Over the past few weeks everything has changed in education because of the Big C. And even though we still need to be concerned with reading, writing, and mathematics, good teachers like you know we have to Maslow before we can Bloom. Here are 8 meaningful ways to connect with students online. Your kids want to know you, and this also gives your students a way to tell about themselves in a way they normally are unable to do. Make the most of this unique opportunity to build relationships with your students. The way you interact with them online may be one of the things they remember most about this historical time for the rest of their lives. No pressure! (Seriously though, no pressure. You ARE good enough and are going to do a great job).
Invite Them Into Your Home
Think about the first day of school. Did you give your kids a tour of the classroom? After this long in the year, hopefully you and the kids feel at home there. But now, they are peering into a small portion of your home. They only can see what’s directly behind you. I’ve heard that Zoom style meetings (the platform doesn’t matter) are exhausting to humans because our brains are trying to fill in all the missing information we would normally get in person. That’s happening for our kids too. Children, of course, are naturally curious. So lean into that curiosity and give them the tour. Make them feel at home. You don’t have to show them every room. If your students are young, they can still be amazed you don’t live at the school. If you can, move your sessions around your home. Science lessons go great in the kitchen, and all of us should be teaching and reteaching hand washing skills. Here a video that has a great visual of how germs spread.
Create Small Groups
In school, I bet you have time planned for small group instruction. If possible, keep up meeting with these same groups. You’ve already got the kids clustered and they will feel better having a similar routine.
Create a Green Circle Time
My favorite admin ever had our entire elementary school do Green Circle time. It was a time where every child got to talk about a given subject from the teacher. It was a way to share feelings. Green circle time in intended to be a time that’s safe for students to share their joys, but also fear or anxieties. Kids especially need this time now. They know something is very different and wrong. They need to be able to express their feelings. Give them an opportunity to do so, but also always allow a student to pass if they don’t want to speak. This might be unwieldy in a full group, so you could do this in your smaller group session. You might want to create a fun visual way to call on each student. If you have a large amount of students, use a visual timer so they can see when their time to speak is almost up. Let your kids feel that their hearts are being heard. Their parents might be cashiers at the grocery store, medical professionals, or in a category of people particularly vulnerable. Right now, every teacher is unofficially part counselor.
Show and Tell Time
The time honored tradition of show and tell is perfect for online learning. Kids can show off their favorite toy, picture, or other object. They can practice speaking skills by telling about the object. Then they can write about it too. You could allow one or two students to present a day and then have all the students pick which one they want to write about.
Getting silly online helps keep kids attention. Even in a classroom it’s hard, but at home, you’re competing with family, pets, electronics, and other distractions that you just can’t eliminate. If you can, incorporate fun props into your lessons. It can be things you already have around the house, nothing new. Do you have anything that could make a cool sound effect? I grabbed this little fun guy off a shelf in my office just now. What do you have around the house that can get attention?
Introduce Your Pets
They’re probably going to show up on camera at some point anyway, so why not introduce your pets? If your students have pets, let them introduce their furry, scaly, or feathered friends too. You can use your introduction of your pets to talk about expectations when a pet comes on screen. Maybe let them get the ooohs and ahhhs out of their systems.
My Kids Don’t Have Internet, Now What?
That’s right, call the kids at home. Yes, it can be done without sharing your cell phone or home number (remember those!?) Instead, you can use Google Voice. Here’s a tutorial video on how to use it. Since nobody picks up phone calls with restricted numbers these days, this is a good way to to hopefully get your calls answered.
Old Fashioned Letters
If all else fails, send your student letters or postcards. If your students aren’t yet readers, write a note the parents can read to their student. Don’t be afraid to use Google Translate if there is a language barrier. Before you start writing, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and if you can, mask up too. Don’t lick the envelope or stamp; instead use glue. I like to add stickers or drawings to my envelopes, even when I’m sending things to my own family members.
What are you waiting for, go get started connecting with your students. I hope that these 8 meaningful ways to connect with students online will make an impact for you. Remote learning doesn’t have to sacrifice relationships.