I believe it goes a long way to be greeted every morning by their teacher even though they are at home!
  • In our Collaboration Space, we have the closest thing to our “Community Circle” that we used to have daily in class. Students have shared how this space feels similar and that’s why it’s one of their most favourite things to do. Me included! Truly a highlight of my day! It’s our way to connect every day. It’s an opportunity to share work or thoughts about the questions of the day. I offer choice and they have an opportunity to comment on each other’s ideas too. I have shared some examples on Twitter – Sharing our positive message with the world and our May the 4th (Star Wars) wishes. I loved coming up with different ideas each day.
If you do not have a Collaboration Space, the same activity can be accomplished on a blog through comments, a Padlet wall, or a shared space on Office 365 Word or GoogleDocs, for example. I created a table so each student has their own space to write. Click image to view PDF.
  • At the beginning of every Zoom meeting regardless of the purpose, we always do a check-in and everyone has an opportunity to share how they are feeling and why. The time spent on the check-in is so important to reconnect and I daresay more important than any content we need to cover. It fills our hearts to hear many share how happy they are because they can see each other. Sometimes during class meetings, it could easily take over 20 minutes just for this part to share feelings but they genuinely appear to listen to each other. I have to say, it is easier to keep them quiet as they take turns over Zoom with “mute all” than in the classroom! Even if this wasn’t something you were doing in class, starting now is never too late!
  • Then right afterwards, we always do some physical activity. They love it! There’s nothing like exercising together that bonds you too. This was what we were used to in class so we’ve continued the tradition over Zoom. We have played Simon Says for exercises or chosen from our typical activities:

Exercise spinner

To create your own spinners, go to Wheel of Names (free)

Community of Parents

Ensuring parents continue to feel welcome has never been more important! For decades, we have used the term “parents as partners” and now, they truly are our partners. We need them like they need us and the younger the child, the more we rely on our partners at home. Here are some ways we stay connected as a community:

  • Families were used to receiving a weekly blog post since the beginning of the year with updates about our learning so this has continued to keep them informed. Being informed is very much like being connected and a part of the community. In order to make them feel welcomed back initially after spring break, I created a welcome video so they could see and hear me. It challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone but I saw such great value to comforting their hearts and minds because schools would not be reopening anytime soon. I shared on Twitter one student’s feedback: My video made him feel better and more safe and secure.
  • Before we started remote learning, each parent was called to connect and welcome them “back to school”. It was really a pleasure to speak to every parent and then such a great joy to speak to each student as well. I felt that they needed the interaction as much I did as my soul truly was filled after each conversation. Relationships will help us get through this as we work together so this investment of time was so necessary.
  • Like most relationships, the more time and effort you invest, the deeper the connections and relationships you have. So one of my favourite things to do is to either give a parent a surprise phone call or inform them of how proud I am over how hard their child is working or how they made a positive impact in someone’s day. The more details the better because we want to “notice, name, and nuture” positive behaviours in order to encourage more. This is what I used to do in person at the door after school and so miss – regularly share good news stories! One day, a student this year just decided for himself that he was going to slow down and write more legibly. I felt so proud of his sustained effort to improve. He said something like, “I know you are going to tell my mom. You are that kind of teacher.” Yes, I want to be that kind of teacher who seeks out parents to share positive stories about their child. These stories connect our hearts together because we both can feel proud of successes. It’s these things that add up to a lot at the end in terms of building relationships with parents.
  • Regularly asking for feedback from parents also indicates to them that they have a role to play as they are working with you and a part of your classroom community. I sent home online surveys and emails asking for information about how the family is doing (a check-in), regularly offered my support, and asked for an update on how it has been going at home like a temperature gauge. This gives parents a voice and I have appreciated every suggestion because ultimately it is for the betterment of the overall program for remote learning. I am the one assigning daily tasks but I do not have eyes and ears in their home so I cannot read student’s behaviours and attitudes in the same way I could in person so I need my parents to tell me. We work together as a TEAM = Together Everyone Achieves More.
  • Recently, I held a parent meeting over Zoom one Friday night because I felt strongly about the importance for parents to reconnect with each other and for me to thank them face to face. We belong together as a group of parents all with similar interests – their child’s best interest at heart. The meeting was very well attended. We started with sharing how we were feeling with some positives and challenges to remote learning, parents shared some tips, they had an opportunity to ask questions, and we ended off collectively sharing ideas about year end celebration possibilities with some students returning to school while others would not. Anytime you can collaborate on ideas, that feeling of working together helps to build your community of parents.

Last but definitely not least, ensuring that your parents fully understand how much you appreciate their support at home is crucial to making them feel like they are a part of your team. I take every single opportunity to thank my parents for their support and I’m specific about what it is I am thankful for. I don’t think we can over thank especially at a time like this. Gratitude is something that is meant to be shared and if my heart is full of appreciation, I can’t not share it freely! I know it’s a mutual appreciation we share as we work together as a community. Stronger together! Here’s my tweet about thanking my parents during Teacher Appreciation Week since they are their child’s teacher at home.

I would love to hear how you have been building your community with students and parents. Please feel free to share in the comments section or send me an email at Thank you!

“To belong to a community is to act as a creator and co-owner of that community. What I consider mine I will build and nurture. The work, then, is to see in our communities a wider and deeper sense of emotional ownership and communal ownership. It means fostering among all of a community’s citizens a sense of ownership and accountability, both in our relationships and what we actually control.” – Peter Block

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