by Dr. Lora Beth Escalante
As teachers around the nation (and globe) are navigating teaching online, we have the opportunity to reflect on our strengths as educators. The relationships we worked hard to form from August to February must now be maintained virtually, and the most effective way to get started is to identify what was going well in our classroom before we were oh so rudely interrupted by COVID-19.
Consider what classroom routines and rituals you had in place that provided a sense of calm, order, and joy. How could those routines or rituals transfer or be adjusted for an online platform? What can be done synchronously and what can be accomplished asynchronously? Reflect on which students worked well together and could now thrive as accountability partners. Did any students join your classroom recently? How can you make them feel like a part of the community? Let’s take a look at a few ways in which we can maintain and cultivate positive relationships with an online community.
- Post a video. When you post a video of yourself talking, modeling an activity, reading aloud to students, telling jokes, or even introducing your own family or pets, your students get a sense of who you are as a person like they never had a chance to do in the classroom! Students (yes, even teenagers) are very curious about their teachers, and they connect with us when they see us as real people with personal interests. When we show them we are willing to be known as a person and not just their content teacher, they are often more willing to be known, themselves.
- Assign accountability partners. Think of the people in your own life who spur you on to do good deeds and help you accomplish your goals. They may even help you laugh at your mistakes and move on. Students need accountability partners as well. These may be peers within the same class or across classes, or they may even be parents, siblings, or friends outside of class.
- Host a morning meeting. This is a routine that has established a meaningful start to the school day for many teachers and students. Some ideas to explore include but are not limited to playing a game (consider a scavenger hunt—either at home or online with applications such as GooseChase or Kahoot), singing a song, reading aloud to students, or allowing students to share “good things” in small groups (verbally through breakout groups in Zoom or written on a shared document).
- Encourage collaborative conversations by providing structured conversation starters. Use the QSSSA structure that includes a question with a stem, and ask students to respond to their classmates’ contributions. You may want to warm students up with an informal topic such as food they’ve been eating, clothing choices, or physical activity ideas during quarantine before diving into academic content-related topics.
- Conduct mini-conferences. Find a way to make a connection and check in regularly with each student. Tracking your communication on a spreadsheet is extremely helpful so you won’t have to trust your memory. “I think I checked in with Johnny. Yeah, I’m sure he’s fine…” When you’re on Day 872 of quarantine, this becomes exceedingly important!
You may have heard the quote, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Variations of this have been attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, Zig Ziglar, John Maxwell, and more, but regardless of who said it, the sentiment is clear and important. When it comes to teaching our students successfully, the first step is to build a relationship based on trust and respect, showing that we care about them as individuals and we’re on their team. That’s more important now, when their lives (and ours, too) have been turned upside down, than ever before.
We’d love to hear what’s been working for you! Share your strategies for connecting with students remotely in the comments. And for more ideas, check out my recent Seidlitz Education webinar.
Editor’s Note: Online Community in Action
Seidlitz consultant Tina Beene was amazed by how beautifully her son’s teacher has been creating community online, and with the teacher’s permission, she shared this WebEx schedule the class has been following to stay connected, both as a whole and in smaller groups.
Here’s what the teacher has to say:
A mix of whole-group and small-group class meetings, some of which deal with content and others which are designed exclusively for social interaction, can provide much needed balance for students and teachers alike. In this example, students submit the names of two to four classmates they would most like to visit with in a Google form. I use the students’ responses to revise the groups weekly.