How can we keep a positive school climate and culture during remote learning? I’ve been an educator for ten years, and more than anything else, I feel that building positive relationships in all parts of your school community is integral to your overall success.
Knowing students’ names, jumping into a badminton game during gym class, personally relating to fellow faculty members, and working with a small group during a math lesson are a few ways I try to build positive school community and climate.
In our school, assistant principals loop with their students from 6th to 8th grade. My students are now excelling in the 7th grade, and I’ve been able to watch their growth since they stepped off the bus a year and a half ago when they first entered middle school as 6th graders.
By engaging in life-of-the-school activities, I feel I’ve helped further cultivate the family-like atmosphere that my principal and other assistant principals established long before I got here. When I heard we would have to switch to remote learning, I immediately questioned how I would continue to cultivate this feeling.
Kids are social
One thing kids at any level of schooling enjoy about the school environment is being around their friends and teachers and engaging with one another through jokes, games, group projects and competitions. This type of interaction is challenging during these unprecedented times.
To address the need for these interactions, I used my interest in and familiarity with social media to my advantage. In my now many weeks of social distancing, even though I may not want to admit it, I’ve spent a lot of time TikTok watching, Twitter scrolling, and viewing pictures and videos on Instagram.
No matter the site, there were a number of dances and activities that caught my eye. Because of this, I decided to use some of these ideas to our advantage with students and staff – knowing that many of them were probably watching these videos in their own homes as well.
A grade-wide virtual space
I created a grade-wide Google Classroom where both students and staff members could join. Leveraging the ability to have everyone in one digital place, I introduced weekly challenges to students and staff. These challenges became a way for kids to “see” some of their friends and teachers from their new makeshift “classrooms” and engage with each other in a fun way.
The first challenge went out to everyone during the second week of remote learning. It was the #leanwitit challenge. The #leanwitit challenge consisted of performing a viral dance to a specific song that I found on TikTok. I felt the best way to get students and staff to really jump into the challenge was to make a video of myself performing the dance.
I made sure to pick the right outfit and put my own twist on the final product before posting it to my Google Classroom page – I take this stuff seriously! Upon posting the challenge, there were over 20 submissions from students and staff, and I was ecstatic about the number of entries.
Not only were there 20 entries, when it came time for students and staff to vote on their favorite video, we had over 250 votes! Students who may not have wanted to learn the dance or participate in the challenge themselves still found a sense of community by voting for their favorite submission. Once I saw this level of participation, I was excited to share another.
We followed that challenge with a pet challenge, where students and staff submitted photos posed with their pets, then a pushup challenge where you had to complete ten pushups with some background music highlighting your personality, then a trick shot challenge where you had to post a creative trick shot using items that you had in your house – and my favorite one, the #dontrushchallenge.
The #Dontrushchallenge really brought all of our students and staff together! The goal was to create a composite video using quick before-and-after snippets people made by taking a quick shot of themselves in lounging clothes then doing a quick change into something much more formal or more representative of their personality. This was a staff favorite!
We were able to put together extensive videos from teachers and staff at all three grade levels, which also included our whole administration team. Staff really enjoyed seeing their colleagues’ submissions and being able to connect with them in a way they haven’t been able to since we’ve gone remote.
We are planning on continuing these weekly challenges throughout the rest of our remote learning experience – whenever and how long that may be.
What these challenges and their responses have further emphasized is the need for both students and staff to look at school as a place of fun and positivity.
Obviously, making sure students are receiving high quality instruction and providing teachers with academic support are integral to success, but providing outlets for the school community to engage in lighthearted activities especially in times such as these can be just as important.
Being able to see students and staff alike (including many you might not expect) submit videos and pictures for these competitions has been unbelievable. As much as I’d like to think I know my students and staff, I’ve been able to learn much more about them through something as simple as these weekly challenges.
I hope that as schools prepare for whatever the new “normal” is going to be, we never lose sight of how important climate and culture are for both children and adults. If our climate and culture keep the idea of family and togetherness at the forefront, the possibilities for what school can become as we push through this challenging situation are very exciting!
Chris Edwards is the 7th grade assistant principal at Kreps Middle School in East Windsor, NJ, finishing his second year in administration. Prior to his school leadership role, Chris spent time teaching 3rd-8th grade students in Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as coaching boys middle school and high school basketball.