Community Building in a Remote Classroom
Tue, 12 Jan 2021
One of the benefits of being in a physical classroom is being able to create a sense of community among your students. They can see your face; they can have impromptu conversations with their peers. They know one another and can respond to each other in ways that cannot be done over a computer or phone. How can you and your students form this group identity even in a remote environment?
In the video below you’ll hear from two teachers who are using technology to create a sense of belonging in their classrooms. Listen in for ideas, and if you want to go deeper, read on… the blog post below is from one of the featured educators, Iris Patterson, and it shares more about her inventive approach for creating deeper student connections and putting relationships at the center of learning.
Kid Nation Learning Model
by Iris Patterson
I’ve been teaching for about 15 years. For 4 of my first 6 years, I taught in a classroom with Special Education support—extra qualified adults in the room helping to deliver one on one attention to students. Then, 8 years ago I moved from a Special Education supported classroom to a non-supported classroom. Suddenly I didn’t have the ability to provide students with consistent small group or one on one instruction. I knew I needed to find a way.
I started developing a new approach to be able to reach all my students. What I didn’t know when I started experimenting with it 8 years ago in person was how well it would support virtual learning. My approach places students at the center of their education. Teachers and students see themselves as equal partners in the classroom rather than viewing the teacher as the fountain of knowledge and instruction. This puts the learning in students’ hands, and in a virtual environment, this means they can use breakout rooms, shared Google documents, and other digital technologies to support each other. The small group and the one-to-one attention I so wanted them to have access to now comes from within. I’ve helped them learn to give that support to each other.
So, what did I do? Well, 8 years ago I had to get creative. I wanted to try something totally out-of-the-box, and I recalled a reality TV show from the 90’s where kids make all the rules. It was called Kid Nation. The premise is that a group of kids need to learn to run a town with only the support from each other—no adults to govern or make the decisions. Bringing that into the classroom really turned everything on its head; it rapidly transformed the traditional teaching model and changed the basis of what a classroom was for. In a Kid Nation classroom, the teacher becomes the observer, the quiet consultant. Instead of the teacher up front, spoon-feeding the learning, the students start to feed themselves.
To help create the framework for my idea, I started with three guiding principles. I brought in Sudbury Open School model, the concept of “giving real responsibility to students”, the Danielson Framework, “professional practice to capture good teaching”, and the Ubuntu African Collectivism Philosophy, “I am because we are”. These principles helped create the grounding for students to take their share of the collective responsibility.
I still remember watching Kid nation with my students 8 years ago for the first time; the way the kids reacted to the series got me thinking about how we could bring the show to “real life” in our classroom. Who would have thought this TV show series could help solve real-life behavior/academic challenges? Little by little, the development of this concept of learning to work with students to empower them has been amazing.
In our classroom, practically no classwork is completed independently. Our model, inspired by Kid Nation, utilizes four student-led small group districts to complete all classwork together. Districts de-emphasize the role of the teacher and rely on students to teach each other using the provided resources for that day. Students hold each other accountable for completing assignments and share in this process equally with the teacher. The Kid Nation classroom model allows students to foster incredible leadership opportunities and time-management practice. This encourages students to look to each other first to answer questions, explore explanations, and provide feedback. It posits student socialization as the key to increased academic performance.
The Kid Nation classroom is an example of successful classroom community building. If you want to learn more about my step by step approach to see if it’s something you might want to try, I put together some documents for you here.
So what kind of growth can you expect from your students when implementing this model? In my classroom, the journey for the kids starts from them being individuals in a classroom to becoming members of teams. Then, learning to work together within those teams to hold each other accountable for their academic and social growth.
And what can you expect for yourself—in terms of your own growth as an educator? The Kid Nation teaching model has shown me how to believe that students can lead themselves in their own learning journeys and that this is best practice. When students take ownership of their education, academic performance increases exponentially. It’s taught me to acknowledge that students need to engage in real leadership roles and practice real world skills to succeed in life. Pairing confident district leaders with striving scholars benefits the classroom culture as a whole. It’s taught me to prioritize building relationships as the center of all learning goals. Districts offer students the opportunity to feel an increased connection to their school learning community. By providing smaller group settings for students to discuss their learning, significantly more participation is elicited and more meaningful connections organically develop. Discussing with students the idea that “to be human” literally means “to belong” (Desmond Tutu), Districts provide an intimate sense of belonging that is not only beneficial but essential to all students’ social and emotional well-being. And it’s taught me to value the ideal of family and commitment in the classroom setting. Districts create the same essence, at school, of what families create at home for children. Students’ familial relationships vary greatly; therefore, by providing an additional “school family,” classrooms set up this way can positively impact and improve all students’ lives, no matter what situation they find themselves in at home. My classroom is now a true community. We are all accountable to each other, with relationships at the center of learning.