As teachers, we want our students to collaborate. We want them to communicate. A lot of us like them working in groups. But, we also want them to do so safely. Everyone has a different idea of what safety means. At my school, that means masks, 1 student per table (where we used to fit 2), and plexiglass.
As teachers, we know these precautions, while necessary to safeguard the health of our students, can feel like the exact opposite of a collaborative environment. But you and your students have the power to change that.
Last year, I learned that necessity truly is the mother of invention. I was teaching through a hybrid model- some students were online, while some were in class. Did I stop having them collaborate and work together in groups? Absolutely not. We- my students and I- just got creative.
They asked me to move the tables into small groups (like in the picture above) instead of the rows of tables, with which I had started the year. And yes, I am using their idea again this year! They worked outside, weather permitting. I am in Florida, so this was pretty much an everyday occurrence. They were allowed to Facetime group members that were working from home. When on Zoom, we used breakout rooms to work in small groups, too. My students also used their own private Zoom links to facilitate increased collaboration beyond our general class link to get more work done in a more efficient timespan. And, they were able to use boards on Kanban Zone to visually communicate with teammates in class and online regarding progress on their respective parts of a project with full transparency among themselves and me as their teacher.
My point is this: do not let physical obstacles prevent creativity from flowing in your classroom. As I look at this picture of my class, it does not look welcoming at all. There appear to be roadblocks to communication and collaboration at every turn- visually, auditorily, and quite possibly emotionally. But honestly, creating that welcoming, safe atmosphere is up to me.
After implementing an Agile framework in my room last year, I have learned that I can foster the mental framework and atmosphere for my students to collaborate, share ideas through different communication media, inspire them to engage in problem-solving activities, and keep them safe at the same time. Stay tuned as I post this year about how I use agility this year with my students and the results that can follow if you are willing to try it on your own.