Many of us are starting the school year doing virtual classes. It is a tough situation – for a lot of reasons. I think the worst part is how difficult it will be to connect with my students. This blog post came out of a deep need for ways to build relationships during distance learning. It is also a sincere invitation to offer your own ideas that we can all benefit from.
Understand what students are feeling:
While there are some students that may enjoy being at home and working virtually, I would venture to say that most kids would far prefer being back at school. Even for those in the best circumstances at home, they still miss their friends and the interactions they have with their teachers.
There is also the sheer monotony of the online virtual education world, the same thing every day, in the same location, in front of the same screen.
If you have not seen this short film (three minutes), it is 100% worth the watch. It really captures how kids are feeling during this time away from school and friends.
I have two kids of my own, 8th grade and 5th grade. They are good at hiding it, they tell me it is not so bad, but after watching Numb I can see a lot of her pain in their eyes too.
And that does not even address the kids who are in food scarce, or abusive environments. For so many, school is the only safe place they have.
I am preaching to the choir – we know this. But it highlights why relationships are so important. We build relationships not just so students can learn better – but so they can live better.
This is a list of four, concrete actions we can take to intentionally build relationships with students during distance learning:
- Regular communication
- Check-Ins on emotional health
- Providing positive feedback on student work
- Teaching in real time
Be proactive with communication to your students. I have often heard the advice to make at least one positive contact (via phone or email) with each student’s parents before the end of the first two weeks.
This good idea is an even better idea if you are starting the year virtually. But not just to parents – our students need to hear from us personally. It can be an email that you copy and paste to all students, but insert their name, and any detail you may know about them – like a sport they play in school, a sibling of theirs that you taught, etc.
Hello ________! I am so excited to be your teacher this year. I miss seeing you in person, but that will not stop us from having a great time learning together. If you ever have questions, or need help, do not hesitate to contact me. I am here for you! Email me back and let me know what you think about doing virtual learning, rather than face to face. I look forward to hearing from you!
Include a bit of information about yourself in this letter (hobbites, pets, etc). Add a picture of you – or even a short video!
Consider asking a list of get-to-know-you questions and having students pick three to answer. Communication is a two way street! This is why I ask for students to email me back. I want to hear from them, and I want them to be comfortable contacting me.
Check In Regularly
Once school really gets going, regular communication can be done through email, Remind101, ClassTag, ClassDojo….there are a lot of possibilities! Send encouraging words and ask students to respond to let you know how they are doing. This may sound weird, but if you were with them in class, and you greeted a student, you would expect a response! That is how relationships are built.
Another way to check in with your students is by regularly using some type of survey that asks social/emotional questions. Here is a free, editable Google Form for checking in. It is short (can be filed out by students in less than five minutes) but offers powerful insight into a student’s situation. Questions include how kids are feeling, how is distance learning going, if they have had breakfast or lunch, if there is anything they want to tell me. This can be requested of students daily or weekly.
For something a bit deeper, try a Student Reflection Journal like this one. It puts your students in charge of considering their feelings each day, provides coping strategies, and goal setting. As students are completing it through the week, you can ‘drop in’ and take a look at their Journal to see how things are going. This gives you great insight and lets you know which students need help from you.
Related: Engage with your students in a fun way with your students with your own bitmoji digital classroom! Step by step instructions!
Build Relationships by Giving Positive Feedback on Student Work
When I was a student, I remember the pride I felt, and sense of accomplishment, when I turned in school work. Laying it in the turn-in basket, knowing that in a few days I would get it back with markings that proved my teacher had spent time reviewing it, and providing feedback.
But doing virtual work is kind of…well, empty. Students complete the task, hit the submit button, and it disappears into the void.
You may be tempted to skim over the work, and put a score in the grade book – done! But the positive feedback you can add to a student’s virtual work can mean so much to them.
When I grade paper/pencil work, I like to give a lot of positive feedback. I do not mean just corrective notes, but smiley faces, check marks, ‘great job’s etc. It should be the same way, or even more so, with digital work! And, it can be even easier to give feedback digitally!
When grading, there are a handful of phrases you may use a lot – like, ‘This looks great!’ and ‘Well done!’ along with a few corrections that you may find yourself writing over and over. Except you don’t have to write them over and over on digital work! Copy and paste is your best friend!
Pull up a Google Doc and type out a handful of phrases that you know you will use over and over when grading – and then just copy and paste into your students’ work!
If the assignment format allows for it, I love to include a photograph of me giving a thumbs up or a big smile. This feedback shows your kids that you see their work and you appreciate the effort they put forth.
Related: Learn how to use one simple Chrome extension to turn any website into an interactive grade assignment!
Build Relationships by Teaching In Real Time
To build relationships during distance learning, it is so important to interact with kids in real time. Google Meets and Zoom are great ways to teach your students live! Create a set schedule and require your kids to be there. Even if it is just for fifteen minutes – they will see your animated smiling face, and you will see theirs!
Consider breaking up your classes into small groups and meet with each group at least one time per week. This may sound overwhelming, but the live meetings do not have to be your primary method of teaching.
Your teaching lessons can be pre-recorded videos that students watch when they can.
Then spend the live time doing review! Play a few rounds of GimKit, Kahoot, or Quizizz! (GimKit just released a way of inserting Zoom into the game!) As you play, you will see who needs extra help, and have the chance to do a bit of re-teaching with your small group.
Students can also present projects and show off their work within the small groups. Or turn it into a show-and-tell time! Anything that builds relationships and forms connections!
Do you have a great way to build relationships with students during distance learning?
We are all in the same boat. We all love kids, and want to offer our very best to them. Please share your ideas for building relationships in the comments below so we can all learn from each other!