Updated: Mar 9, 2021
Building Classroom Community in a Virtual World
Research shows the amygdala region of the brain is the primal area associated with initiating our brain’s “fight or flight” response. The Goldie Hawn Foundation shares “when the amygdala is calm, other parts of the brain can take the helm, like the pre- frontal cortex, which is associated with higher order brain functions such as self-awareness, concentration and decision-making” (Mind Up, par. 6). If the amygdala is not in a calm state, learning cannot take place, information is not retained, and students are not taking educational risks. In today’s state, the added stressors of hybrid or virtual learning and the unknowns of a global pandemic are triggering the amygdalae of students of all ages in ways they never have in prior years. As educators, we know the importance of building positive student relationships so that learning can take place. So, what can we do now, when that student connection is more difficult to build than ever before?
Routines as a Sense of Belonging
All students, including high school students, thrive on routines. The predictability allows students to feel they are in control of their learning. Initial routines at the start of class are the most important. It sets the tone for the rest of the period. Consider “Do Now’s” that can be submitted through a Google form, build in time for students to check their emails to build organizational habits, have student reminders about homework posted on your welcome screen, or share the agenda for the day for students as they enter class.
Community circles are another way to foster a sense of belonging. Carve out the routine of hosting a community circle once a week. Ten to fifteen minutes of time may seem like a lot when we are already trying to fit a year worth of curriculum into shortened days and unprecedented circumstances, but remember, the amygdala needs more calming now than ever. The circles not only allow you the opportunity to get to know your students, but it gives you a second to breathe and connect with your students on a deeper level. If we skip a Community Circle Friday in my classroom, my students are the first ones to hold me to two community circle activities the following Friday. Edutopia is a great resource platform for some community circle topics and ideas, but don’t over think it. This can be as simple as posing a question to the group such as “if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?” Students can respond using Padlet, Peardeck, or Jamboard as a few options.
“A 2018 study found that when teachers deliberately foster a sense of belonging by greeting each student at the door of the class, they see “significant improvements in academic engaged time and reductions in disruptive behavior” (quoted in Minero, 2019). At the start of class each day, I ask my students to “check-in” as my way to say “hello”. The completion of the Google form takes less than two minutes. Not only does it allow me to get a sense of how each student is feeling that day, but it also allows the opportunity for the student to share anything that is on his/her mind. My students will share with me anything from their upcoming sports practice that night, a family member’s birthday, a funny joke, to questions about their homework. The beauty of the Google form is that it organizes the student responses into a Google sheet that I can glance at quickly and respond to students immediately. I look forward to what students share every day and let me tell you, they expect a response to what they decided to share with me that day. It really allows me to keep up with my students’ lives on a regular basis.
Bottom line, our students are longing for a sense of belonging and our current circumstance is making it more difficult than ever for them to know where to look for it. Never underestimate the power of our role as educators. Our students know this school year is unlike any other, but what does remain is their desire for us to know them as individuals.
Minero, Emelina. “10 Powerful Community-Building Ideas.”
“Your Amygdala and Mindful Awareness - MindUP Monday.” MindUP, 26 June 2019, mindup.org/amygdala-mindful-awareness-mindup-monday/#.