Tips for Building Community in the Virtual, Socially Distanced and Hybrid Classrooms and With Parents

In the Virtual Classroom:

Tip #1

Encouraging personal expression in your virtual classroom community will help students feel more connected to themselves, each other and you, like a rotating bulletin board in which they can post things that are important to them, or an “Original Quote Board,” where students can post an original or favorite quote on a particular subject, for example Gratitude, Courage, or Compassion. The students could choose the subjects which would change weekly. There are SO many different ways to make your on-line classroom an exciting and delightful community that students and you look forward to sharing together each day. The more innovative and out-of-the-box you are, the more you ask students to weigh in and bring their own ingenuity to the task, the stronger and more vibrant your classroom will be, online, in-person or hybrid.

Tip #2

Remind students that you and they are part of living history as it’s unfolding in real time. Find innovative ways to help them grasp this and become excited about the significance. Some ideas to inspire your creative juices: Ask each student to prepare a brief video report on the new back to school reality from their personal perspective and to pretend it’s ten years in the future, and they’re looking back on this moment; Have each student write a letter to their future self about what’s happening now, the life lessons they’re learning during this major moment in history and what they want their future self to remember; Design a series of gratitude practices around what we’re going through now versus what kids and teachers endured under similar circumstances in the past, a kind of then and now essay; Ask students to develop an idea for a “gratitude app” and to present their ideas to the class (this could be done in groups or individually).

In the Socially Distanced and Hybrid Classrooms:

Tip #1

If you’re teaching in the socially distanced classroom with students attending remotely (hybrid), the more both groups can mirror each other, the more cohesive your classroom community will be. For example, if you require your in-person students to sanitize their hands every hour and keep a hand sanitizer on their desks, require the same of the students attending virtually. I also recommend the same dress code for hybrid classes. Kids have a powerful sense of what they think is “fair” and “unfair.” If in-person students are required to wear uniforms, but those attending class from home aren’t, it can cause a real divide. Class is class. Whenever, however possible, rules and routines, unless it’s logistically not practical, should apply to everyone. It’s a good idea to come up with a few small daily routines specifically designed to nourish this sense of mirroring in the hybrid classroom.

Tip #2

Make sure students attending remotely feel included, that they’re not just observing you teaching a class, but that they’re an active part of the process. To that end, whatever your tech set up, whether you’re teaching into the camera lens of your own device or the school has set up a camera for you, address the remote students periodically. Go over to the camera, look directly into the lens and talk to them. Have the in-person students wave and talk to their remote classmates. Create cohesion and inclusiveness. Yes, it might feel awkward or clumsy at first, but try and get used to looking at your in-person students and addressing them, then turning and looking into the camera lens. Pretend that camera lens is a window into another room where you also have students, and speak to both rooms, going back and forth in whatever way feels natural. Practice, share with students when it feels a little “weird,” and let them be part of your beautiful, funny, endearing learning curve of rocking the hybrid and socially distanced classroom!

Building Community with Parents During Stressful Periods:

Tip #1

If you’re being harassed by a parent, or a group of parents are gossiping or creating unnecessary drama online, it’s usually fear that’s motivating it. In most bullying situations, whether among children or adults, the bully is acting out in a cry for help. Perhaps that parent is going through a bitter divorce, financial hardship, or family crisis. Whatever their situation may be, if you can keep that in mind, it may help you find some compassion despite your anger, which will give you more control over any impulse to lash out.

Tip #2

Don’t engage the parent or group of parents publicly on-line as this is only likely to accelerate the issue. Instead, message them privately, acknowledge that you hear how upset they are, and suggest talking things through over the phone or in person/via zoom (if appropriate). When you do have that conversation, don’t interrupt or become defensive. Listen and then share your honest thoughts. Often, just letting someone talk and know that they’re being heard will dissipate enough of the tension to allow for a productive dialogue. Patience, understanding, empathy and dignity are not qualities that you can discipline into a child or even teach in a classroom. They must be inspired by example. Use this opportunity right now to be that inspiration for your children and students online and everywhere.

Special Tip for Administrators

During any type of crisis or sudden change to the routine, it’s important that everyone at school from the top down—administrators, teachers, office secretaries, school nurse, cafeteria and maintenance staff, everyone who works at the school are given the same verbiage, the same messaging to share. It’s helpful if administration creates a simple, basic one-sheet with frequently asked questions, that all school employees have, so that if there’s any crisis, disruption, or interruption to the norm, everyone is on the same page communicating the same information and messaging consistently. This is KEY. Additionally, when drafting this one-sheet, lead with the positive, not the negative. Be aware of word choice. Pay attention to how you want the message perceived and work backwards from there, constructing sentences that support that positive take. Also, update regularly. Make sure information is timely and fresh.

Stay tuned for my next blog post on new bullying trends and effective intervention strategies! And as always, if you’d like to talk with me about my anti-bullying programs, speaking at your school, PD offerings, or consulting, I’m here and honored to serve.