Much has been said and written with respect to the social-emotional lens of learning. We’ve all read the articles and journals… sustain the connection not only between teacher and student, but also teacher to teacher and student to student. We have all heard about and most likely experienced the void in remote learning… our students and their teachers missed the day to day contact and real time support with feedback. They missed seeing each other and getting the personalization they craved. Yet, the tools drove the learning, not the conversation around the learning.
In far too many instances, technology became the focus even though student access to technology presented almost insurmountable issues. (Let’s not minimize teacher inexperience as a factor as well). Either the hardware was unavailable, or the connectivity was unavailable. Add to that the potential limitations of home support to use the technology. So, the digital divide widened, and student access continued to be inequitable. Teachers scrambled because their teaching was emergency teaching with stop gap measures rather than measured teaching that followed their plans. Sending learning packets with worksheets became the norm in many places. These were the kinds of things that gained attention. What was missing…the ability to communicate regularly with the school community and the plan to ensure that happened.
The communication between and among school aged children, families, and the school community highlighted the gap and raised issues that needed (and still needs) immediate attention. How that communication was “delivered” became a source of anxiety and shifted the focus for teaching. This August, the communication and start of the year may be different from last August but the concept and the importance of establishing effective relationships has not changed. Students need to feel connected to each other and their teachers. And, teachers need to feel connected to their students and each other as well.
Instructional coaches know first-hand the importance of establishing and sustaining relationships. The virtual learning environment compounds relationship building because when schools start, the teachers will not know their students and will need to establish those relationships differently than in the past. But make no mistake… those relationships must be forged and making a plan to do that is critical for a successful school opening. That will “set the tone” about how students and teachers will work with each other.
So, here are some thoughts to ponder:
- Think about the possibility of teachers beginning the new school year with their former students for about 2 weeks to reconnect with students and give them some sense of “normalcy” before they break into their current classrooms;
- Send digital postcards to each new student with your picture and something about the new school year;
- Create some type of class FB page or Instagram account so you can connect with individual classes; post questions and ask students to respond;
- Create a classroom newsletter and ask for students to submit some topics for inclusion. Perhaps students can use an online collaboration tool and write short pieces for the newsletter. Maybe a parent could submit something short to publish as well.
- Make beginning of the year phone calls and introduce yourself to the students and their parents. Ask for something to note about each student from the parent’s point of view and from each student, e.g., what’s one thing the student wants you to know about them;
- Ask students to create a “badge” or video about themselves and post them using an online tool like Lino.It; Scrumblr, or Flipgrid (or one of the many others available);
- Create a Kahoot game about something they learned last year or some trivia facts;
- Start using Seesaw so you can have a portfolio of student work;
- Schedule weekly “town meetings” with students to talk about life, not academics;
- Schedule one-on-one meetings to personalize your time with each student.
How will you ensure that empathy is every bit as important as learning content?