Starting the School Year Right
Leveraging technology tools to build community in your classroom
If there is anything that we have learned over the course of COVID-19 and the constant shifting from in-person to remote, etc., it’s the importance of a positive classroom community. This is established when all students feel valued, safe, and represented in their classroom, and students are actively taking risks and making mistakes.
Every classroom is going to look different, because every teacher and student group is different; what works for one educator is not going to be the same for others – and that’s OK! It’s important to reflect on your strengths and what you bring to your own classroom, and build from there.
In an ideal world, face-to-face interactions are a key component to building community; students get to see and interact with their teacher and peers, and become comfortable in the classroom setting. The strategies we share below are meant to provide ideas on how you can leverage tech tools to support this class bonding.
Please remember that building community is not a one-and-done activity; it takes real effort and continuous commitment to build and foster positive relationships throughout the course of the school year.
The “why” of community building
Why is community so important? Classroom community is a fundamental building block upon which everything is based. Positive relationships foster safe, inclusive, and effective learning environments.
First, a positive community encourages communication. Communication allows students to get comfortable with their peers, to build friendships, and to gain confidence using their voice in the classroom. It also allows students and teachers to communicate more openly about expectations, struggles, and how to improve.
From there, community leads to more effective collaboration. This is a skill that is important for students in all courses, but will also be important for their future.
Community also supports social and emotional learning. It’s important for students to build healthy attitudes toward their self-identity, to learn how to manage their emotions and behaviours, and to develop a sense of empathy for themselves and others.
Finally, one of the most important reasons for building community is the creation of a safe and inclusive learning environment. By recognizing milestones and highlighting the many cultures and strengths in their classrooms, educators can create a space where students feel valued and able to share their ideas, their learning, etc., without feeling judged or ridiculed by their peers or teacher.
Technology tools to build community
Now let’s talk about technology tools that you can use to support community building in your classroom. No matter which tools you choose, consider tools that allow students to see and/or hear you and each other. This helps students to connect with you as their teacher, and with their peers. Think of the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” – when you include yourself in a video, students can see facial expressions and hear intonation, without having to interpret that from text only.
Be sure to protect students and their identities. Check privacy policies, and try to avoid having students use tools that gather a lot of personal data. If your board has rules about technology use for students, make sure that you are verifying each tool to ensure students are protected.
Please note that there are many different tools that are quite similar. We have included tools that we use regularly.
You can record a combination of voice, screen, and/or webcam. Tools include Screencastify, Loom, Explain Everything, Screencast-o-matic, and WeVideo.
- Weekly/daily overview video of learning goals
- Record instructions for assignments/tasks
- Video reply to an email
- Answer student questions using video
- Video or voice feedback
- GIFs for personalized feedback and/or instructions
- Show steps to solve a problem or justify a response
- Reflect on learning
- Scaffold the traditional presentation
- Crowd source videos to create a class resource
Audio recording tools
These tools allow you to record audio notes in Google Workspace (Docs, Slides, Forms, Gmail) and beyond. You can achieve this with Mote and Google Read&Write’s Voice Comment feature.
- Audio feedback
- Audio message via email
- Add transcript of audio recording
- Option to translate transcript
- Record audio instructions for assignments/tasks
- Short audio clips of how to pronounce their name
- Insert audio into slides
- Peer editing/feedback
Real-time messaging apps are more similar to the way that students communicate in real life. Tools include Remind, Slack, Discord, Google Chat or the chat feature built into your LMS.
- Individual check-ins/feedback
- Class messages using groups or rooms
- Getting-to-know-you questions
- Chat for asynchronous or synchronous learning
- Collaboration on tasks
- Social connection
- Ask questions without feeling self-conscious
- More low-risk way to communicate with teacher
These are collaborative tools that can be leveraged in the classroom. Examples of these tools are Microsoft (Office) 365 (Word, PowerPoint) and Google Workspace (Docs, Slides, Drawings).
- Create feedback stickers using Bitmoji
- Create GIFs using Slides
- Create team games or resources
- Collaborate on tasks or projects
- Peer editing/feedback
- Crowd source to create a class resource
These tools can be used to gather information. Surveys can be created using a variety of tools, such as Microsoft Forms, Survey Monkey, and Google Forms.
- Getting to-know-you surveys
- Social-emotional check-ins
- Curating favourite songs, topics, etc. to be used in class
- Student feedback
- Student questions
- Interactive whiteboards
This is a great tool for collaborating in real time. Similar tools include: Google Jamboard, whiteboard.fi, whiteboard.chat, as well as the Microsoft Whiteboard.
- Activities to get to know students
- This or That
- Would You Rather
- Yay or Nay
- Four Corners
- Interactive games (a quick browser search will bring up lots of templates – find one that works for you!)
- Scavenger hunts
- Connect Four
- Whole class word walls
- Team brainstorming
Video conferencing tools
Video conferencing tools have become a staple in virtual classrooms. Take advantage of additional features within these tools such as polls, Q&A, and breakout rooms to build your classroom community.
- Use students’ names as they enter
- Breakout rooms for individual student feedback
- Use with OBS (open broadcaster software)
- Co-construct classroom norms
- Drop-in for extra help
- Breakout rooms for group work
- Q&A feature
- Waterfall answers in chat box
- Social time
Learning management systems (LMS)
An LMS is a centralized hub where students can access content, submit assignments, and more. Examples of an LMS are: Google Classroom, Brightspace by D2L, Schoology, Canvas, etc.
- Embed a welcome video message on homepage
- Collaborate with students to create a layout that works for everyone
- Co-create a custom banner with your class
- Create a space for students to easily communicate with teacher and peers
- Game or activity for students to learn the LMS
- Use language that is inclusive for all students
As you start off your school year, remember that community building does not happen overnight. Teachers must continue to make an effort throughout the course or school year to ensure that all students feel safe and comfortable in the classroom. Taking just a few minutes every day can lead to positive student outcomes, as well as stronger and more positive student-teacher relationships.
First published in Education Canada, September 2021
This department is generously sponsored by IPEVO