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Major Ways to Foster Connection and Community in an Online Classroom

Schools’ shift to remote and online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for education leaders to foster the same sense of connection in face-to-face classrooms. Now, years after the pandemic and after most education has reverted to in-person learning, the prevalence of online, hybrid, and blended learning is an undeniable part of education’s future.

In fact, a 2023 survey found that 69% of students prefer fully online, hybrid, or blended learning. Therefore, education leaders of the future must be prepared to foster social connection and learning in classrooms with online, hybrid, or blended learning elements. One critical element of learner success is community connection. Edutopia notes that solid relationships between school community members form the bedrock of student success. A strong sense of community is even more crucial in online, hybrid, and blended learning environments, as students and instructors can easily feel isolated.

Graduates of Worcester State University’s online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Educational Leadership & Administration program are equipped to enter into educational leadership roles and apply best practices for community development and online tools. Remote or online learning can make community-building seem more difficult, but it is possible with the right skills. There are several ways to foster a similar sense of connection and community in remote learning environments.

Build and Maintain Existing Routines and Rituals

Students become accustomed to the rituals and routines of school life. Seemingly mundane school activities we once took for granted contribute to the sense of belonging that shapes our school communities. Lunchtime socializing, homeroom announcements, and school spirit events can all be translated into digital spaces. Applying remote or online learning platforms does not have to disrupt these routines and rituals.

School leaders can use social media platforms to establish and maintain a sense of normalcy for students. Digital communication platforms like Zoom and Google Meet can facilitate daily routines that foster a sense of community. For example, lunchtime can be virtual, allowing students to gather and chat freely with their friends as they once did in the school cafeteria.

The National Education Association (NEA) has a number of recommendations on how to implement and maintain systems, routines, and activities in online, hybrid, or blended learning environments. For example, education leaders and classroom teachers can apply different learning models (like rotation, flipped classroom, flex, or enriched virtual approaches). They can facilitate collaborative learning, differentiated instruction, peer-to-peer interactions, project-based learning, and more using digital tools.

Celebrate Special Occasions

Digital learning does not just have to apply to school curricula. Online, hybrid, and blended learning can also apply to fun activities and celebrations that foster community connections. School leaders can use virtual communication and social media platforms to celebrate special occasions and milestones. Participants can host Zoom parties to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions.

Additionally, education professionals can foster cultural competence by recognizing various holidays, traditions, and celebrations for different populations. Digital learning tools expand access to global resources and allow teachers to use interactive multimedia content, role-play, simulations, virtual tours, and other cultural immersion experiences.

In online, hybrid, or blended learning environments, graduates still feel special and connected to their school using digital tools. For example, Possip offers ideas for social events and recommends using the CARES framework when planning milestone celebrations for distance-learning students: Community, Acknowledgment, Reflection, Excitement, and Special Memories.

Generate Opportunities for Asynchronous Engagement

Online, hybrid, and blended learning also accommodate students’ schedules and life circumstances. Students may not always be available to attend in-person gatherings or lessons. However, educators can engage students through asynchronous activities. Teachers can record themselves giving a lesson, encourage students to record videos congratulating another student, or provide feedback. Students can also respond to one another’s work and engage across virtual platforms like Seesaw.

Teachers can gamify the classroom to provide asynchronous learning opportunities and foster connection. Online and mobile educational gaming resources can contribute to student engagement, material comprehension, and classroom community-building. Examples of classroom gamification tools include resources like Kahoot! and virtual escape rooms. Students can work independently, but many of the activities listed enable them to collaborate toward a goal, effectively building a sense of classroom community.

Graduates of an advanced education degree program, like the online M.Ed. in Educational Leadership & Administration at Worcester State, are prepared to face the digital future of education and help all students connect and learn in online, hybrid, or blended environments.

Learn more about Worcester State University’s online Master of Education in Educational Leadership & Administration program.

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