To the Reader:

This is the second in a series of three blog posts about building community in the classroom. We accept as a given the value of community to learning. Here is some of the research that supports our stance:

Sharla Berry, “Teaching to Connect: Community Building Strategies for the [Synchronous] Virtual Classroom

bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress and Teaching Community

Kimberlee Ratliffe, “Building Rapport and Creating a Sense of Community: Are Relationships Important in the Online Classroom?

Sobonfu Somé, Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient Teachings in the Ways of Relationships

As with other aspects of course design, planning for community building must consider issues of accessibility and equity that are grounded in the contexts of student population, campus, and locality. Community activities should not force students to reveal their protected class information, their trauma, or their disabilities.

Consider also how you can link your assignments in a progression that requires each participant to seek out the knowledge of another.

These suggestions and the linked resources are not a definitive list. And not all of these ideas will work in every classroom. We hope that our ideas inspire you to create rituals of community that suit you and your students on your (virtual) campus.

These suggestions assume you’ve begun to build community and are looking to maintain and build on it during the middle weeks of the semester.

  • Recaps: weekly newsletter greetings from someone sharing highlights, curiosities,  etc.
  • Start every class with a song. Invite students to contribute songs throughout the semester. Collect the songs into a playlist on Spotify and post the link in your LMS or course website. Bonus points for songs that connect to course content.
  • Memes [more needed here – how might we find and share memes as a way to create community?]
  • Check-ins: Set aside the first 5-10 minutes of a Zoom session for informal chatting. Let students know in advance that they can join then if they feel up for it or that they can join at the official start of class business 10 minutes in.
  • Gratitudes: This could be about the broader world, or it could be a good end-of-class ritual that specifically asks students to reflect on what just occurred in the discussion space. So it might be asking students to name one other student comment from that session that helped them think about a topic in a new way.
  • Invite students to post #whatI’mbringing to a Twitter thread or Slack channel.
  • Mindful moment: begin class with five minutes of breathing meditation. Pair it with a discussion with students about contemplative education.
  • Start video meetings (Zoom, Teams, Connect, etc.) with a stable slide that includes the Community Agreement in Brief
  • Start classes with a brief (3-5 minutes) freewriting session. Once the time is done, offer students the option to share with a partner and with the class. Sometimes I give them a prompt related to the content of the day, but also always offer the option of writing about what’s heaviest on their minds. This could be adapted to asynchronous study with a prompt and a study music audio/video for use on their own.
  • Maintain a google slide or jamboard throughout the semester that students can add to week-to-week.
  • Group work with stable groups: if your class is large enough to have multiple small groups, create them at the beginning of the semester, and then utilize them nearly every class period. Encourage social check-ins within the smaller group. Have the groups come up with group names/images/shared docs. To alleviate concerns about group work, the groups would not have to have shared assignments, just shared in-class discussions.  Consider using part of a synchronous meeting time for a small group with professor meeting.
  • Social annotation: If your course includes shared readings (either pdfs or online), consider using a tool such as Perusall, Hypothes.is, or [eep, forgot the other one] to allow students to annotate the text together.
  • Debriefs: Go meta with each other! Create a space to share what people noticed about the learning and cultivate a way for people to share insight and offer feedback.