In order to lead a classroom where learners feel comfortable taking risks, create a space where everyone feels safe and a sense of belonging. It’s only then that learners can move out of their comfort zone to learn new skills.
“Community” is the second pillar in Outschool’s new ACE Teaching Framework, which stands for Agency, Community, and Expertise. Outschool describes community-building educators as those who “… foster a strong sense of community by celebrating individuality and inviting multiple perspectives on class topics.”
Remember that on Outschool, we build a foundation for strong communities to grow by protecting learner safety and privacy with steps like checking learner names when they enter the classroom and keeping communication on Outschool.
We’ll highlight ways that educators can create an inclusive environment as we explore core attributes of the community pillar of the ACE framework.
1. Recognize and encourage the unique qualities of every learner
Learners in your classes likely come from different types of families, backgrounds, and cultures. They have different interests, levels of knowledge, and abilities. You also come to the classroom with your own culture and life experiences.
A first step in developing an inclusive space is to talk openly (appropriate to the age level you teach) about how each person in a classroom community brings unique and valuable contributions. Communicate to your class that different perspectives and abilities are welcome, and that diverse ideas help us deepen our learning experience and expand understanding.
Then, be prepared to model these values in each class meeting. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Greet each person in class and give them opportunities to share about themselves
- Use a variety of instructional strategies so that learning is widely accessible
- Use pronouns shared by learners that indicate how they want to be addressed
- Encourage learners to participate in discussions and share their perspectives
- Support learner choice and interests, as relevant to the class
2. Connect learners to people, resources, and activities that grow their love of learning
Educators who build strong connections with learners often positively impact those learners’ engagement in learning and overall well-being. You can strengthen relationships with learners by listening to what they share, complimenting each on specific actions they do well (such as a thoughtful contribution to a discussion), and acting as an all-around champion of each person. A positive relationship with you builds trust and confidence, and your class becomes one that a student wants to return to.
Learners in later elementary years and adolescence in particular seek positive peer connections. In your virtual classroom, you can help foster relationships among classmates by having group conversations where learners take turns talking and listening (or even leading the discussion) or by having learners share class projects. Games offer another way for learners to interact in novel and playful ways.
Finally, but importantly, connect learners with resources and activities that further their interests and keep them engaged. If your class focuses on world geography and one learner wants to study the pyramids in Egypt, connect that person with videos exploring them or websites explaining how they were built (making sure to stay within approved technology tools).
3. Maintain a global perspective and seek out diverse viewpoints on class topics
Learners on Outschool may be joining your classroom from many places in the world. Get to know your learners and where they’re from so that you can better understand their perspectives and the cultures in which they are rooted.
This could mean getting to know different cultural norms in education — maybe some students have learned to only answer questions when called on — or simply differences in learner environments, whether those are seasons, holidays, languages, or histories.
In addition to developing your curriculum and materials to include diverse perspectives, consider the cultures and identities of the learners in your class. For instance, you might showcase artists from South Korea and Taiwan in your art history class if your group includes learners from those countries. No matter what the cultural makeup of your class, sharing stories, activities, and history from diverse viewpoints brings an opportunity for deeper understanding.
In particular, seek out activities, histories, and perspectives of groups that may be historically underrepresented in educational resources. Seeing the accomplishments of people with a shared background can be an inspiring and empowering experience for learners exploring their passions. By sharing multiple perspectives in your classes, you help learners widen their worldviews and practice a culture of inclusivity.
4. Ensure community participation is positive, professional, and uplifting
Set the stage for a positive classroom environment with actions like asking a quick icebreaker question to kickstart learner interactions and show your interest in their experiences and interests. Using the private learner notes tool under the Learners tab can help you remember these personal facts to continue building that relationship in the future. Once class starts, set expectations for respectful participation.
If you keep a focus on teaching and coaching pro-social behaviors in ways that are accessible to everyone (visuals and hand signals as well as words), you’ll lessen the amount of potentially challenging behaviors you may need to manage.
Here are a few more tips to promote a positive environment:
- Be aware of everyone’s abilities when choosing games and activities, asking yourself questions like: Does this age group have the ability to successfully do this activity independently at home? How can I modify this to make it easier for learners with unique learning needs to play?
- Be mindful of ways that learners want to participate, allowing some to use chat if preferred and understanding that some learners may want their camera off (once their identity is verified).
- Have strategies ready to manage behavior that spills into other learners’ space, such as redirecting when one learner wants to answer questions frequently and reviewing expectations with the group so that everyone will have a chance to participate.
If you would like to explore more community-building strategies, Outschool has curated a group of learning opportunities to help you continue to build your skills in this area. Check out these professional development offerings on creating a welcoming and inclusive environment.
Once you have completed at least one learning opportunity for each of the ACE pillars, you can earn a frame to display on your Outschool profile photo. This frame lets families know you’re an ACE educator — a champion of learner agency, a community-builder, and someone with the expertise to coach learners effectively in your virtual classroom.