Just as schools were finally making the brave and long-awaited move back to in-person learning, I heard yesterday that one of the schools in our region was already forced back to distance learning following an increase in Covid cases and exposures among students. As I visited with my colleagues about this I learned that several other schools in our area were facing the same fate. So, here we are. Rolling with the punches. Trying to be flexible and patient and trying to stay connected to our students...our kids.
Research is clear on how vital teacher to student connections are. Students who feel connected to their school (and their teachers) are more likely to stay engaged in school, have fewer behavior issues, are more academically successful and have a much greater chance of graduating on time. Arguably, teacher to student connection is more important now than ever. During distance learning teachers serve as a constant amid the change, the fear, and the uncertainty.
I'd like to share a resource here from Angela Watson. Angela is a teacher and instructional coach who started the blog, The Cornerstone for Teachers. Back in March of last year (we all remember March of last year :/), she wrote a post, "Twelve Ways to Connect With Kids and Prioritize Relationships While Teaching Remotely". And, in the year since I read this post, I have yet to find a better resource for teachers on this topic. This post offers twelve easy to implement ways to increase connectedness with students over the air waves. I'm posting it in its entirety below:
During emergency distance learning, look for small, simple ways you can center kids’ physical and mental well-being, which will, in turn, be energizing and uplifting for you, as well.
I’ve collected 12 types of ideas from members of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club to give you some insight into how other K-12 teachers from around the world are facing the challenges of teaching remotely in crisis.
Regardless of how much (or how little) contact with your students you’re able to have, and how much (or how little) academic instruction is happening, these ideas can help you prioritize relationships with your students and stay connected.
1. Let kids see your face
“Many teachers recorded a short video last week saying hello and the principal sent out a montage of those to families today.” -Colleen
“All of the teachers are sending in pictures and I’m going to compile them into an iMovie with a song as a background, and we are going to send it out to all of our families just so they know how much we miss seeing our students and how much we care about them. Also, it’s really fun to see teachers with their pets and on their couch and in their pajamas. And I think the kids really enjoy that too!” -Sarah
2. Eat lunch together
“I eat lunch with four other electives’ teachers every day. We’ve scheduled ‘lunch’ over Google Hangouts once a week until we are back in school.” -Julie
“I plan on doing a virtual lunch bunch with students 1-2 times a week so we can catch up.”
3. Have a virtual party and regular celebrations
“We met on Zoom to talk about our highs/lows, share how we are showing our school’s character traits (respect, responsibility, caring) at home, and today is a virtual birthday party meeting!” -Shelly
“My students like structure and humorous coaching. We’ll have an online party to celebrate when goals are met, where everyone gets their favorite food and beverage, and we have a chat.” -Patrick
“One of the things that I’m doing with my class is a Zoom lunch every day. We meet on Zoom from 12:15-1:00 PM. Each day we do something different, like today is crazy hat day. So when we meet for Zoom, we’ll be wearing our silly hats. Tomorrow, we are doing something different — it will be stuffed animal day. The kids will have their stuffed animals with them. On Monday, we had our pets, and on Friday, we’ll have our spirt shirts, and I’m giving them this open block to just talk and hang out with each other. Sometimes I moderate, sometimes I step back and let them chat. This way, we’re building a community, and we feel like we can spend time together.” -Jennifer
4. Hold “spirit days” with fun themes
“In our daily Zoom conferencing, we’re having spirit days. Today is Tie Dye Tuesday. Each teacher made a video of ourselves holding an inspirational saying and put it on our Twitter for our students to see.” -Timmie
“We’re doing dress-up days, almost like a spirit week. You either wear the themed outfit to your virtual meeting or take a pic and post it with a specific hashtag.” -Jessica
5. Maintain some of their favorite classroom routines
“We post a whiteboard message/question on the board every morning when we’re at school, so we continue to do this now to keep some routine. The kids answer in Google Classroom and we can comment back. My co-teacher, who teaches math, always writes the date as an expression on the board. She’s continued to do that in GC, or posts the date and has the kids comment with an expression for the date, again, just to keep some of the typical things we do at school going. Every Friday, we do First Chapter Friday, so I uploaded a recording of myself doing that on Friday and will continue to do so since it’s a big favorite of the kids.”-Coleen
“We are using Google Classroom. I teach kinder. I post a morning message and put up links to song videos we liked to watch when we were at school. Later in the morning, I post movement videos like the ones we did during our water movement break time. In the afternoon, I post a story and more movement videos. These are posts that give my students a routine they were used to doing at school. There are assignments also posted but I have created a list and routine for those, as well. During our Google Hangouts, I give every student multiple opportunities to talk (saying hi, sharing something they did or made on Google Classroom, saying goodbye). Keeping routines we used at school has really helped. My students even raised their hands and quieted down during the initial chaos of Google Hangouts when I said, “High five in the sky.” -Julia
6. Connect around books
Books are an opportunity to escape. We need them!
