Building Community, Collaboration, and Leadership Among In-Person and Remote Students — Yes, It Is Possible!

Today’s Contributor: Erin Tigelaar is the Librarian, Campus Innovation Connector, and Device Manager at Odom Elementary School.

When the global pandemic began, educators were forced to alter their teaching in every way imaginable. At Odom, teachers have climbed a steep learning curve in their understanding of how to:

  • flip their classroom and continue student learning in a digital environment;
  • create and assess content in Seesaw and Blend;
  • integrate multiple educational technology tools;
  • and build and maintain a classroom community on Zoom among students who are physically separated.

Today I share the story of how one third grade teacher has harnessed these new skills and paid them forward building a classroom community of students who collaborate and learn from one another, connect and communicate with the bigger world, and step up as leaders to share these skills with others.

Esther Lopez is a 3rd grade bilingual teacher at Odom Elementary School. Fortunate to loop up from 2nd grade with many of her students, Ms. Lopez’s class already had a sense of community when the school year started. Still, with some students in the classroom and some remote, she found it hard to foster the kind of collaborative group work she was used to doing with her students. Something needed to change.

First, Ms. Lopez used Zoom Breakout sessions with small groups of in-person and remote students. Students worked together on projects or asked each other questions as if they were together in the classroom. Next Ms. Lopez used a problem solving lesson to show students how multiple people could work together at the same time in the same Google Doc. Students in small groups wrote their own story problems in a single Google Doc and then were challenged to solve problems written by other students. Ms. Lopez could watch them all working at the same time on her computer screen providing support as needed, and students could discuss their thinking as easily as if they were in the classroom.

The biggest step forward took place during a small group reading lesson with five in-person and remote learners. Ms. Lopez started the lesson by having students read an AVID Weekly informational article pasted into a Google Doc about a farm that had established a pen pal program for their animals. Students worked cooperatively to answer questions organized by AVID’s Costa’s Levels of Question in the Google Doc and then created an AVID one-pager advertisement about the pen pal program in Google Slides. Not surprisingly, the lesson also inspired them to write to the farm animals themselves. The group wrote a letter collaboratively in Google Doc, and Ms. Lopez emailed it to the farm.

Once they received their first response from Mookie the cow, they were hooked and wanted to share their enthusiasm for the program with others. First, they encouraged their classmates to read the article about the pen pal program. When our assistant principal heard about the project, the students hosted a Zoom meeting to tell her about it. Next on the agenda – the students plan to make a formal presentation to other Odom teachers to encourage them to share the pen pal program with their students.

Over the course of the year, Ms. Lopez’s students have built community despite physical distance, learned how to collaborate in a digital environment, and have stepped up as confident and enthusiastic leaders. While this school year has certainly been hard for everyone, it is stories like this that show us the possibilities.

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