Across the globe, schools are gearing up for a new academic year. As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, many are planning to deliver instruction with virtual learning systems to keep staff, students, and their families safe.
Whether your school is implementing a full or part-time virtual system, this back-to-school season is guaranteed to be more plugged-in than ever before. As a teacher, you may be finding this presents a new challenge—unlike the shift to remote teaching earlier this year, you will now have to build relationships with students you may have never met before.
However, while connecting with new students virtually may take more thought and planning, these six strategies can help you reach your students in meaningful ways and make your time together memorable.
1. Meet Your Students Where They Are
A troubling reality that COVID-19 laid bare, in both the U.S. and around the world, is the staggering inequality in access to the internet and computers. This means that not all of your students will necessarily be able to communicate with you in the same way.
As early as you can, try finding the best way to reach each student and parent or guardian (email, social media, calling/texting, etc.), and keep the information in a notebook or spreadsheet for reference. This can be a key first step in fostering teacher-student interaction—as well as parent or guardian involvement—since you’ll be connecting with them in the spaces they already occupy.
2. Introduce Yourself, with a Twist
A great way to help students feel more comfortable with opening up to you is by opening up to them first. When students get to know you better, they can relate to you and will be more likely to follow your lead in sharing.
Try introducing yourself to your class with a slideshow or short video that shows your personality. You can add fun photos, show off your pets, demonstrate your favorite hobbies—whatever you feel shows you. You can even follow up with a quiz game to see how many fun facts they remember!
3. Interview Your Students
Your students may be shy to talk about themselves unprompted, so try creating an interview-style questionnaire to get them started. Invite your students to tell you about their favorite music, movies, books, hobbies, sports, if they have any pets, what their families are like, and so on.
To make sure they have relevant questions, you can give them a range of options and suggest they pick five to answer. They can even choose to submit their answers in written or video form, which is a great opportunity for your students to practice their digital communication skills before they get started on more serious assignments.
4. Use Video Whenever Possible
While writing is certainly a wonderful way of communicating, teaching with video will help you make more of a personal connection. You feel more real and approachable when students can see your face and hear your voice.
Younger students, English-language learners, and those who struggle with reading comprehension may also find video more accessible and easier to understand. If you have time, try posting your content in both written and video form, even if one is shorter, such as a brief video recap or a bulleted list. This way, your students can connect in whichever way works for their learning style.
Lastly, with this advice in mind, be sure that your learning environment is inclusive, adjusting as needed for those students with visual, hearing, or other impairments.
5. Bring Back Show-and-Tell
One of the most meaningful things a teacher—or any adult—can do for a student is take their interests seriously. You can incorporate this idea into distance learning by creating a show-and-tell space in your online classroom hub.
Students can share about projects they’re working on, art they’ve made, fun activities they’ve taken part in, skills they’re learning—whatever they’re excited to talk about. They can send in photos, art, video, write-ups, and you can set aside a few minutes of class for students to present them if they wish.
If your students prefer, they could just share with you, or if they want to share with the class, you can post their submissions to your online class space. This not only encourages student participation; it also helps students connect with each other!
6. Focus on Fun
With so many other things to worry about this year, you might feel like bringing fun into your virtual classroom should be low on your list of priorities. However, when students have fun, they feel less anxious and more emotionally safe—this helps them come out of their shells to actively participate, empowering them to learn more effectively.
There are infinite ways to make your time with students more fun, including turning assessments into game-show style quizzes, inviting students to dress up for themed days, or using active viewing strategies to watch BrainPOP movies together.
Let your students know you’re open to their ideas, too—after all, kids are the real fun experts!
Whether in-person or online, teaching is all about the human element. With a little extra thought and personal flair, you can create meaningful connections with your students no matter how much distance is between you.