“Soft starts” to your class sessions – i.e. being present and engaged in the classroom (or virtual classroom) before class begins – encourage community in a number of ways.

  • They can be used to create a welcoming atmosphere by playing fun or relaxing music
  • They can be used to “warm up” the class by encouraging students to chat informally about an interesting photo, question, meme, or song that you share
  • In virtual settings, they can be used to work out tech problems before class starts so that students can participate fully

A soft start can be as simple as using a meme related to the topic of the day as your first slide (if you use slides in class) and engaging your students about it, or playing music and inviting students to come talk to you if they have questions before class begins.

To bring the “soft start” time to an end and segue to the regular class meeting, spend a few minutes doing some sort of check-in to see how everyone is doing. Reaching out to students with warmth and humanity is always valuable, and it’s more important than ever in virtual settings, especially for creating an atmosphere of community and trust.

The start of each class could also be a great time for a “how to be successful this week” pep talk. Let students know what you expect in the assignments they’re doing. Explain some common mistakes and provide clear examples of what success might look like.

Champlain faculty commented on how soft starts were especially beneficial during the 2020-2021 flex-hybrid experience:

Staying in contact with students via Announcements on Canvas was, I believe, pivotal to the overall success and continued student engagement with course work, as was a little TLC ‘pep talk’ at the beginning of each class session. This personalised the student experience and created a relaxed atmosphere in what was, undoubtedly, a challenging time for everyone.

Caroline Elbay

I used my synchronous meetings primarily to re-connect and re-create at each meeting our shared learning community. Major concept development and content learning was mostly left to the asynchronous discussion posts, individual or group tasks. What that means is that I tried to make our time online in Zoom or Google [Meet] be more about human connection than content.

John Stroup

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