Creating Community Connection in an Online Environment

An experienced online teacher shares tips for keeping students connected.

Communication & Cooperation March 22, 2021

During the spring of last school year, many schools were charged with the task of transitioning to the world of online education. During this time, the staff at our online school were being asked a lot of questions by their brick-and-mortar peers. The vast majority of them dealt with matters that involved students’ social-emotional welfare. Specifically, new-to-online teachers wanted to know how they could maintain the connection they already had with their students, while simultaneously ensuring that physical distance would not leave students feeling isolated and abandoned. From my own four years of experience in online education, both as a teacher and administrator, here are some tips I can share for teachers new to online learning who might be wondering the same things:

  1. Lean into the difference. Don’t expect your online educational experience to be a virtual replica of what you are accustomed to expecting as a brick-and-mortar teacher. Managing your expectations about what online education is (and isn’t) can help you deal with the grief you might feel over missing your students and wishing you could see them in person every day. Online teachers wish they could physically be with their students; however, there are also many beautiful elements of online learning that cannot be replicated in a traditional classroom. Embrace the change, and make the most of it!
  2. Capture small but significant moments, and hold on to them. Special classroom moments happen online just as frequently as they do in a traditional classroom. Take a screenshot of your students holding up an art project, or send out a monthly newsletter with pictures of the amazing learning taking place in your students’ homes. Your online students will appreciate your efforts to make them feel honoured and valued as part of your school community and as unique individuals. Consider keeping a file of the special moments for you to look back on, too.
  3. Utilize resources available to you. Never was there a better time in history to be an online teacher! We have noticed the vast array of resources available to all teachers this year in particular, due to the sheer number of students and teachers working remotely. If you are teaching online, consider checking out the virtual field trip options available to you in your local area. One of our teachers recently discovered that a local historic site was offering free virtual field trips that align with our curriculum. In addition, look into what virtual subscriptions might be available (at low or no cost) to you and your students. Be creative, and spend some time researching.

Being an online educator is not the same as brick-and-mortar teaching – that is true. There are plenty of challenges associated with establishing and maintaining student connections in the online environment. However, the technology we use presents us with opportunities that aren’t available to all teachers. If you utilize the resources at your disposal and capitalize on the opportunities presented in your unique teaching environment, truly amazing and beautiful things can happen.

Author

Melanie, BSc, is principal of West Coast Adventist School, an online K-12 school based in Abbotsford, BC, Canada. She is currently working on completing her Masters of Curriculum & Instruction from Andrews University.

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