At Success Academy, we know great teaching and learning can only happen when students feel connected and part of a strong classroom community. For new scholars and new teachers, remote learning can feel overwhelming — how can we feel together when we’re so far apart? We asked teachers who excelled at remote learning in the spring for their advice on building community in the classroom. Here’s what they had to say.
Create Opportunities for Scholars to Talk to Each Other
I can’t stress this enough. You have to find time to let your students socialize, as well as pivot your lessons around group discussion. In the spring, I designed a collaborative group project that required all of my students to participate. I also incorporate ice breakers so scholars can get to know each other. The Zoom breakout group function is fantastic for encouraging group work, too! As long as systems of accountability are in place, my scholars can simultaneously get to know each other while mastering new content. This kind of interaction is critical to our students.
—Michelle Jackson, SA High School of the Liberal Arts
Have One-On-One Conversations
Don’t sacrifice individual conversations with your students. It’s so important to intentionally build individual relationships with kids. Start your day with a conversation in a small group, invite students to have lunch with you, or start a snack video conference just to talk with them. Importantly, schedule individual touchpoints to check in with students — especially if you can tell a student is struggling or misbehaving.
—Dominic Kaltenborn, SA Fort Greene
Be Enthusiastic, Even When It Feels Silly
I’m a pretty animated teacher, but teaching remotely makes it more difficult to translate those enthusiastic vibes to my scholars. So I tried to maintain the same — if not more — excitement and energy during all of my lessons. At times I felt silly, for instance, doing Call and Response when I couldn’t hear responses, or singing the Friday song for the whole class. But embracing the silly was worth it and always put smiles on my students’ faces!
—Paige Story, SA Crown Heights
Celebrate Your Scholars’ Wins — and Incentivize Them!
One of my colleagues, Danielle Scindian, and I created fun ways for scholars to earn points using the application called Class Dojo. Every morning, we pumped up scholars by reminding them how they could earn points — the more “Dojo” points they earned, the bigger the prize they’d get at the end of the week! It was a huge hit; the kids were super stoked whenever they heard that little bing! that signified they’d earned a point. Learning should be fun! Find ways to keep that at the forefront of your teaching, and joy will be the center of your classroom, even remotely.
—Tia Whiteman, SA Bergen Beach
Don’t be Afraid to Get Personal
I found that scholars responded well to me just being myself! I wasn’t afraid to show off my pets (My scholars LOVE animals!), do a scavenger hunt around my house with various personal items, and ask my scholars about their lives, too. These quirky moments of authenticity were a real source of joy for my scholars.
—Alison Bergman, SA Harlem 6
Utilize Social Media
I made a class Instagram account where parents could tag me in scholar talent challenges, science challenges, and other project-based learning projects. This was a great way for my class to stay updated on what everyone was doing — and it gave them something to talk about in class the next day! Every morning, I was sure to share the pictures and talk about them for scholars who hadn’t had a chance to see them.
—Naomi Snyder, SA Harlem 3
Incorporate Daily Shoutouts
At the end of each day, I asked five students to share something positive about another scholar. My kids shared such thoughtful and kind sentiments. This was a time to celebrate each other, and it really helped foster joy in my classroom!
—Taylor Gordon, SA Hell’s Kitchen
Ask Your Kids What They Want
Kids respond to feeling heard, and I really wanted to give them a little bit of ownership during the remote learning process. Feeling stuck on how to foster community in your classroom? When in doubt, just ask! My kids told me they wanted to try new technology with their friends online, so we used applications like Jamboard and Kami to play games and do group work. I never would have known if I hadn’t asked!
—Toni Donohue, SA Williamsburg
Ask Parents What They Want
Parents know their kids best, right? Why not reach out to them for suggestions and ideas about how their scholars socialize and learn best? Through parent tips, I did a workout class with my scholars, had snack-and-chat time, and provided time for my scholars to “paint” on their devices and screen share to talk about what they were drawing! The recommendations I received were so valuable and really helped foster community in my classroom.
—Paige Story, SA Crown Heights
Laugh — A Lot!
I love to laugh with my kids, and I even created a meme competition for what was going on in class. They had to make a meme about something that happened in the section of the book covered in that day’s class, and submit it to me via email before the next day. All memes submitted were then posted on a Google slide for all to see to start class the following day. It’s creative, hilarious, and a great example of storytelling!
—Ryan Long, SA Ditmas Park Middle School