7 Ways to Build School Community at a Distance

November 10, 2020
Image courtesy of Daily Herald

Schools across the country are rising to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, transforming their teaching methods, styles, and delivery mechanisms to better help students as they learn at home. But there’s one area even the savviest education pro might have a tough time figuring out how to pivot: building a sense of school community.

Schools that take time to build school spirit and community foster a sense of pride and common purpose in their students. And with many districts employing distance learning, school spirit reminds students they’re still part of a larger team even when they’re learning at home. But how do you encourage school spirit from afar? 

Building school spirit doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, and it’s still possible to do at a distance. Here are 7 ideas for building school spirit when you can’t actually be at school. 

  1. Create a blog or website. If you don’t have one already, create an online home for your school where teachers, staff, students, and families can share news and talk to each other. There are many programs out there that make setting up a basic website quick and painless, including Google Sites, Wix, and Weebly.
  2. Do a scavenger hunt. Get students moving with a scavenger hunt! Depending on the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in your area, you could have students do a socially distanced hunt on school grounds, hunt for items in their neighborhood, or even just look around their home for more common items. Whichever route you choose, have students take pictures of their finds, and don’t forget to award prizes (perhaps a virtual movie night?)
  3. Put on a virtual spirit week. Just because you’re not at school doesn’t mean you can’t wear a funny hat. Or a crazy hairstyle. Or your school-branded gear. In fact, many traditional school spirit week activities can easily transfer to home, including character dress-up days, color days, and pajama days. And virtual spirit weeks have one big advantage over in-person ones: it’s much easier to hold a Bring Your Pet to Class Day
  4. Be a pal. Did you ever have a pen pal when you were in school? Pen pal–style programs are a great fit for distance learning, whether the pals are communicating by snail mail, email, or phone. Set up pal pairs within the same classroom or grade, or pair older “big” students with “littles” in lower grades. Check out how one New Jersey district used a pen pal program to ease the transition from middle school to high school
  5. Hold a neighborhood(s) clean-up. Nothing brings a community together—and boosts morale—like giving back. Harness those positive feelings of gratitude and generosity with a school “neighborhood” cleanup. Families and staff can clean the area around the school (taking all necessary safety precautions, of course) or stage mini clean-ups in their own neighborhoods, housing developments, or apartment buildings. 
  6. Show and tell. Show and tell isn’t just for kindergarten. Now that many students and staff are at home, it’s the perfect time to share some of our personal lives with each other. Younger students might enjoy sharing the same items they’d normally bring to class, like a favorite stuffed animal or an interesting rock, while older students could share a book they’re reading, a piece of art they’ve created, or even a brief interview with a family member
  7. Hold a contest. A little healthy competition can sometimes be the “secret ingredient” that gets students engaged with school. Take this idea to a virtual setting by staging an at-home contest. This could take dozens of forms, from a straightforward talent showcase to a competition to write a new school song. And if you’re looking for a fun prize, remember: principals can still get a pie in the face at home too!

Whatever education looks like in your area right now, building a sense of connection and belonging will help make your school community a better place for everyone.