How Principals Can Create Online Communities

Lizzie Ottenstein
Shreejana Mainali

Now and in the future, online learning is an effective way to deliver quality education, but recent reports are revealing that students are gradually losing a sense of community. Principals should try to be aware of the effect online learning has on students and faculty and do their best to foster a strong sense of community. 

Here are some strategies we think are especially effective to maintain a vibrant sense of community even during online learning. 

Promote positive affective association

Students rely on the facial expression and body language of teachers to connect to and engage with their teachers. While this isn’t entirely available in online learning settings, school leaders need to promote positive affective association to build communication and interaction. Affective association strategies include posting announcements, promoting discussion forums, instant messaging, phone conversations, online discussion groups, and sending emails. Principals should participate in at least one of these activities alongside teachers. Training teachers on how to provide consistent and timely feedback is also important as these activities build strong emotional connections among students and teachers.

Increase positive social interactions

Principals should promote positive social interactions which contribute to a safe social environment for students. Start by hosting social gatherings for students, either on Zoom or Facebook, where they can share experiences with classmates. Plan icebreakers and interactive activities with faculty such as introducing topics of class discussion. This will not only give purpose to the gatherings but will also add excitement and anticipation to help students stay engaged.  

Encourage teachers to create a sense of safety and normalcy

Students now are stressed and creating a calm study environment for them is crucial. Principals should guide teachers on recreating classroom practices to build a sense of familiarity and normalcy. Conduct gratitude or prayer sessions every morning to give students regularity. A motivating morning video message from a principal will make them feel like they are still a part of the school community. Lunchtime may consist of virtual lunch gatherings. The main objective of creating an online community is not replicating the whole school schedule, but to provide the same support and experience for students who are trying their best to adapt from home.

Leverage technology for communication

Provide multiple platforms for consistent communication among teachers, parents, and students. Lack of communication decreases motivation. Hence, school leaders should keep communication open and flexible by leveraging the latest technology possible. Apps including Slack, WhatsApp, Skype, Forums, Bloomz, and Classting are some of the best known to facilitate real time interaction and discussions. Conducting daily break out brainstorm sessions helps keep students on track. Regularly thank those who help make online education possible. 

Make student voices heard

Students feel disconnected if their voices aren’t heard and their needs aren’t met. Admins should formulate plans and policies that give an equal voice to all students. Let students submit assignments on a topic of interest. Invite students to meetings to establish ground rules for classrooms and group discussions. Make them a part of the process so that they know their voice matters and they aren’t alone. 

Students are more likely to be academically motivated and develop social and emotional competencies if they belong to a sturdy community. As virtual schools become the norm, we must remember the power of connectedness to learn and thrive together.