“My daughter’s first-grade teacher just FaceTimed her! Yesterday, she asked if it would be something my daughter would like, with no pressure at all. She said, ‘I would love to hear you read! Can you pick a book for when I call?’ We just got off the phone with her teacher, and it made my sweet girl’s day!” -Jennah
“My husband volunteers in my classroom every Friday and listens to my students read. Now students can sign up to read to him on Zoom. They’re thrilled!” -Jolene
“In the evenings, teachers are taking turns doing video ‘bedtime stories’ [which are shared live for any children in the school to watch].” -Maria
“I’m planning to continue our read-aloud we were doing before the shutdown. We are close to the end of the book and it would help re-connect with students if I did a ‘read-aloud lunch break’ video each day of me reading a chapter or two, and have students comment on Google Classroom or some other platform about what they think will happen next. Read-alouds and books have a way of bringing people together.” -Charlotte
“On Seesaw, the students and I are completing a reading bingo (for example, read with sunglasses). Everyone posts their pictures or video. I am keeping the academics very light and trying to focus on the enjoyment of reading and the importance of community during these times. I think of this quote from Meghan Cox Gurdon: ‘The act of reading together secures people to one another, creating order and connection, as if we were quilt squares tacked together with threads made of stories.'” -Jessie
7. Do individual check-ins
“To help stay connected, I send them a daily recording of me reading a story to them, do Zoom conferences, offer individual conferences with kids, send individual calls and messages to the kids, have a parents’ WhatsApp group, and use Google Classroom.” -Harjot
“I have my students fill out a Google form where they answer questions about how they are feeling and why, along with a spot to put any questions or concerns. I have time for us each day to connect on Google Meet with a different theme (song of the week, general check-in, online game, meme) as well as a time for individual support.” -Jessica
“We’re on week 2 in Norway. This week, the 1st-grade team is going to try out small group ‘class meetings’ with 4-5 students so that we get to say hi to them, they can say hi to each other, and we can ask some check-in social/emotional questions. I did a small group with just two boys last week to meet an IEP communication/turn-taking goal, and that was really lovely. The two boys and their mothers really appreciated having a connection point. We chatted about what the best/worst parts of the week were and what different learning, indoor play, and outdoor play activities we had been doing. They showed each other the books and games they had been playing. It made my heart and their hearts so so happy.”
“I hold daily video chats with my students. We’ve shared toys, books, and just about how we are feeling. I was nervous to video chat with 25 five- and six-year-old kids, but seeing their faces was just what I needed. Seeing them each day has given me more energy to continue planning for distance learning.”-Mary
8. Provide fun opportunities for kids to interact with their friends
“I’m posting a quick video of me telling a ‘Math Joke of the Day’ on Flipgrid every day and sending it to my students.” -Sarah
“I am posting short check-in topics in Flipgrid for them to respond to. They also have the ability to respond to each other’s videos.” -Kathryn
“I have set up a Padlet where students can post pictures or text about what they are doing. I periodically post questions or respond to them. I have it set up so I have to approve their posts because 6th graders can get out of hand quickly! I also set up a Kahoot Challenge so they can compete on their own time within a given window.” Katherine
“I’ve been posting a ‘challenge’ for them to complete each day (completely voluntary). Challenges have included making something creative with legos or drawing a picture, building a blanket fort, and sharing something you love about nature. Students have posted videos on Flipgrid (moderated by me) of the challenges they’ve completed and then they can watch each other’s videos and comment on them. The kiddos have loved it, and they are able to post their video when it’s convenient for them.” -Sara
9. Hold class meetings
“We do weekly class meetings, and we’ve continued them during this time. One of our class jobs is to write the class meeting agenda. We meet for 30 minutes each Thursday afternoon. The kids each share a sweet & sour (one good & one bad thing for the week), and we do a fun question (like if you could be any animal, what would you be). We sometimes talk about community issues, but mostly we do uplifting fun things, and news & notes. Also, we are still doing our daily read-aloud in the afternoon. We have a morning meeting every day to check in on what each of them will do each day. Their work plans include practical life and P.E. to get them moving, cooking, doing indoor and outdoor chores, etc. Our meeting platform is Google Meet.” – Bethany
“In our kindergarten class, we are having a class meeting on Zoom to start the day every day this week (we were on spring break so today was our first day of remote learning), then Monday, Wednesday, Friday next week. Then we’ll see how it goes from there. I’m checking in with each student on SeeSaw (a quick 1-2 sentence ‘hello’). Finally, I’m offering a 5-minute 1 on 1 conversation (parents signed kids up for time on SignUpGenius). It’s a lot in the beginning. I want to be sure everyone knows they are missed & supported. I will taper off as time goes on.” -Mollie
