3 Proven strategies for building community in the classroom
Try out these strategies in your classroom to bring your learners, and your business, to the next level.
Building community in the classroom

If you’re looking for ways to keep learners returning, you need to know about the power of community. Community is one of the biggest indicators of learner retention. Because community on Outschool celebrates individuality and offers multiple perspectives on class topics, learners are more likely to feel welcome and included while enhancing the learner’s experience. So, if you find yourself struggling for ways to get learners to come back for more, start by implementing the ACE framework and begin building community in your virtual classroom.

What is ACE?

If you are unfamiliar with the ACE Framework, we suggest you start there. ACE stands for Agency, Community, and Expertise: the three pillars of the ACE Teaching Framework. The ACE Framework is how Outschool defines exceptional learning experiences on the platform. Together, each pillar incorporates the core attributes we encourage educators to practice and develop by participating in professional learning opportunities (PLOs).

Community

At Outschool, community is more than just a group of people. In addition to supporting unique learners, promoting inclusivity through multiple perspectives, and maintaining a global perspective, the classroom community is formed through the relationships your learners make in class. Building a sense of community starts before your first day of class.

Let’s look at the three times you can create a community with your learners.

Build community BEFORE class starts

Believe it or not, you can form a community with learners and their families before they enroll. Go the extra mile to make learners feel welcome before the first class.

Create a friendly, inviting listing with all the important information upfront

If you’re hosting a class that needs supplies, include them under the Supply section of the listing so that parents know what they need to prepare their learners when they enter the virtual classroom. If learners need to read up to a certain point in a book before each meeting, include that information in the Class Experience section. By providing families with the requirements before they register, they will get an idea of what to expect from you during class.

Send a personalized “welcome” message as learners enroll

Think of the last time someone welcomed you to a store or an event. Being noticed feels good, doesn’t it? The same is true for learners! Because there is no “teacher-parent meeting” or event where everyone gets to know each other ahead of time, taking a moment to welcome a learner to the class is a fantastic first step. Keep it simple, but let your learners know that you appreciate them and look forward to seeing them in class.

Post a fun or thought-provoking question to the classroom page

As learners sign up, they have access to the learner page, which is a great place for you to begin creating connections. If you have a short-term, camp, or semester course in which learners may register well in advance of the start date, then ask a question about a topic related to your class and your learner’s interests and suggest that they comment on each other’s posts. If you’re offering a one-time or ongoing course, come up with a variety of questions that you can post each week.

Create a welcome video for families

In addition to your profile video, each class listing has an area where you can create an intro video for your class. Take a couple of minutes to introduce yourself to prospective learners and let them see who you are and a bit of your personality. You can also create a welcome video on the classroom page welcoming learners to your class and asking them a question ahead of the scheduled start date to prompt engagement between learners. Ask what they know about the topic or give them a question to solve so that everyone has something in common to talk about during the first couple of minutes of the class.
(TIP: You can create multiple posts and schedule them ahead of time.)

Intentionally leave time for community-building in your lesson plans.

Having time to build community, especially for long-term classes like semester classes, allows where learners to feel like they know one another by the end of the semester. Keep reading for ideas on how to use your community-building time.

Build community DURING class

Once you have learners in class, community takes on a whole new meaning. Unlike in a brick-and-mortar school, when learners are in class together virtually they have the chance to interact through multiple channels and in a variety of ways. Find out how you can incorporate community in your classroom.

Use icebreakers at the beginning of class

This activity is especially helpful for one-time and ongoing classes where there may be new learners. Change the questions and keep them fresh to keep learners interested and engaged. Just remember to adhere to Outschool’s privacy and safety guidelines and avoid asking questions about personal information.

Start with a poll

Curious to find out how much learners already know about the topic you’re teaching? Present learners with a poll and find out. TIP: For more information check out these articles about how to create a poll in Zoom or enable polls for meetings.

Use short teambuilding activities

1. Create, or find, teambuilding activities to break down barriers between learners and set the tone for your classroom community. Here are some ideas to get you started:

2. Start class with a playful game of “Would you rather?” Ask younger learners about their favorite food or toy. Get older learners engaged with pop culture or topic-related questions. Make it playful. Make it engaging. Make it fun!

3. Spark your learners’ imaginations by playing “I’m going on a trip.” Start by asking the group for suggestions about where they want to go. You start by sharing something you would take with you on a trip using the first letter of your name. (If your name is Ashley, you may take an apple.) Call on someone in the class and let them ask them to tell you what they’re bringing but, here’s the catch, they have to remember what you brought. The last person in class has the additional challenge of remembering what everyone else brought with them!

4. If you’re comfortable using the Zoom whiteboard, then consider beginning your class with a game of Pictionary. Choose words that learners can draw that are directly related to the lesson for that day. Split the class into two groups. Give each team a chance to annotate on the screen or, if they cannot annotate, have them draw a picture on a piece of paper. The team with the most points wins. TIP: New to using Zoom’s whiteboard feature? Check out this tutorial to help you get started.

5. Set a precedent about your expectations. Learners don’t always know what is expected of them if they’re not told. Be okay with setting boundaries at the beginning of class so that everyone is comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment or discrimination.

Check-in with learners during class or through conversations to see how they’re doing and answer questions. Go the extra mile to make that personal connection.

Build community AFTER class

Community doesn’t have to end once you wave goodbye and close Zoom. Instead, take this time to engage with families to show appreciation and encourage them to return.

Send personalized feedback

After class ends, take a moment to reach out to parents to let them know how their learners did. Make sure to point out positives and let families know you appreciate allowing them to be a part of your community.

Encourage families to register for upcoming classes

If you have another class coming up soon around a similar topic or subject, don’t wait. Let families know about it as soon as the class ends so that you and the learner have more opportunities to meet up again.

Create an interactive exit ticket on the classroom page

An exit ticket is a teaching term for an activity or survey at the end of class to gather feedback. This can be in the form of a review game on an approved third-party tool such as Kahoot or Gimkit, as an interactive reflection on Nearpod, or as an informal discussion to ensure that the information taught is understood. According to the University of Massachusetts, creating an exit ticket can help you, “gauge students’ understanding of the content, provide opportunities for students to provide feedback about the course and the instructor’s teaching, and encourage students to reflect on their learning and synthesize the day’s content.” Knowing how learners feel after attending your class allows you to make adjustments to future classes to make them even better and more inclusive. Throw in a fun or silly question if the topic permits, to put a smile on your learner’s faces long after you’ve said your goodbyes.

If you take the time to relate to your learners and classmates throughout the process, you are setting yourself up for success. If you want to know more about how you can build your Outschool business, grow a thriving community on Outschool, or gain repeat learners, be sure to explore these topics and more in the Educator Handbook

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