By OER Project Team
It’s more important than ever to foster a positive classroom culture. We’re all facing new challenges and a huge amount of uncertainty in our lives. Before we can even get to teaching and learning, we must attend to our students’ well-being and make sure we’ve established a safe and comfortable learning environment. This helps engage students, makes them more open to sharing their successes and failures, and opens up the space for more productive learning. But how do you do this at a distance? We recommend a multi-phase approach to building culture in the classroom. Be sure to check out the Fostering a Positive Classroom Culture at a Distance Guide for more detailed ideas!
Start of the Year Setup
At the outset, it’s important to understand what we’re calling the student landscape. Where are students? What kind of technology do they have access to? Are they in a safe space? Are they food- secure? Do they have a quiet place to work? Is their computer access limited? We recommend learning about your students at the beginning of the year through an in-depth survey. This will help inform your planning early in the school year. Check out Understanding Your ‘Classroom’ Landscape When Teaching at a Distance below for more detailed information on what you might include in such a survey.
Once you understand what you’re able to reasonably do with your students, it’s time to get together as a class and set norms for distance learning. This will help create the space for a safe and supportive learning environment and respectful discourse. Revisit these norms regularly and have students discuss ways to redirect if norms are not being followed. Also, decide as a class if the norms should be revised throughout the school year.
Now that you’ve done the groundwork, it’s time to establish some regular routines and practices. And we don’t just mean academic ones—social interaction and fun are incredibly important. Allow time to get to know your students, for them to get to know you, and to make space for human connection. Carve out a few minutes of each class period for pure social interaction. Create a buddy system so students can check in on one another, socially AND academically. Create a weekly calendar so students are clear about expectations—providing a clear structure will go a long way!
Developing and Maintaining Trust and Rapport
Most of what you did in the first phase will carry into this one. Keep the social interactions going, and be sure to check in with your students regularly about how they’re feeling, both socially and academically. One easy way to do this is to have them rate how they feel on a scale from one to five. If students are using their cameras, they can just hold up their fingers. If not, they can type their rating into a chat, which is fairly easy to evaluate at a glance.
Once you know your students and they know you, opportunities will open to create student-centered learning opportunities that incorporate voice and choice. Encourage sharing and recognition, celebrate successes all year long, and find ways for students to inject their personalities into the class and into their work. Also, don’t forget to let students know who you are and the challenges you’re facing. It’s a two-way street, and although you’re all in this together, you’re leading the way.
Header image: Online class at home, © Yulia Sutyagina / Getty Images.
If you enjoyed this post, there's a lot more where that came from! Register for an OER Project account to join an active community of fellow educators, and access our full courses free of charge!