“Daily Zoom meetings and fun questions in daily Google Classroom posts. Our Zoom meetings are very loose. The kids share and visit, we do a number talk, the kids ask ALL their questions, and we close. I’m planning more fun as we get used to the technology and the kids settle into their routines.”-Erin
“I meet with my first graders each morning through Zoom. We greet each other, and everyone has a chance to share and respond. We also sing, read books, say Bible verses and pray together (we are a religious school). We are doing a show and tell through Zoom tomorrow. I feel like it is helping them stay connected with me and each other. For academics, we are using Seesaw. I give their work lots of personal comments including voice recordings. I feel like it is working well. It feels as personal as it can under the circumstances.”-Alicia
10. When you’re unsure of what’s needed, ask kids for input
“I held a virtual student council meeting today to brainstorm how we can still engage our school community from a distance! Almost all of my kids showed up, and we don’t even officially start virtual learning until tomorrow!” -Frankie
11. Build self-care and socio-emotional well-being into your schedule and assignments
“I teach Pre-K. I’ve been recording some writing lessons that model journaling and then sharing daily with my children. All of my prompts are social/emotional topics. (How are you feeling? What makes you happy? What do you do when you’re upset? What scares you?) And then students can electronically journal back to me with pictures and/or writing.” -Jackie
“We are required to do two Google Meets a week and so far I’ve kept it light and fun, and they appreciate that. They also appreciate me checking in with them individually. I ask them to tell me something good/fun they’ve done since the last time we talked, and any challenges they’re facing. I also set up challenges on my Google Classroom (we’re on total lockdown here in Spain so this is super important- to get the kids away from the screen for a bit and do something fun at home)- I post pictures of the challenge I’ve done, then they find some time in their day or week to do the challenge. It’s optional but they love it! So far we’ve done a baking/cooking challenge, a board/card game challenge, and an exercise challenge. It gives us all something to chat about after the ‘lesson!’” -Genevieve
“I send fun links and activities out over Class Dojo every day. These include computer-based ones and non-computer ones. I ask for pictures back from kids. I had a family share back a picture of them making a cake I used to make with my grandmother when I was a child. Our school is also sharing videos of staff reading books to the students.”-Kathy
“One of my coworkers is posting a daily ‘Would You Rather?’ in her Google Classroom. At least once per week, I am posting a motivational video and ask them to share what they noticed and thought about while they watched, what the theme or message was, etc.”-Claire
“I just send a two-minute video every day to my kinder kids on ClassTag (we’ve used it all year) giving them an idea of a way they can grow their brain at home (i.e. set up a blanket fort, bring in a book, and go on a sight word hunt!), or a way they can grow their heart at home (i.e. leave notes around the house for your family). Parents have let me know that their kids either do the activities (they often send me pictures and videos back), or they’re just happy to hear my voice!”-Kim
12. Be human first: set the tone of caring more about their physical and mental well-being than academics (even if you’re required to teach a lot).
“We are using Google Meet and have one hour of video conferencing as drop-in sessions every day. I am also posting little videos every other day about my life and home — one was a glance at my pets and the next was a look at all my fun, nerdy coffee mugs — just to stay connected and human.” -Joshua
“I held my first Zoom meeting today. I had a can in my pantry without a label on it. I had students post in google classroom what they thought was in the can and a recipe for the ingredient. I opened it via Zoom. It was chili! I had to make nachos with saltines because we had no chips. The kids loved it and it was my lunch. We stayed on together for an hour! We laughed. We joked with each other. (I really didn’t know what was in the can!)” -Tina, 7th grade
“I’m a tech coach and have been extremely busy of late. One of the things I cannot emphasize enough to teachers is to be human right now. I helped a wonderful teacher’s aide today who wanted to know how to edit the mistakes out of her read aloud. I asked her, ‘Why not leave them in?’ Laugh with the kids! Be human! I think teachers are feeling incredible stress right now to do something completely new and do everything perfectly, but what if we model our mistakes for our students and show them how we will be stronger together? So that’s my way to connect with students. Call, video, Zoom, Meet, whatever … just be YOU because YOU are what they’re missing. ”-Rebecca
I can’t think of a better note to end on, so let that be your takeaway truth: Just be YOU, because YOU are what they are missing.
The priority right now is caring for ourselves and those around us, which includes our students. Be the teacher you are deep down inside, be the teacher you’ve always wanted to be.
Take more time for connecting with your kids than you were ever able to do during face-to-face instruction. Supporting students’ mental and physical well-being IS the work right now.