Quick Tips for Returning to School with Social Distancing

social distance classroom ideas

Returning to school after having the summer off is always exhausting and an adjustment for both teachers and students.

Returning to school after distance learning for three months AND THEN the summer will be a huge adjustment for both teachers and students. Part of our stress comes from the unknown of what is ahead and the lack of control we have over this situation.

Returning to school with social distancing in place, A/B scheduling, or a hybrid approach to learning will be new to all of us, including our new students. You are not alone in feeling overwhelmed.

If you are panicking and not sure what to do, take a deep breath, make a list of everything in your control, and consider trying these ideas to get your school year started on the right foot.

Hold an Important Morning Meeting

social distance classroom ideas

I truly believe in the power of morning meetings. Typically my morning meeting consists of my students gathered in the reading nook as we greet each other with eye contact, a handshake, and singing our class song. With social distancing taking place, this model will not work. But that does not mean that morning meeting should be tossed aside.

Morning meeting offers so much and it is not something that I am willing to give up. Morning meetings:

  • build classroom community
  • help students develop social skills
  • sets the tone for the day ahead
  • provides an opportunity to have important classroom discussions

So what can morning meeting look like now? Morning meeting can still follow the same format, but instead of gathering together in a cozy spot, students should remain at their desks. Greetings should still consist of making eye contact and using each other's names, however "air high fives" and "smiles" and even "jazz hands" are more of an appropriate social distancing greeting.

When thinking about your morning meetings during the first week of school, these discussion prompts can help you transition your students back to school and provide an opportunity for students to share their feelings in an open discussion format. Since some of these questions can be heavy for students, try using one a day.

  • What was the hardest part about being away from school during distance learning?
  • What are you most excited about now that we are back in a classroom?
  • What might be the hardest part of social distancing in our classroom?
  • How are you feeling about coming back to school in the building?
  • Which do you prefer, remote learning or classroom learning? Why?

However you run your morning meeting, be sure to be consistent and follow the same steps. That way if school moves into a hybrid or remote learning format, you can stay consistent with the format that you use and hold virtual morning meetings, too. Your students will look forward to the consistency that your morning meeting offers, whether in the classroom or remotely.

Put it in the Jar

Quick Tips for Returning to School with Social Distancing

I keep a jar on my desk at all times for students to be able to drop in a question or concern that they have  that they would like to bring to morning meeting discussions anonymously. Returning back to school during a pandemic is the perfect time to introduce a jar into your classroom, too. What will be important during this time is to allow students to ask all the questions that they have and get all of their feelings out, addressed, and validated.

Here is how you can use the jar in your classroom during the first week of school.

  1. Invite students to write a question or concern that they have about the pandemic, COVID19, germs and viruses, what the year holds, their fears and worries, anything related to our current situation. 
  2. Remind students to not include their name when they place their question or concern into the jar.
  3. Pull out a slip and address the question or concern on it during morning meeting.
  4. Invite students to also weigh in and offer suggestions so that it becomes a full class discussion, a true conversation of peers.

The reason why using this activity is so effective is because many students are afraid to ask a question in front of their peers, yet many of our students are feeling the same way right now. Use their shared emotions to help you build your classroom community. By collecting their thoughts in a jar, you can share them during morning meeting a few at a time and begin to help students adjust and heal as a classroom community.

Involve Students in New Classroom Expectations

Quick Tips for Returning to School with Social Distancing

Every year we create classroom rules and expectations as a class. Of course, I help guide the students and our discussion on expectations to revolve around the rules that will keep the students safe, learning, engaged, and working kindly and cooperatively together.

This upcoming school year should be no different. However, we will be having a second classroom discussion about a second set of classroom rules and expectations all about staying healthy and keeping each other safe.

Prepare a list ahead of time that you want to enforce in your classroom that follow your school and district's expectations. Then invite students to share ways that they can stay healthy in the classroom and record their ideas. Share additional rules that the students may not have shared. Be sure to display your new classroom staying healthy and social distancing rules. These visuals will not only help students in your classroom each day but also show classroom visitors and parents that you are having important conversations with your kids about how to keep everyone safe.

Go a step further and have students read about germs and COVID19. Make your first writing piece of the year intentional and important by having students write a procedural writing piece about how to stay safe and healthy.

Find the Perfect Read Aloud

back to school read alouds

Nothing builds classroom community and a sense of unity than reading that perfect chapter book with your students. And nothing is easier to continue during remote learning than reading aloud class favorites to connect students once again.

I am often asked my favorite titles for upper elementary chapter book read alouds. While I have some favorites that I always go to, I enjoy finding new books that will interest my students. Additionally, the books that I read aloud to my students shift each year as the interest of each year's cohorts shifts.

Here are some read alouds that you can not go wrong with:

I am currently reading the brand new chapter books pictured above. I have just finished reading The Great Pet Heist written by Emily Ecton and loved it and know that students will, too!

By starting the year with amazing read alouds will you get your students invested in reading and looking forward to hearing new books. This excitement will continue even if you shift into remote learning. Grab reading at home tips and FREE book tracker HERE.

Lay the Groundwork for Remote Learning

Quick Tips for Returning to School with Social Distancing

Even though many of us will be returning to the classroom with modified schedules or a hybrid approach, it is important to lay the groundwork right away for remote learning. Focus on these three things right away to help make any transition to remote learning easier for everyone involved.

  • Be Consistent with Instruction - Make sure that you are consistent with whatever teaching strategies you use. If you begin each lesson with a mini lesson or inquiry based question, use it daily. This way, when your instruction shifts to remote learning or through prepared videos your students know what to expect in the format of your lesson.

  • Use Technology Regularly - I know, I know, using technology when we are actually face to face with kids may not be the top of your to do list, especially knowing that they will need to use so much technology for hybrid teaching approaches and at home remote learning. But if you use this time to teach your students how to use platforms such as Google Classroom™ and Schoology, or any program your district uses, it will be easier for them to know what to do and your expectations should you shift to distance learning once again. Practice assigning activities for students to complete in Google Classroom™ for different subject areas as practice. Get the complete know how and step by step tutorials on these two programs HERE.

  • Set Up Parent Communication - If you are like me, you love using cute newsletter templates to communicate your classroom happenings to parents throughout the year. Now is the time to shift. Look into program such as ClassTag, Remind, Class Dojo, and Bloomz. Whichever you choose, begin using it right away. This way you are training parents right from the start of the year to know where and how to find information that they will need.

Prepare now for back to school season and the changes that may come this school year. By being proactive and setting routines, expectations, and communication in place now, you will have a successful year whether you are in the classroom or teaching remotely.

Have a great school year, teacher friends!

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