Rules and procedures are the backbone of your classroom. In my opinion, first you have to LOVE your students, then you have to teach them about what you expect from them, and then you can teach them everything else. It is my belief that if you hold your students to the highest of standards they will absolutely meet them. If you think they can’t, they won’t. It is important as an educator, as your student’s teacher, and cheerleader that you do just that. They are YOUR students and may be the only cheerleader they have, so do it! Cheer for them, challenge them, push them to be their best and you will be amazed at what they can do. But first- LOVE them!
This year ALL of us of have struggled. COVID has thrown us through a loop personally and professionally. As an adult it’s been crazy so just think about how those tiny little humans must feel. What have their families been going through? What have they been going through? One thing is for certain- we all have had super limited human contact for months, especially from our friends. This year more than ever, our students are going to need to be loved. It is going to be CRUCIAL, whether you are teaching digitally or in person, to help those babies feel safe, welcomed, and supported. The real question is how? How is it possible to build connections and establish a community digitally? In this post I’ll share some ideas to help kickstart your classroom community for your digital classroom. So let’s get started.
Happy Mail & VIP Packages
Who doesn’t love getting mail- especially kids?! Sending them mail is the perfect way to begin building connections in a fun and engaging way. I have seen SO many amazing ideas on Instagram, from postcards to where you can scratch and reveal a picture of your teacher, to QR Code videos introducing yourself. There are plenty of ways to connect with students and we just have to be creative. VIP packages are another way to make connections as well as motivate students to do well digitally. You could choose a student of the week that works the hardest or stays connected and mail them a package containing fun little items from the dollar store! You could even skip the trip for yourself and Amazon Prime them a cool little item with a gift note inside because who doesn’t love an Amazon package outside their door?!
Digital Get to Know You Activities
This is going to be SUPER important for digital classrooms this year. Who are we individually and together? Digital classrooms have the opportunity to get to know each other in the deepest of ways. You will be working from your home and what is more personal than that? Below are just SOME of the few activities you could do to get to know one another.
Virtual Just Like Me- this is one of my favorite BTS games. Normally, it’s played with everyone sitting in a circle. Someone says something they love. For example, “I love to eat ice cream.” Anyone else that loves ice cream would then jump up and shout, “just like me!” It’s a fun way to get to know one another while getting some energy out. This game can easily be adapted to a Zoom call. Everyone can sit with their device and still jump up and shout while playing. You can give everyone at least one opportunity to share something they like and begin to build your community.
Would You Rather- I have seen SO many digital would you rather activities for Google Slides. This is a fun way to work together and get to know each other. These slides can also be used on a Zoom call where everyone can choose which option they would rather have. You can even have students buddy up with someone and discuss what they would rather have and why. @elementaryatheart has some great ones HERE!
Find A Friend Bingo- While together on a call, you could virtually provide students with the Find A Friend Bingo Template and have students take turns asking questions on the template. Again, the students could work specifically with a buddy or a group to try and learn more about one another to achieve BINGO! I always try to encourage students to get a blackout by completing the entire form.
Virtual Tours- How fun would it be to have students give a tour of their workspace or their bedroom? This is a great way to also help students build their communication and presentation skills. You could provide a dialogue for students to use while sharing with the class. In the virtual tours, students could share SO many things such as their favorite reading spot, their favorite stuffed animals, etc. The possibilities are ENDLESS! But what a great way to get to know one another on a personal level, while working on communication skills. This should ONLY be done if students feel comfortable sharing this!
Digital Who We Are Book- Complete a class book together that can be shared and saved all year. Check out the book HERE! Students can each complete a page about themselves that can be compiled into a book that can be read over and over again! It can also be saved on your classroom website or Google Classroom so that students can always have access or it can easily be added to for new students!
Zoom Hot Seat- This is another BTS favorite that can easily be adapted for online learning. This game is typically played where each student takes a turn in the “Hot Seat”. Each student gets 3-5 minutes depending on time. While in the hot seat, students take turns asking as many questions as they can to get to know the student. This can be done in many ways. You could have students raise their hands while the hot seat student picks who to call on. You have students just shout out their question. It’s totally up to you! This can also be played over multiple days.
Eliminate It- This is a fun activity that can be completed in groups or with partners. You present the students with four picture options and they have to work together to choose one option to eliminate. The best part is that this can be easily adapted to be used in a simple fun way or you can shift it to cover some academic material.
An example might be you showing four different types of candy and as a group, the students have to work together to decide which one they wouldn’t want. It’s a great way for students to work together and get to know each other’s preferences.
Get to Know You Activity/ Bags- I love using All About Me bags every year. It is such a great way to get to know the students on a deeper level. Students gather together things on a list to tell about them, similar to an extended show and tell. I share one as well so they can get to know me too. This is another way that students begin to work on their presenting skills. This can easily be done digitally! A new one for me this year is the Get to Know You Activity I created specifically for digital learning. They can fill in the template with information about themselves. Whether you use Google Classroom or Seesaw, students can post this activity to their feed and students can like & comment with things they have in common or more questions they have. This is a wonderful opportunity for students to get to know one another and learn more about the different digital tools! Best part? When you subscribe, you can grab both of these activities for FREE!
