As classes and entire schools transition online, building a community is huge to stay connected with students and parents. Students want to hear and see their teacher and stay connected with their classmates. I wanted to spend this time going over several edtech tools and strategies to help teachers stay connected with their students as well as provide opportunities for students to stay connected with their classmates. I also wanted to spend time discussing how teachers can facilitate parental involvement in their student’s learning with online classrooms through various means of communication. Through this conversation, we will see the power of communication and how it builds a community for online learners, which will heighten student participation and engagement in your online classroom.
Teachers Staying Connected to Students Online – Building an Online Community through Communication
Teachers have a number of options to maintain communication with students. The easiest method is to email each of their students in their classes. On email platforms like Gmail, teachers can develop templates and schedule daily and weekly emails to their students. Emailing students in this manner can also take place on learning management systems like Google Classroom, Schoology, and Canvas. To get your students email addresses, student emails can be found on your student information system. In terms of the contents of these emails, teachers can provide the daily/weekly agenda, inspirational quotes, videos, and images, and may even provide a personal update. Be sure to ensure all emails are bcc’ed to maintain the anonymity of the email addresses of your students. Remember, at the end of the day, all of these topics shared through email are important to touch on as it builds a connection with your students and establishes a schedule/routine with them in relation to your online class.
Another method to stay connected with students are through online discussion boards. Traditional discussion boards can be developed in many learning management systems. However, with all schools going to remote learning during this crisis, I believe students seeing their classmates as well as hearing their voices is critical to continuing an online community. Thus, in order to do this, Flipgrid is the best platform to develop a virtual online discussion board that utilizes video and audio for students to respond to prompts presented by their teacher and for them to watch/listen and then respond to their classmates. In this type of virtual discussion board, seeing and hearing their teacher and classmates is powerful; I guarantee it will heighten your student’s engagement and sense of community!
Outside of emails and online discussions, teachers can create their own interactive infographic/online poster to keep in contact with students and parents. This graphic can include an embedded video, hyperlinks to resources, an image relating to the week’s learning themes, and text, which could include a quote, agenda, or a short paragraph outlining important bulletins students and parents need to know about. An infographic/online poster like this can be built on Google Slides, Powerpoint, Canva, Photoshop, Padlet, and much more. To distribute this infographic/online poster, it can be sent via email or posted on a learning management system for students and parents to view.
Lastly, teachers can email to their students or post on a learning management system a daily or weekly video message outlining the day’s/week’s agenda, lesson, or just simply check in with students. By providing a video message, it gives your students an immediate connection with their teacher. Ultimately, by providing a regular video message, students get to see and hear their teacher, which builds and continues the connection they had before the class transitioned to online learning.
Teachers Staying Connected With Parents – Building Community through Transparency with Parents
Like with students, teachers need to continue building connections with parents. The easiest way to continue this connection is through emails. I recommend that teachers send out the same weekly emails or online infographics/online posters they send to their students to their parents. What this does is establishe transparency between students, parents, and the teacher. Each party then has the resource to understand what’s going on in the online class and the expectations of the teacher for their students.
Currently, teachers may have a hard time calling parents because they do not have a work phone at home. There is a solution. If teachers want to call their students parents, Google Voice is an amazing service that allows teachers to call and text parents using a private number that is not a personal phone number. Google Voice can be downloaded as a smartphone app or utilized on your computer, which allows teachers multiple tech mediums to use the free service. One of the features that are incredibly valuable with Google Voice is its ability to record voice calls, voice messages, and log text conversations. This is an important mechanism to document conversations with parents. Ultimately, what makes Google Voice such a powerful communication tool during this crisis is that Google Voice allows teachers to have a work phone number that can be used while they work from home.
Building community and maintaining communication with students and parents is essential to maintaining engagement in your online classrooms. Without engagement and connection, the levels of participation among students may be lower than you would like. Therefore, building and maintaining an online community is critical for the first few weeks of establishing an online class. But, more importantly, this community building and communication must be consistent over the next few months to ensure students and parents are plugged into the class on a daily basis. By maintaining this communication, it will ultimately increase participation and engagement, which will cause your students to learn more during these next two months of online learning.
Here’s the key takeaway: Keep communicating, it will increase learning!