Creating School Culture Within a Virtual Academy
Creating School Culture Within a Virtual Academy
The increase in demand for online learning has made virtual learning a larger, more permanent fixture in schools and districts throughout the country. Many districts have created virtual academies to fill this need and help their students who have found that they thrive within a virtual learning environment or are in need of one to succeed and continue their learning while remaining a part of their school community. In the process, these districts have found that virtual students and their families are concerned with continuing to build and maintain social skills and meaningful relationships within the greater community.
Fostering a positive school culture has long been a proven and recognized important part of the learning experience, and it has a definite impact on student learning. Including virtual students and your virtual school in the same events, rituals, and routines as your in-person students can go a long way in creating a positive school culture. It just requires some planning and creativity to keep virtual students informed and involved.
We have put together a sort of checklist of common school culture considerations and ideas for creating policies of participation for this growing population of virtual students.
Here are some items to consider when creating policies for creating a supportive and inclusive school culture for your virtual students:
- Consider giving an official welcome by sending a “welcome kit” to each virtual student. The welcome kits can include district-branded items (e.g., notebook, planner, pen/stylus, T-shirt, etc.) and a list of resources for students and their parents to support them in getting started, along with best practices and routines to set them up for success. Site coordinators could help with these resources.
- Hold structured “get to know you” opportunities and icebreakers throughout the school year.
Virtual Events and Activities
- Expectations for when students should appear on camera during virtual meetings should be outlined with some flexibility built in for student comfort.
- If possible, provide virtual students with a non-distracting and appropriate or district-branded virtual background for Zoom and other video-conferencing sessions for students who may be uncomfortable showing their home or current setting on screen.
- Create a consistent digital citizenship policy and code of conduct for remote and onsite students.
- Clarify what collaboration and communication look like on group projects when all students are virtual.
- Create and communicate expectations for attendance, class participation, and communicating with teachers.
- Provide instructions for getting help and office hours.
- Provide opportunities for checking in with students about how they’re feeling before moving into academic content. Learn how EdOptions Academy Success Coaches fill an important role in supporting student success online.
Communication and Information
- Acknowledge virtual students, and showcase their work on school websites/social media posts, if your social media policy allows.
- Keep your virtual school families in the loop by broadcasting all school announcements through multiple channels. Weekly email newsletters are a great way to combine announcements, and they can also be shared through Facebook and Twitter, or class websites. Some options to get families’ attention for more urgent communications are text messages and even prerecorded telephone calls.
- Check in with your virtual students and teachers at least once per semester to find out what worked, what didn’t, and how to make it better so that you can plan for the following school year. Here are some tips for surveying your school community and a template that you can start with.
- Be sure to keep students and families in the loop regarding state testing and provide details on any requirements or alternatives available to them.
Here is a handy list of events and activities to keep in mind when planning how to create school culture for virtual students:
Traditional school ceremonies like end-of-year student and faculty awards, senior ring distribution, pin day, and graduation are important milestones for students, and they acknowledge achievement within the school community.
School activities like dances, prom, pep rallies, track and field day, Red Ribbon Week, spirit days, spelling bees, and math bees, as well fundraising activities like read-a-thons, offer students fun ways to connect with classmates and other students outside of their online classes.
Include virtual students in school clubs, athletics, band, choir, theater productions, and special assemblies to give them a well-rounded school experience and encourage them to participate in school organizations.
Create online alternatives for class rituals like lunch, holiday parties, and field trips by scheduling optional virtual meetings for students to get together to chat, celebrate or explore. Consider providing some flexibility to students and families by offering in-person, and virtual opportunities for students to participate in community and service projects.
Taking the time to think through the nuances and needs of virtual students and finding ways to include them thoughtfully in traditional school activities will create not only a positive school culture for virtual students and a well-rounded learning experience but also wonderful memories for students that can last a lifetime.
Looking for more tips on how to create successful learning outcomes for middle and high school students? Read about the 5 Research-Based Components of a Successful Virtual or Hybrid Learning Program.