Building a strong community is more important now than ever during these school closures. Students, parents, teachers, and leaders all need the support system of a strong community to get through this time.
Possip surveyed parents all around the country about needs they have during the school closures- and we found that interestingly, what parents worry about the most is their child missing the social connection piece of schooling.
That’s not to say academics don’t matter to parents at this time. It’s just that this community aspect is really at top of mind for parents.
So how do we build community while we don’t have a physical school building?
First, we need to think about all the different parts of the school community.
Remember that parents and families are part of the community, and just as they want to be involved during a normal school year, they want to be involved now more than ever. And they really have to be now that schooling has moved to the home.
Community is crucial because if teachers, students, and families feel like they matter as a human, not just as a teacher/parent/student, and if they have multiple levels of community connections, it will make a huge difference for their commitment and satisfaction overall.
Ground yourself in this diagram below and make sure you’re hitting all of the different stakeholder relationships to create full community-building opportunities during this time.
The following ideas just things to get you thinking about ways to make connections. Your community needs will be unique. Some of these things will work, and some won’t. Specifically high tech vs. low tech options. Whatever your community is like, think about each connection in your own school context!
Parents and Staff
Making connections between parents and staff is crucial. At Possip, we do this through our Possip pulse check technology. This allows parents to have a voice, ask questions, and share ideas with the school. Possip makes parents feel heard. As long as you have a way to elicit two-way communication to get input from parents through either Possip or a weekly survey that gets sent out, you’ll see positive community outcomes! By asking questions, you’ll see exactly how parents want to participate and build community.
Host Online Events and Parent-Teacher Conferences:
Some ways that Possip parents shared that help make them feel connected with their schools include having online community events like EOY ceremonies or PTO meetings, having online parent trainings to teach parents how to use the curriculum in effective ways, and remote parent-teacher conferences so parents know what their student should be focusing on right now. This can also be done in a low-tech way with parents being able to dial in by phone.
Teacher Appreciation Month Planning:
Parents also have asked how they can appreciate teachers, especially with teacher appreciation month coming up soon! Some ideas are giving shout-outs to teachers through Possip for some verbal affirmation, sending e-gifts like amazon gift cards to stock up on teacher supplies or whole foods gift cards for grocery deliveries, homemade student gifts like cards or art for teachers, and also planning a virtual teacher appreciation month.
To begin planning that appreciation month, parents can send teachers a staff survey so teachers can share ideas for appreciation or share needs that parents could fill as a form of appreciation! This will help guide what teachers want in your community.
Fun ideas I’ve heard of are offering experiences to teachers and having parents or administrators host fun events and teachers can sign up to attend (for example, a cooking classes, teaching a hobby like art or yoga, a parent or family dance/music performance) This builds community and appreciation. Also, a daily raffle or game with parent donated gifts that teachers could try to win! Teacher appreciation month will be a great way to rally together and build community right now!
Student to Staff
Think about ways students and staff can connect!
Continue School or Classroom Traditions:
Whatever school or classroom traditions you had before the school closures, try to continue those. If you had spirit weeks at school, try one this month! For example, Have “jersey day” and students can take pictures at home and the school can compile pictures to their social media so students can still feel that fun community-building experience. If your school had a morning “advisory lesson” or homeroom time, teachers could take turns filming those lessons to send to students to feel connected with teachers in that way.
Lunch Zoom Chats:
Teachers can also have open “lunch zoom chats” so there can be a teacher-student connection during that informal time!
Personalized Notes or Virtual Check-Ins:
Depending on the amount of students teachers have, personalized notes or postcards sent home, or emails to students are great ways to make connections and make them feel loved and cared for.
If teachers have a larger amount of students, personal check-ins to start an online class or office hours with informal conversations are easy ways to allow students to feel connected during school closures.
Student to Student
Be intentional about how students are connecting with one another.
Zoom Breakout Rooms:
Teachers can use zoom breakout rooms to group students to do virtual “turn and talks” or “think pair shares” or even just partner discussions. Those breakout rooms are not only good for making student connections but will also help increase comprehension of the online lesson.
Connect students to have penpals where they could email each other or handwrite letters. A parent we know here at Possip does this daily and has a “letter lunch” where they write a letter to their penpal every day.
Creating group or partner projects for curriculum is a great way to build community for students. They’ll get to meet up with peers virtually and learn at the same time. This is also a great opportunity to do a service project with a class, group, or whole school. There are many needs in our world right now, so pushing students to commit acts of service for others has multiple benefits.
Continue Student Culture Staples:
Finally, continuing any student culture staples that happen at school. For example, continue online student club meet-ups or continuing any school community small groups that help students feel connected. This could be led by teachers or appoint a student leader to run these online meetings.
You could ask a different student each day or week to record themselves saying the morning pledges or routines you all have and send them to the student body to feel connected.
Continuing student awards like “student of the month” will make students feel a sense of normalcy and positive connection to the community.
Also, don’t forget to continue any social-emotional learning curriculum you have for students. This time is extremely difficult for students and they may need extra SEL support. We had a power session on this, so check out our website for lots of ways to do this for students remotely during this time. https://possip.com/possip-power-sessions-videos-professional-development/
It’s important to reflect on what things are a part of your school student culture and find a way to replicate that remotely.
Teacher to Teacher
Finally, teachers need each other to get through this tough time. We did a whole power session on how to care for teachers during this time, so check that our on our Possip website for lots of ideas on this topic.https://possip.com/possip-power-sessions-videos-professional-development/
Book Clubs or Professional Learning Groups:
But a few quick ideas would be to create book clubs or professional learning groups so teachers can continue learning and growing together.
Appointing a sunshine committee of teachers who plan fun virtual events or community-building activities. Teachers know what their peers need most, so build up teachers to help lead this charge.
Mentors or Buddy Systems:
Finally, principals can assign mentors or create informal buddy systems. Principals could create weekly “coffee buddies” where staff members are randomly assigned to meet a different staff member one-on-one virtually or by phone. That could create some new bonds for staff members who wouldn’t normally spend a lot of time together, and could make the community even stronger than ever after these school closures!
When thinking about building a community remotely, it can feel overwhelming. But every small step makes a big difference.
Be consistent and make these community-building activities routines for families, students, and teachers.
It will take time, but be patient and it will allow the community to have a lot of fun together and come out even stronger than before!
I also want to end on the importance of leaders finding a community between other leaders. Being a school leader can feel pretty isolating and lonely at times. Possip has a new online forum called the Possip Power Network for our partners.
Our Possip school leaders are posting questions, getting ideas, and finding a community of their own through this virtual discussion. Please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about how to access this virtual community or want to learn more! We actually have a discussion thread on the power network for teacher appreciation month ideas. There are some great ideas on that topic posted, but reach out to me to learn more about that!