A sense of community is the foundation of everything in education. Without it, we’re never able to really connect and engage in deep learning. Fostering community while virtual during a pandemic is not easy, but I was blown away by my high school students’ creativity and by how deep the connections between us have become. As we approach the end of the school year, I want to harness the community-building lessons to end strong.
4 Strategies to Maintain Strong Relationships Down the Stretch
1. Get out of their way. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that students continue to be resilient. My first lesson in building community was to support students in doing the work. My students have a project option that revolves around proposing and creating a community-building event. They choose what to do, and it can be aimed at our class; our design-thinking pathway, which includes 200 students in various grades across English, history, and science; or the entire school. I have only a few rules. They must turn in a proposal to me, so that we can discuss the depth of the project. They can work in groups, but it needs to be clear what role each student is playing. For the end of the school year, the option can be to create a community-building opportunity to help us close the year meaningfully.
2. Support big-idea proposals. If students want to pursue large-scale projects or proposals that will involve other students and impact the community, I ask them to write me an email, and we set up a conference time to discuss it. Students can share ideas and find out if they want to partner with other students in the class to work on something. I have found that the email invites students to initiate a conversation with me. They ask questions and begin to think through the idea.
I am so proud of these big-idea proposals from students this year. Here are some ways to adapt these student visions for the end of the school year, whether virtual, hybrid, or in person.
- Student Leaders—Students have seen many opening activities all year long. Give them a chance to lead the session.
- Debate Club/Debate Day—Students get together to debate fun topics like “Should pineapple be on pizza?”
- Flipgrid Reflections—Create a virtual space in which students can share and reflect on the week. This can include schoolwork or not.
- Cooking Club—This is student or teacher led, and everyone has ingredients and cooks together in real time.
- Mix and Mingle Club—Help students not feel alone. The organizer even brought articles and resources to help others understand what to do if they needed to talk to someone.
- Service Club—How can we end this year giving back? Our student group worked to design and create masks that are now being distributed to staff and students.
- Tutoring Other Students—Helping support one another in finishing the school year on a high note ensures that we are supportive and one community.
- Virtual Movie Night—Organize a movie night (this could be virtual or an outdoor event at school) with Kahoot questions to spark a discussion.
3. Show teacher support. It’s important to attend and cheer on these student-led events and help students get the word out. Students send me the dates and times and any advertising to market the event. I add it to the class calendar and send out an email.
4. Give time for reflection. After the event, all students are able to earn points for leading or participating. If they led the event, they write a reflection about what they learned from the process of proposing and hosting the event and the impact they felt it had on others and themselves. They can also add advice for others trying to put on a similar event in the future.
I have found as the year has gone on that students have started to stay at the end of each class. I have a group that stays on through their passing period, and when we ask them if they have questions, they say, “We just want to be here. We like being together.” I asked each of these students what helped them to feel this way, and they each mentioned a different group started by themselves or another student that impacted them. While they have never met in person or been in my actual classroom on campus, they expressed that they feel like others really know them, and they feel connected. They owned this process, and I could not be prouder.