Creating an Engaging Online or Hybrid Community

School buildings are vibrant communities that bring together educators and families, all committed to nurturing and educating young people to prepare them to make a positive transition from childhood to young adulthood. Members of school communities are used to being together, in-person on a day-to-day basis. Moving that sense of community and shared connection to a remote or hybrid environment is not an automatic process and requires SEL as a key ingredient. It also requires ongoing planning, coordination, and purposeful implementation to engage every level of a district and school– from a community of school leaders, a community of educators, and a whole school community that connects students and their families in meaningful ways.

Uplift“I think now, more than ever, is the time for administrators to empower their teachers, uplift them, and show your trust in them. Staff that feels trusted and supported will go above and beyond every time. That will then show in their interactions with their students and families.”

  • A Community of Leaders: District administrators are seeking ways for school leaders to feel supported, connected, and on the same page. Joining existing forums and/or setting up online communities of practice can be key to fostering collaborative learning, problem solving, and community building.
  • A Community of Educators: School leaders who support an online community of educators, such as virtual teams and professional learning communities, encourage ongoing collegial collaboration and learning among teachers and other staff.
  • A School Community: Clear and frequent communication between administrators, staff, parents, and students is more important to community-building than ever in remote learning. Parents and caregivers surveyed nationally said texts and phone calls were most effective for being kept in the loop, but only a few say teachers are using those modes of contact regularly. See related resources in the section on Families 
  • Classroom Community: The start of the year is always a time to foster classroom community and build new relationships with students. Building community virtually is a new venture. Using SEL techniques, teachers can learn about their students’ interests, passions, motivations, hesitations, and challenges to better prepare their instruction.

Guiding Questions

  • How can we create a vibrant culture for all members of the school community, whether we are face-to-face or remote?
  • What strategies are especially important for including families in this community?

Professional Development Connections

  • Prioritize professional development on helping teachers integrate SEL into their team planning so that it becomes part of daily practice and not an add-on.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of professional development to help teachers create the kinds of clear and consistent procedures and routines that help all young people feel safe to interact and engage in learning.
Use these selected strategies and resources
High-leverage Strategies Aligned Resources

Unite Colleagues Around SEL

Encourage and facilitate school leaders to tap into existing, well-established online SEL supports and work together to identify SEL priorities for the district and/or schools.

Share and discuss the webinar SEL Educators Unite! Supportive Online Communities of Practice to:

  • Learn how educators are using digital communities to support each other professionally, socially, and personally during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Explore examples of powerful communities of practice and how they leverage the collective efficacy of thousands of dedicated professionals to both provide quick access to expert support and advocate for support and resources from program providers (about 20 minutes).
  • Learn how you can tap into these communities to support your school’s or district’s SEL and remote learning needs (about 25 minutes).

(Second Step with Committee for Children)

Use CASEL’s Priority Setting Questionnaire to get a quick snapshot of your district’s current approach to SEL and identify which key activities to focus on.

SEL Vision and SEL Agreements

Create or refresh an SEL vision for the district or school aligned with SEL agreements with staff. These will provide a clear foundation for community building.

Develop a shared vision for school-wide SEL with these CASEL tools:

Create shared SEL agreements using TOOL: Creating Staff Shared Agreements – a collaborative process to articulate core mindsets and values that will guide staff members’ interactions with colleagues, students, and families.

Community-Building Routines

Rituals build community. A continuation of school routines on digital platforms not only promotes normalcy–it also establishes a sense of community.

  • Post morning announcement videos on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Students still get to start off the day with announcements—and they know everyone from school is doing the same in their own living rooms or kitchens.
  • Lunchtime is another daily routine that could be transferred to a digital space. An online platform could be used to host virtual lunch, with students eating at home but gathering and chatting as if they’re together in person.

(Remote Unity: Building a Sense of Community During School Closures, Fast Forward—Scientific Learning)

Resources that help foster school community (many are free) can be found on this growing spreadsheet of offerings (compiled by Amazing Educational Resources). Educators can filter and search based on grade level, topic, etc.

Use the toolkit, Building Community in the Blended and Remote Learning Environments, as a source for online routines, structures, activities and protocols that build community (NYC Outward Bound Schools)

Educator visibility

Keep educator visibility high to students and families. A feeling of connection with one’s teacher is crucial to student perseverance, satisfaction, and motivation, yet students report lower “teacher presence” in online settings (The Journal of Educators Online). It is critical to help educators remain visible to learners and create more family touchpoints.

From teacher teams to families—learn and borrow from these communication commitments:

As educators, we will:

  • Ask questions about our students and their families’ concerns.
  • Give tips about what’s working—and not working—during the school year.
  • Provide updates to families with IEPs and accommodations for distance learning.
  • Share information that families might find useful, including resources for distance learning, health and safety challenges, mental health, and racial injustice.
  • Do our best to communicate openly, respectfully, and in a timely way, remembering that we have many students to catch up with or families of our own.


Classroom Community

Using SEL to open and close classes provides consistency of connection.

This Teacher Planning Handbook includes various SEL-focused openers and closers (Slides 13-15) that teachers can use in remote or hybrid instruction (New Visions for Public Schools)

Comprehensive Support

Explicitly make sure every young person is connected to an adult who cares about that young person.

Take an hour to use this relationship mapping tool (Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project) to ensure that every student has a positive and trusting relationship with at least one adult at the school.

An Adult Who Cares

Advisory is a systemic way to ensure that every young person is connected to a caring adult, and educators who work in schools with advisory pointed to it as the most important way they’ve supported every student when school moved to remote learning.

Use Springpoint’s guidance and case studies around advisory to help create or strengthen an advisory system in your school.