While you might not be physically in the same space as your students in a virtual class meeting, many of the routines and rituals can stay consistent with what you might do to engage students in the classroom. There are lots of names for classroom meetings, such as community circles, morning meetings, and circle time. The purpose of these classroom meetings is to build and maintain connection and safety between you and your students, and your students with each other.
To understand the “why” behind this safety and connection focus, let’s revisit what we know about the brain:
Source: Conscious Discipline Online
During times of transition and change, our first job as teachers is to help our students feel safe. Students must feel safe and emotionally connected before they can learn, accessing their “executive state” located in the prefrontal lobes/cortex.
In a virtual space, this means helping students feel safe to express themselves. When students feel safe, they are ready to connect, which is part of the emotional state of the brain. We use class meetings as a time to affirm to students that we care for them and that as a classroom community we care for each other, even if we are not physically together. When students feel safe and connected, then they are ready to learn. We can also look at this in reference to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
While in a virtual space we have less control over physiological and security needs, what we can do is provide a sense of love and belonging through thoughtfully engaging our students.
Here are some recommended tips and tricks to create their virtual space for your students to connect:
- Have students greet each other by name. Greetings can be a good way to start your meeting on a positive and even silly note. For elementary, try the “rainbow greeting” in which the group waves their arm like a rainbow arc while saying hello to each person, or an “animal greeting” in which you choose an animal for kids to mimic while they say hello to each person. Hello can be so fun with a pig snort at the end! For middle school and high school students, try adding a rhythm of clapping and snapping or take inspiration from their favorite dance move. The goal is to acknowledge everyone and get them to smile!
- Acknowledge the students who could not participate in the virtual meeting. This piece is critical for promoting a sense of belonging. Teachers can even post pictures of the students that are not able to be there and ask everyone to “hold those students in their hearts” and “wish them well.”
- Use share prompts to get students to open up. Simple prompts allow students to express themselves, feel heard, and build connections with each other. Consider topics that all students will relate to, such as asking to share a favorite book, movie, or outside activity. Also consider aspirational topics, such as asking them to share a “place they would like to visit” or a “person they would like to meet.” Consider as well building connections back to your shared experiences in the classroom and school community when possible. In order to promote safety and inclusivity, students have the option to share rather than the requirement, and are reminded that they can “pass” and continue to listen to their peers.
- Maintain the same norms/agreements you use in the classroom, and update them for the virtual space. It is always a good idea to remind your students of any norms you set, such as “listen with your eyes, ears, and body” or “nod and use eye contact to show you are listening.” In addition, as you lead these meetings, you might find new challenges that come up and need to tweak your classroom agreements to fit the virtual space. If you do not already have norms/agreements, this would be a great first meeting topic for your students. Ask “what expectations should we have for each other when we meet? What will help us connect as a community?” and record all of their ideas before coming to consensus as a group. Depending on your age range of students, this might take multiple meetings to establish.
- Give yourself grace as you try to implement these virtual class meetings. As with any new routine, there will always be challenges that need to be worked out, whether it be related to the technology itself or determining the best sharing prompts to get your student excited to be in the virtual space. Be open to modifying your virtual meetings to better meet the needs of your students.
As you consider culture-building activities for your class meetings, we recommend utilizing the NTN Culture Practice Cards for more ideas.
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