Turning “remote learning” into “connected learning”

Over the summer, some of my most meaningful interactions happened over Zoom;  a weekly “Happy Hour” with retired colleagues, a student book group that met informally all summer, a family get together to color Easter Eggs.

Teachers, librarians and counselors around the country are worrying about how to make meaningful connections to students they haven’t met before.  Yet many of us have proven that can happen – by experiencing life through our own Zooms the past six months.

In taking some courses this summer on remote learning, I’ve been gathering some strategies for building communities with students. Here are a few of them, and I’d love you to share yours in the comments!


  • Don’t forget the power of “offline-online” moments.
    • Give a short writing prompts and give students a chance to silently write on paper.  (Many of these prompt ideas are from Unlock Your Story’s Cierra Kaler-Jones)  Examples – list words that feel important to you; do a quick write summarizing what you learned today; what colors describe you; write five things you learned today.  Then bring their writings back into the class discussion.  Wait quietly or play soft music while they quick write.
    • Don’t forget the power and pleasure of quick drawing.  Ask students to draw a picture of something you just discussed in class – give them 40 seconds.  Then redraw in 20, then 10). See if they can capture the point of the learning.   Or ask students to sketch a stick figure showing something they learned, or sketch how their brain feels at the end of class.  Any of these drawings can be held up to the screen, or they can take photos and upload them to Google Drive.  (Lots of exercises for cartoon drawing in Ivan Brunetti’s book Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice)
    • Ask students to run somewhere in their house or room to “get something” pertinent to a classroom moment. (Be aware that if you ask them to leave the room-some of them may be in households with other things going on, or parents that don’t appreciate that).
    • Ask students to stand and stretch or lead them in a short breathing exercise, especially if later in the day.  Acknowledge their human bodies.
  • Students want to see you and hear you.
    • Create short videos of yourself greeting students.
    • Instead of just posting syllabi online or instructions online, post a video of you explaining them that students can rewatch later when you aren’t around.
    • Read aloud to students.  Even high school students like being read to – especially from a book with chapters/plot that continues over time.  Young adult books are perfect for this because they last over time.  It creates a classroom bond.  Or you can even read picture books even at high school level or poetry, too.
    • Share photos of yourself the first few weeks to help students “get to know” you and what your interests are, your phobias are, your hobbies, etc.  If you are asking them to share, you should be willing to share a few too.
  • Sharing builds bonds.
    • My friend Dean Shareski and his family take “jumping” photos whenever they travel.  Consider asking your students to post a photo around a theme.  Maybe it’s waving, jumping, mask photos, photos with their eyes closed, photos of their pets, etc.
    • Ask students to share photos of a “dream” place they would like to go.  Be sensitive to the fact that not all students can travel as much – by sticking to a “dream” place you put everyone on equal footing.
    • Ask students to share their favorite “word” – in the chat, have them check in each morning with a prompt, or when you want to reassemble the class from breakout rooms or an offline moment, have them let you know they are ready with a check in word.
    • Remember in sharing, to honor all the different kinds of family scenarios your students may come from.
  • Use rituals.
    • Just like in your regular classroom, rituals help things feel “in control” during times that feel a little out of control.
    • In her online courses, Cierra builds in time at the beginning for Ubuntu – community building moments.  She centers everyone about shared norms, a moment of breathing, or a sharing.  It creates a calming atmosphere to start the class.
    • Use the time at the very beginning of the Zoom like you would in the classroom, letting students visit for a second(they miss each other).  Have a “word” or ritual activity that lets them know it’s time to start class.
  • Don’t forget the happy. 
    • I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago with more strategies to help bring joy into the virtual classroom.  We are tired too, but creating a joyful space and time together, with laughter and learning, engages students more.

For a list of other ideas for connecting, I’ve created this collection of links on Wakelet, Building Community During Remote Learning.

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