At St. Paul School of Northern Lights, relationships are fundamental to our work. By developing respectful relationships, our teachers facilitate a deep sense of belonging amongst their class and the entire school community.
Because children’s sense of connection derives from feeling welcomed and valued, much time is invested in establishing and nurturing safe and positive classroom environments, which contribute to meaningful learning.
How might this deep sense of belonging be actively nurtured while students are learning from home?
With schools closed, our school community needed to see the potential in learning from a distance and develop necessary skills and understandings. Our faculty researched different online platforms to find ones they felt would best reflect the values of our school, support our students staying in relationship with one another, and provide possibilities for children to think together. Just as teachers organize learning environments at school to invite interactions, connection and learning among children, we wanted similar possibilities for offsite learning.
In addition to continued access to academic content, our teachers promoted connection by creating Distance Learning Bags. All SPSNL students received materials to enable them to participate in two community projects – The Bean Growing Project and The Loose Part Project.
As with the Finnish Education System, our teachers were driven by the desire to “do whatever it would take” to provide authentic experiences. Continuing the values of SPSNL, teachers identified ample opportunities for play and exploration both indoors and out, and sought to incorporate time for student reflection both independently and with their peers.
Since the launch of distance learning, our teachers have integrated elements from their existing practices that support the value of belonging. Every morning, video messages are posted that include rituals and routines to provide familiarity, connection and belonging, which is especially important during this challenging time. Students can see their teacher’s face, hear how classmates are being genuinely missed, and are warmly invited to explore the learning invitations for the day.
But how could opportunities be created for students to feel like they are thinking together, something that is deeply valued by our school?
Teachers schedule Zoom calls with their students, sometimes as whole class experiences to listen to a read-a-loud or to introduce much loved pets to classmates. Sometimes video calls are set up for smaller group chats where students are able to think together about a particular project or how they are navigating distance learning. Flipgrid is serving as our school-wide community platform where students across classes can think together and hear others’ points of view.
At SPSNL we also strive to build community through kindness. Even at a distance, students continue to leave birthday wishes, sing songs and create drawings for classmates on Seesaw. They record comments in response to something a peer may have posted. Some students have written letters to each other and to their teacher, sending them through the mail. Others have written poems about kindness. SPSNL children have also shown ways they are extending kindness to others beyond their class community, by putting messages and bears in their windows to warm the hearts of people passing by. Some children have created thank you cards and paper hearts for their parents, recognizing that even their parents appreciate support during this time.
In addition to nurturing the relationships between children and teachers, and among the children, our teachers continue to think about how to help parents feel supported and valued during this unprecedented time. As parents and teachers are experiencing distance learning for the first time, we seek ways to be active partners in this new endeavor. Together with each child’s family, our teachers are striving to create learning opportunities to support each child’s growth and well-being while learning from home.
As we hope this time of social distancing will soon pass and that those whom we know and love will remain safe and well, we are reminded of the significant value of being part of a caring community and the joy of being able to think together. Forming and nurturing relationships with others contributes to one’s sense of belonging. May we all look forward to being in the physical presence of one another again with renewed appreciation.
- Kate Arbon
Learn more about School of Northern Lights here: https://www.schoolofnorthernlights.org