Cultivating a Classroom Culture Virtually

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By Amanda Moreton

As educators continue navigating the 2020-2021 school year, it has become apparent that creating a supportive and positive virtual classroom culture presents challenges.

In my role as a Positive Behavior Coach at the Lincoln Center for Family and Youth, I help administrators and educators at Norristown Area School District foster safe learning environments for students at home and in school.

With school online, many students are struggling to feel invested in their education, which can disrupt their learning.

To help students feel a sense of belonging and a desire to participate, it is important that educators be intentional about developing strong class cultures.

Here are some ideas to assist in creating an open, positive, and engaged classroom culture. 

Community Time

One way to develop a strong classroom culture is through community time as a class or as an entire school. Every student wants to feel like they belong and that they are part of a group, so it is important to foster unity among classmates, especially in a virtual setting.

Activities such as Morning Meetings, Fun Time Fridays, group lunches, and theme days can provide students with a sense of community and cohesion.

Some students may not feel comfortable participating in their homes at first, and that is OK. To build trust, it is important to establish classrooms as safe spaces that provide students a sense of belonging.

It can also be helpful to regularly follow up with students individually to check in and address questions or topics they bring up in class.

Without community time to foster inclusion, students will often lose their sense of responsibility to the group and investment in their education. This is why the environment of the classroom, whether virtual or in-person, is crucial.

Creating Positive Relationships

In a traditional setting, greeting each student makes them feel special, included and wanted. Though it may seem harder to connect with students in a remote environment, we must be more intentional with the way we communicate to establish positive connections with every student.

Words are the current replacement for physical presence and touch, so you can vary it just as much as you would your physical presence.

Some examples include saying “Great effort on…!” instead of high fives, “I see you. I am here for you” instead of a fist bump, “I am so happy to see you” instead of a hug, and “Nice job, I’m proud of you” instead of a pat on the shoulder.

Creating positive relationships with students, will tremendously affect their respect for you as well as their willingness to engage with you.

Daily Rituals and Routines

Having a daily ritual is another great way to build cohesion within the classroom. While we may continue using our tried and true activities, it may be helpful to add some new rituals that would work well in a virtual setting.

As an example, you could invite students to take a minute in the morning to close their eyes and think of something they are grateful for or practice a simple breathing exercise.

These rituals can assist students with self-regulation and help them mentally prepare for the rest of the school day.

For a more creative option, students writing letters to each other could create deeper connections across the classroom. Partners could be randomly assigned, and your students can help you determine the length and delivery method (electronic or mail) of each letter.

Fostering peer relationships, especially for students who are new to the school, can significantly increase their desire to be involved in the class.

Consistency Matters!

Lastly, always remember to keep the expectations, routines and rules in your classroom consistent. Consistency matters! A lot! Students know when things are not part of the routine, and this can lead to anxiety and other issues.

To help with consistency in your school, be sure that school wide expectations are updated to include virtual behaviors, and consider creating specific “home” and “community” expectations for students in your classes as well.

Creating a culture, when there is no physical gathering, can be very difficult. Depending on the grade or population, it can feel impossible, but keep in mind that all of the things done in a traditional school setting can also be accomplished online with a few adjustments.

Try to include community time, rituals and positive connections into your daily and weekly plans, and in the end, do your best and keep moving forward!

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