Keeping up connections
It has been a challenging time throughout the world over the past couple of weeks. We are experiencing unprecedented changes in our daily lives and, in particular, in education. These changes have left us feeling confused and overwhelmed about what steps to take in our personal and professional lives.
As educators, we have a difficult task ahead in trying to determine how to prepare for school closures and how we can provide meaningful instruction for our students and the support that our students and their families need.
Some schools are now closed for two weeks or six weeks. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, we may find that these short-term closures may extend and result in us finishing the school year through remote instruction. This leaves a large amount of time that we need to set up remote learning and find ways to make connections with students and their families.
What steps can we take to work through this together?
One area that I am trying to focus on first and that I think is the most important is setting up ways for our students and their families to connect with us. Having a consistent method for sharing information, providing instruction and offering support is important. Beyond emails, phone calls and school district websites, we must find ways to leverage technology so we can create more social interactions and foster connections.
We must also make sure that students have access to devices and the internet, and if not, to find ways to help them obtain these resources or provide alternatives.
With remote learning and the uncertainty of when or if we will return to our schools this year, we need to set up ways to continue the relationships we have developed with students.
Finding tools to connect
Using the common forms of communication, we can provide the information in multiple ways to make sure our school community is receiving everything they need. But there are other options for having more streamlined communication or being able to connect more frequently, as needed.
Some of those options, which I have used and are being used by many schools, include Microsoft Teams, Remind, BloomzApp, Classtime or Seesaw. Last year at DA’s Future of Education Technology Conference, I learned about ParentSquare.
For educators looking to connect, joining the conversation on Twitter by following #remotelearning or one of the educator Facebook groups focusing on school closures and remote learning are also great options to explore how others are communicating.
When I was getting my master’s degree, I took online classes for the first time. They felt different because of the lack of personal interactions with classmates and not being able to have conversations or make connections in a physical classroom space. When a professor added a live class session and we could actually see one another, it made all the difference.
With remote learning and the uncertainty of when or if we will return to our schools this year, we need to set up ways to continue the relationships we have developed with students. There are many options, and we do not need to use each one. Find one that will work for you and your students.
- Online discussions and chats: Over the years, I have used tools for back channel discussions and for connecting with other classrooms and colleagues worldwide. Some of those tools that work well are: Backchannelchat, GoSoapBox, School Loop, Parlay and YO Teach.
- Online office hours: Using video tools to set up time to be available online for students to ask questions is another way to stay connected. Every day in my classroom I make sure to greet students and have those interactions. Since educators and students are in separate spaces now, it’s important for us to continue to be available through Google Hangouts, Google Meet and Zoom, for instance.
Instructional videos: A great many videos are already available that we can use with our lessons. However, it is more meaningful when we create videos ourselves or at least share a weekly video check-in with students. To create short lessons or to explain how to use a certain digital tools, for example, try using screen recording tools such as Loom or Screencastify. If you want to create a simple video of you sharing ideas, reading a story or explaining a concept, using a webcam on your computer or a recording option on your phone will work just fine.
Rachelle Dene Poth is a foreign language and STEAM teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. She is a featured speaker for FETC.
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