For almost a year, schools have greatly been affected by a worldwide pandemic. Everything teachers knew about teaching before has been completely turned upside down. While learning moved to an online format, and now a hybrid version, the importance of building community within the classrooms has soared. All students should feel welcomed, comfortable and have a sense of belonging amongst their classmates. Teachers have, once again, found new ways to build community in their classrooms.
At W.C. Petty Elementary, teachers have found new ways to build relationships as well as revising previous strategies. Mrs. Niemi, a second grade teacher, has been implementing community (or check-in) circles online. When students are in person, this practice would necessitate students sitting in a circle and using a “talking piece” to pass to the classmate sitting next to them for their turn. In our virtual world, the students verbally say who they are passing the “virtual talking piece” to and the respondent thanks them for the pass. The check-in session allows the students to share how they are feeling and what is going on in their life. The teacher and classmates are then able to provide support and understanding to students who may need it.
Mrs. Jasinski, a fourth grade teacher, has continued many of her previous community building practices. The exercise students love most is giving “props.” When a student does something that the class wants to praise and acknowledge, the student gets to choose which prop everyone will perform. Some of the class favorites are the Hulk, the Chili Pepper, the Trucker, the Firework, and the Oreo. The students have begun to invent their own props to share with the class, so the students’ innate creativity skills are showcased in a unique way.
Holding morning meetings has been a common practice for Mrs. Halterman’s class for years. Everyday, the students begin their morning meeting with a greeting. Every student is greeted everyday by someone in their class. When the students were in-person, they always greeted the student sitting next to them. The virtual format is less restrictive; the students are choosing different students to greet each day because they aren’t actually sitting next to anyone. After the greeting, the students have an opportunity to share and hear any messages. Lastly, they end the morning meeting with a game. Some games needed to be modified for the virtual setting, but it is still the students’ favorite part of their day. The game activity allows the students to have fun with one another, let their personalities come out and learn how to work with one another. Mrs. Halterman has seen the positive outcomes of morning meetings throughout other parts of the school day. The students work very well together in small groups and are more open to having assigned partners. The students become more respectful, helpful, and want to help one another as the year progresses.
Although we are not all back in person full time, teachers are working hard to keep their communities strong. Students and teachers are constantly finding new ways to engage one another in positive ways to better the classroom environment, whether we are in-person or remote. We are all in this together, and together we can weather this storm.