About a week ago, I adopted a cat. I named her Covie.
I have no idea why I bought her. I am not a cat person. I am not even an animal person. But there is something about having a ball of fluff sitting on your lap when you are staring at your computer teaching via webcam all day long.
Because of my impulse buy, I have learned something about myself. I like people. I like talking, socializing, and connecting with them. So much so, that I adopted a cat to fill that void.
If I am craving some sort of connection to an outside human being, I can only imagine what my students are feeling at this time.
So how can we help our students still feel some sort of human connection?
—We can connect through social media. I have always used Twitter in the classroom and now I rely on it more and more. I am constantly posting articles for students to read, prompts for them to respond to, or book recommendations. Doing this not only cultivates a sense of classroom community, it lets students know that they still have a teacher who is invested in their education. Recently I even created a classroom SnapChat. Students enjoy the challenges that I send out to the group, and better yet, they enjoy seeing pictures of me being goofy.
— We can connect through book chats. A colleague of mine does a daily YouTube live stream where she recommends books that students should be reading. Another colleague of mine has developed a virtual book tasting activity for her classes. Regardless of what you do, talking about books with your students gets a conversation going. Better yet, it might even inspire them to pick up a book instead of binge watching T.V.
— We can connect through our virtual classrooms. After holding one of my virtual classes, I have started asking a student to stay “after class.” I ask them how they are doing, how their families are doing, and how I can help them be successful during distance learning.
— We can connect through writing. Now more than ever, I am seeing the importance of letting students choose what they want to write about. By letting them have this power of choice, students are able to express opinions, frustrations, and accomplishments. This can be done in something as simple as an assignment, or a virtual entrance or exit ticket.
— We can connect by showing them we are human. The other day I was holding a class session and my new cat knocked a box off the shelf. After the box came crashing down, my students were not interested at all in the material we were discussing. Instead, they wanted to see my cat and talk about her “weird” name.
Not too long after that, my nephew started screaming in another room while I was teaching the same class. In my haste to get out of my room, I ran into a shelf. Yes, the wonderful moment was broadcast to all 35 students who were watching me. Distance Learning is not very graceful or elegant. Students are going to see a side of us that we normally don’t reveal in the classroom. However, by letting students see this human side of us, we are connecting with them and letting them know that it is okay to talk about “normal things.”
How are you establishing a connection with your students during distance learning? I would love to hear your ideas!
Shelby Scoffield is a teacher at Mountain House High School in Mountain House, CA. She has recently discovered that she really likes cats, macaroons, and the Hamilton soundtrack. You can follow her on Twitter @sscoffield1.