Right now there is a lot of uncertainty around the future of education; we’re all waiting to hear what’s next and the plan for reopening our schools.

For most schools we’ve seen three options floating around: 1) virtual, 2) hybrid with staggered scheduling and 3) face-to-face, everyone back in the buildings with certain protocols in place to keep everyone safe. At the same time though there is so much uncertainty in the back of our minds, knowing that we could very quickly be sent home and back to remote learning. So how do we plan for all of this unknown? How do we prepare ourselves for an unprecedented year? There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle, but there is one piece that seems to stand out.

We start with trust and relationships. This needs to happen no matter what school looks like in the fall and it needs to be a priority. (And yes, trust and relationships can be built in fully remote settings!) Here at Powerful Learning Practice we see it happen almost every day.

Many of us have ice breakers and team building activities planned the first days or weeks of school. You probably have a clear process you use in normal circumstances to support your students as they develop community and relationships at the start of a new school year. This year, our students (and us), are going to need intentional trust building more than ever.

Why does this need more attention this year?

COVID-19 and the anti-racism movement both are having a great impact on our society, our families, our students and each of us as individuals. We have always known we needed culturally responsive and inclusive classrooms. Now, more than before, we need to address these issues explicitly in our classrooms. One way we can ensure that all students feel seen, appreciated, and valued is by consciously building relationships and connections within our schools and classrooms. Ask yourself, what can we do to make sure everyone feels seen, heard and appreciated in our schools and classrooms?

Just as adults are managing the uncertainty of daily life, our students are feeling it too. In the midst of this unknown, routines and being in a community gives our students support in feeling safe and secure. What routines can we establish to provide structure and build community?

We may not know what experiences our students are bringing back to school in the fall or how everything has affected them, but what we do know is that our classrooms, our schools, can be their safe place. Especially in a virtual capacity, we can give our learners a place to share, connect and ask for help. As educators, we need to intentionally build community and trust into our online classrooms and learning activities.

What can this look like?

  • Plan intentional community building activities that continue well past the first few days/weeks of school. We need trust protocols that become a part of the daily routine and as we enact them we should be asking in the back of our mind, how can this translate to a digital setting?
  • Provide opportunities for students to share and connect in a variety of ways; doing so gives them choice in how and what they share.
  • Create structures and norms for interacting with each other both face-to-face and in online situations. This gives learners a safe place to practice and they know what to expect in this new environment.

You might be thinking “Okay, I do all of this already in my face-to-face classroom, what does this look like in an online setting?”

Here are some of our top practices we use here at Powerful Learning Practice to build trust and community in our courses and online spaces:

  • Begin live meetings with intentional connection activities where everyone is invited to share in a variety of ways: voice, text, images, or a quick poll.
  • Model being active in online spaces by responding to all posts shared by students and asking questions to further the discussion.
  • Give clear communication and expectations, this way you ensure that everyone has what they need to feel confident in meeting your expectations.
  • Incorporate multiple opportunities for students to share their thoughts. One of the great advantages of using online tools is that you can elevate more voices!
  • Connect 1-on-1 as best you can, reach out via email, create a quick video messages, send a private messages in your online space, or mail a letter.
  • Celebrate each other’s success and contributions as often as possible.

Comment below and let us know some ways you have or might build community in this upcoming school year?

Wondering how you can personalize this for your students or school? Or feeling like you want some guidance on prepping for the year ahead? Powerful Learning Practice has a variety of resources and supports available!

Let us help guide you through this time of change! We offer a customizable experience that includes the tools, processes and resources you need to be confident and wildly successful with teaching, learning or leading in an online or blended environment. Visit The Connected Learner Experience  to learn more and join our online community to connect with other educators on the same path as you for the 2020-21 school year. We can all learn together.

Our Teaching Online & Blended Learning eCourse is kicking off on July 30th! Where we will walk you through and model best practices for teaching online and blended learning, so you feel confident in your planning for the year ahead.

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Jennifer Bloomingdale

Jennifer Bloomingdale graduated from the College of St. Rose with a Bachelors in Childhood Education and a Masters in Educational Technology. She is a former classroom teacher who developed a passion for integrating technology and assisting others in doing so. Jennifer has been an eCourse facilitator at Powerful Learning Practice since 2012, where she developed and facilitated courses on using Google Apps for Education and integrating technology. Her work at PLP introduced her to the world of coaching, which has lead to her becoming a certified evocative coach and an instructional coach.

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