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Growing Learning Communities in the Remote Classroom: Four Ways to Stay Present and Connected

Before the Pandemic

Before the pandemic spread throughout the tristate area, school lockers slammed, navy uniforms covered the hallways, as I greeted learners at the door. Room 2-27 to be exact.

There was no doubt that I was part of a community. A community of learners. We were connected. We were there. We were learning.

My students would grab breakfast in the cafeteria, gather their materials and socialize with friends. Sometimes, as the hallways cleared, visitors from my homeroom stopped by before the day would start. They’d come searching for a pencil or just to say hello.

Each day my students and I were there. They knew that this space was their home and that I would always be there. We were present. Physically that is.

Today In the Remote Classroom

Now, each morning, around that same time, I crouch behind a screen, greet my colleagues for our ritual morning check-in, flooded with silly memes, or bright messages, which luckily for me has helped me feel a bit more connected to my department.

Then I wait. I wait as I scan the left sidebar of my online learning platform and my email for signs of my students’ physical presence.

After my first day of remote learning, my back felt sore, my eyes twitched, and to keep my focus, I chugged at least four cup-o-Joe by 1pm. I found the circumstance distressful; I was unable to interact with my students, in my usual way. Are they ok? Will they have trouble navigating our online learning platform? Will they wake up at 11am or will they sleep until 1pm? #middleschoollife #sleepislife and not have the time to ‘conference chat’? (a term I now use that refers to my conferring work online).

Throughout my first few weeks of remote learning, my students and their parents kept us connected with a sense of togetherness...without actually being together. We all, through online platforms, apps, conferring, questions and coming from a place of understanding, showed up. We just showed up.

There is so much more to the idea of being present and showing up for ourselves and others, that is so important now more than ever before, as we sit in our virtual classrooms. It asks every person that is part of a learning community, to not only be physically present, or “show up” in front of our bright rectangular devices, but also asks us to show up by practicing ways we can be present to ourselves, our work, our students and each other. Here are some ways we can continue to show up and be present for ourselves and our learning community.

Four Ways to Stay Present and Connected

Radical Listening

Listening brings us together simply by coming from a place where curiosity lives. When we ask questions for understanding and truly listen, we build a greater connection with others, their needs, and their truths. This allows us to gain a greater perspective and then adjust decisions, or think of next steps. When we ask others questions, it can help the other person find a better understanding of themselves, their work, or a problem they might be facing at that moment.

Growth Mindset

The power of yet can be used as a way in which we acknowledge what has yet to be learned or experienced. In the remote learning environment, having a growth mindset nudges us to forgive ourselves for mistakes or challenges and think of them as new learning opportunities that we will reach. I will smoothly make a Screencastify video. I will find a way to reach a larger group of learners by the end of the day. I will create digital lessons that engage my students! These things can be hard, especially when we are unable to physically check-in with our students, but they are attainable. Know that you can do it! Because you can, maybe not yet...but you will. If we all carry a growth mindset, bring out the army of ‘yet’ we can build a positive community together, where we lift each other up during times of adversity.

Learning + Sharing

When we share and teach others, the learning tends to stick! We can all benefit from sharing with others, and learning from others. Again, when we listen we learn. It’s a symbiotic process. Students can learn from each other. Teachers can learn from students. Parents can learn from their kids.

Flexibility + Having fun

We are in a space right now, where kids still need to be kids. Find what works for them, in a way that speaks to them as learners. Differentiation is important. Flexibility allows us to not only bring that to our students but also reach them in this present moment. In a new environment or new learning space, we have to remain present and make choices that see others for where they are, how they’re feeling, or what they need.

We can keep our learning communities strong by truly being present to ourselves and each other by asking curious questions and then listening. We can push through new challenges by finding joy in the unknown. We can share what we’ve learned from our new discoveries and have fun along the way. We got this!

Brianna Faustini is a Reading Specialist at Garfield Middle School in Garfield New Jersey. Previously, she’s worked with grade K-5 as a Reading Specialist supporting students and working with teachers. She began her academic teaching career as a special education teacher, working with a wide range of learners. However, her teaching began way before entering an academic setting, when she started her teaching practice as a Martial Arts Instructor. Brianna carries a great enthusiasm and passion for her craft and love for learning and teaching.

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