*A version of this blog post is also published on the Tyto Professional Learning Community on Mighty Network.

With the new school year quickly approaching, I thought I’d share some ideas on how to build relationships remotely. I recently had to think about this with a Virtual STEM Summer Camp I ran. I think we connected fairly quickly. Here’s what I did.

1. Introductions: I played a version of “Two Truths and a Lie” with the students (see slideshow below). I had one slide that had several statements about me, but one was false. They had to guess which one was not true. Then I showed them a slide of pictures to explain who I was and what was important to me, revealing which statement wasn’t true in the process. Next, I gave them a chance to think of 2 true statements about themselves and one false statement and we took the time to listen and guess for every camper that wanted to participate. 

Variation: You can make this a “Get to Know Me” or “Student of the Week” project. Give the students a slide template for them to make all about them, and feature their slide for a morning meeting and display it on the Zoom waiting room or your class website. You can also allow the student of the week to be your Zoom co-host/teacher helper. Top it off with a Student of the Month zoom background.  

One member of our Tyto Professional Learning Community suggested using Flipgrid as a way for students to introduce themselves.

2. Set Norms for Interaction: I tried to have the students generate “rules” for engagement using Padlet, but that quickly flopped, so I made sure that they understood that we “treat each other the way we want to be treated” which worked pretty well for this context. 

3. Bitmoji Classroom! I had a lot of fun with this one. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use it with the classroom management system I chose. But this is a great way to show your personality and to make the students feel welcome. I put links to my zoom and to Tyto Online for easy access for the students. You may want to add a daily agenda and other links that you will use regularly with students. Look here for ideas. I also found this video by Katherine Panczner very helpful.

4. Greet Students by Name: Zoom makes this very easy. Teach them how to change their name on Zoom, which is a lifesaver for me, because it takes a while for me to learn names no matter how hard I try. I think this is even more important when trying to develop a relationship virtually. 

5. Be available before and after class: For most of my sessions, I would log in about 10 minutes early and stay until everyone logged out of zoom. This way, I was able to make small talk with the campers who logged in early, asking them about the weekend or their night before. This might not be possible for you depending on your schedule. 

Alternatively, hold office hours, storytime, or a snack time where students (and parents) are free to come and visit and chat with you. 

6. Celebrating birthdays is another way to build community. Give the Birthday Child a “Happy Birthday” Zoom background. Send a Happy Birthday postcard in the US mail, or even a small e-gift certificate to a local place in their neighborhood for a birthday treat. Or just send a small box of trinkets that you would normally give out for birthdays. When I was a teacher, I always had pencils, erasers, stickers, and a small treat for birthdays. How cool would it be to send a small box of those things to your kids when it’s their birthday?

7. Be human, and embrace their humanness. We are still dealing with a lot right now. Don’t be afraid to be silly with them. Laugh when something is funny. Acknowledge when something is frustrating. Be patient with them and with yourself. Thank them for their patience and perseverance. And let them know that we will figure it all out together. 

I hope you found this helpful in generating ideas to get to know your students and build community.

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