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Yard Signs were HUGE in the spring! I saw so many different kinds everywhere! How much would kids LOVE having a sign in their front yard? You could create welcome back to school signs, weekly super student signs, birthday signs, and SO much more! I just know the kids would absolutely love to wake up to a yard sign in their yard about how much they mean to their teacher/class. Talk about a great way to make those connections and build your community. SSS Teaching has some GREAT yard signs!
Virtual Spirit Week
I know my favorite weeks of the year are spirit week! How fun would it be to plan those virtually? The kids are always so creative and would love getting to dress up while at home. You could even plan for Fun Fridays every week where you do something special. In my class, we used to have Flashlight Fridays where we would get cozy and read in the dark with a flashlight. This could totally be done with everyone at home! A Zoom call with everyone all snuggled up with their favorite book reading in the dark sounds like a perfect Friday activity together. You could even have a virtual fire for everyone!
Share About YOU
We know that in order to make deep connections with our students, we also need to be open with them and share who we are. Kids love learning about their teacher and who they are. There are SO many ways for you to share. You could share a welcome newsletter, a presentation about you, or as stated earlier, a postcard with a QR Code for them to watch a video about you. There are so many fun ways for you to share yourself with your students. Remember it’s just as important for them to learn about you just as much as it is to learn about each other.
Morning Meetings are HUGE! I absolutely love starting my day off with these crucial meetings. They are the perfect way to kickstart your day and continue to grow together and learn more about each other. Morning Meetings can also help you gauge how your students are doing each day and have important discussions about social and emotional skills, expectations and goals, or just to talk about the exciting things you’ll learn that day. I would suggest beginning each morning with a meeting together. There are tons of different prompts out there for you to have deep and meaningful conversations. These meetings don’t have to be long but it’s a great way to continue to build those connections and be a community together.
Mental health is HUGE. And we’ve all suffered a bit in this area during this year. Your students’ mental health is so important but now more than ever. We have to make sure students know that we are there for them, even if it can’t be in person. Mental health check ins are a GREAT way to gauge where your students are at. We know that Maslow always comes before Bloom. If they aren’t having their basic needs met, how on Earth can we expect them to be ready to learn. This could easily become part of your daily routine so you immediately know how students are feeling and which students will need some extra love and support for the day. In my classroom last year, it was always how we started our day. The students chose a feeling word to put under their name each morning and it helped me quickly see who to check in with. Look for my digital mental health check in resource coming next week!
Virtual Emotional Support
Let’s talk about how to get support for our littles at home. You could set up support multiple ways. You could create SEL office hours for students to check in if needed. You could also create a support room for students to help one another as well. Whatever you do, I think this will be CRUCIAL to ensure your students are feeling supported while at home. Set expectations and boundaries for kids to understand that feelings and emotions should be felt and expressed but in a positive way. Are they struggling with the new classroom? Hop in the support room and we can talk about it. Are they sad that they can’t see their friends? Invite some kids to the digital office and hang out. Are parents feeling stressed and the kids can tell? We’ll get the entire family in there to relax, talk and collaborate on some ways to relieve stress. Creating this specific time of support is bound to have students feel safe and they’ll learn so much more throughout the year.
Virtual Team Building
We know in our classroom that students MUST be a team together. Well how in the world does that work long distance? Two words. ESCAPE ROOMS. There are TONS of digital escape rooms that students work together in pairs or teams that teach them the importance of teamwork in a fun and exciting way! Check out this special Back to School Escape Room to help students work together and get to know each other!
Socially Distanced Dates
At this point, we are all social distance experts. Have you had a socially distanced date yet? How fun would it be to get together and have a socially distanced picnic in the park or a read aloud together? We’ve got to find creative ways to get together while remaining safe. These socially distanced dates are a fun way for you to get together while still being safe together!
Social Emotional Boom Cards
At the beginning of the year, I spend SO much time discussing how we are a team together and how we treat one another. We practice these skills EVERY SINGLE DAY so that it becomes part of who we are in the classroom. But how do we do that behind a screen? Well I’ll tell you one way is utilizing the amazing platform Boom! Boom Cards are a super engaging way to practice skills. SEL skills to be exact- BOOM! (See what I did there?) So far, I have created two different sets of SEL Boom Cards. How to Be a Good Friend and Making Good Choices. Both of these are crucial skills for students to learn. These decks help them practice those skills in a fun and engaging way! If you would like any other SEL skills for Boom Cards please drop a comment below!
Last, but certainly not least, be present. I know this will not be possible all the time but try to be present with students as much as you can. Obviously it’s going to be easier sometimes or most times to record lessons and push it out to students but whenever you can, physically just be there. If you’re at home, make it an expectation for yourself and family to give your students your undivided attention. Whether you have certain times students can check in or if you can call and check in with students, just be there for them. This is going to be a trying year for us all. Be there for these littles and let them know how much you care… even at a distance.
This year we are going to be challenged and pushed as educators now more than ever. We are forced to make learning more engaging in ways we never have. We have to make connections and support students without actually seeing their faces in the classroom. Now more than ever these babies will need us to support them in SO many different ways. But it is this that makes us grow and do better. It is these challenges that we will rise up to like we always do to make a better future for our students. You may not hear this enough but you are AMAZING. You will do AMAZING things this year and your students will love you for all the hard work you put in. Thank you for doing what you do for the future. It is this year that we are going to need ALL the passion and creativity we have in our tool boxes to make a difference for these kiddos. We truly are better together. If you have any more wonderful ideas to share or are looking for something else to make life easier, please share in the comments below!
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