Knowing Your Students
Building Relationships in a Virtual Classroom
School is almost here and COVID-19 has changed the atmosphere as we prepare for going back to school. Some schools are opening for face to face instruction, some are going virtual, and some are doing hybrid programs. Parents are making decisions about whether to send their kids into the classroom, some are choosing virtual education, and some are choosing to homeschool. Whatever your situation is, and whatever you choose, I am not here to judge you. We made the choice that was the best for our family and I assume everyone else is doing the same. But, if you are an educator who is finding yourself suddenly in the virtual education world due to COVID-19, you may have lots of questions. I am here to hopefully help.
I am gearing up for my second year as a full time educator in an online public school. When I first accepted a position as an online educator, my biggest fear was that I would not be able to form solid relationships with my students. Not only was I wrong, but it has become something I am passionate about. Now, I recognize that in my situation, the students and teachers have chosen virtual school. It was not sprung upon us by a pandemic; it was a choice. Because of that, I know that some of my suggestions may not work for you, but I hope that maybe a few of them will.
One thing I have learned in my role as a teacher in a virtual school is that if you can do it in brick and mortar classrooms, you can probably adapt it for the virtual classroom.
At the beginning of the year, you probably have some kind of get to know you activity for your students. Plan to do the same thing virtually. If you normally have them fill out a sheet/questionaire, use Google Forms. If you normally play a game, you can get creative to make it work in Zoom or Google Meet.
Plan sessions that are solely for relationship building. Outside of the required class sessions you hold, create sessions that are just for hanging out with your students and chatting or playing games. You get to know them and they get to know each other. I like to do games such as school friendly versions of Never Have I Ever (never have I ever seen an elephant, played a sport, etc.). Give them time to elaborate on their answers. Another fun one is to call out something like "I have a sibling" and let them type their name in the chat if that is true for them. Scavenger hunts are also a hit.
Email them or mail a letter just to recognize great things they have done well. I do what I call "Fan Mail Friday" where I pick 2 or 3 students and send them fan mail to recognize things they have done well. I also send quick emails.
My students can still earn prizes for Dojo Dollars or filling up reading logs at home - I just send a small dollar store prize in the mail.
Another fun thing that my students love is I allow them to send in pictures of their pets. I take those and insert them into my lessons and when their pet shows up on the lesson, they get 2 minutes to share with the class about their pet.
Digital journals that your students can write in every day are also great ways to get to know your students while also allowing them to practice their writing skills.
Take their interests and incorporate them into your lessons. Last year, my students were obsessed with animal and Roblox so we had a lot of lessons with those themes.
I make an effort to talk to each of my students and their families once a month on the phone- more if they are struggling with something. They also get a phone call on their birthday (I use a digital planner to keep up with this). Because of this, I am much closer to my students' families than I ever was in brick and mortar classrooms.
Share about yourself! My students love to see pictures of me and my kids and my pets. I use a picture of one of my pets to signify that we are taking a brain break.
Continue these practices throughout the year- remember that just like us, their interests can change. When they feel like we are interested in what they care about, they feel seen and heard.
Feeling seen and heard. That is what we all want - whether we are on a computer or in person. If they tell you their cat is sick, make a note to ask them about it later. If you notice them struggling with something, reach out and offer extra help.If you see them being a good friend, send an email or drop a letter in the mail to let them know you noticed that.
Most of all, give grace - to your students and to yourself. You've got this.