The College School
Building Relationships in a Remote Learning Environment
When you hear the word “remote”, what comes to your mind? Personally, words/phrases like distant, far away, secluded, and alone immediately come to my mind. When we think of something that is “remote”, we often picture an island where someone is getting away from reality and people. In the business world, employees can choose to work “remotely”, defined as working outside of a traditional office environment. Throughout this unfortunate pandemic, our K-12 education system has been impacted in several ways, good and bad. In every classroom across the globe, the greatest negative impact has been on building/sustaining relationships with our students. The daily socialization experienced in a traditional K-12 environment has been halted and learning shifted immediately to “remote”.
Teachers and students are now living on separate islands, with minimal provisions, building an online learning environment from scratch, and forced to communicate/socialize through Zoom Meetings online, learning platforms (ex. Schoology/Canvas), and messaging applications like e-mail/discussion posts/Schoology. The shift forced students, teachers, and parents to engage differently. It forced K-12 educators to “re-imagine”/”rethink” learning. Lessons are now delivered remotely, absent of the daily ability to engage in group discussion, ask questions, share your thinking, etc. Everything that is natural and normal is no more.
Out of this chaos, educators are doing what they do best. Educators face adversity and make it a beautiful mess. Educators and their school systems have banded together to make “remote” learning effective, exciting, and personal. There are a few strategies and “must do’s” in order to build strong, positive relationships with your students and their families in a remote environment. Below, I list strategies that have been effective in establishing and sustaining relationships with my students and their families in this remote learning environment.
- Utilize “live” zoom sessions for getting to know your students through ICEBREAKERS. Push beyond “how was your weekend” share outs and get creative/outside the box with your Icebreakers. Collect the information gathered during these icebreakers and start a remote “portfolio” for your students. Refer to the portfolio when interacting online and add to the portfolio as you discover more about your students.
- Establish Office Hours 2x or more per week, where you are available to students/families for anything and everything. Knowing you are there when they reach out as well as being active and present on a consistent basis, strengthens the relationships no matter the distance between you. Office hours may include Schoology messaging, a phone call, or a live zoom for one:one assistance.
- Implement “ORIENTATION” sessions at the beginning of your remote experience. Specifically, live sessions or taped sessions that walk the student and parent through your expectation for this course and “how we do business”. Have protocols and procedures on “how to submit work”, “how to ask for help”, “how to set up an appointment during your office hours”, “what to do if there is a technology issue”, and most importantly “what to do if there is a personal issue”. These protocols and procedures should be posted on your course learning platform for reference throughout the course.
- Pick up the phone and check on your students/families. As personal as you can get within reason, do so. The appreciation, comfort, and relief of hearing your voice is priceless for our students/families. This can also be accomplished by sending a personal email if phone contact is not an option.
- Embrace the beautiful mess and make it meaningful. State and National governance of K-12 education through this pandemic has been “hands-off”. A broad structure is established and then systems are left to their “discretion” on what the learning looks like/how it takes place. This is a teacher’s dream. TAKE RISKS!!!! Yes, I’m giving you permission to: Sing the song you always wanted to sing about Fractions, Dress up in that 17th century costume of Johann Christoph Bach, and challenge your class to a LIP SYNC battle for the Ages!!!!!
We have always been frustrated with the decisions made for our educational systems by people/entities not associated with education and/or have a lack of experience in education. Now, those same people/entities are silent or saying “go for it”/”it’s your call”.
Grasp this opportunity to establish and sustain strong, positive relationships with your students and their families. Push the creative limits of your teaching tool box and take EVERY risk, within professional reason, no matter the outcome. Kids need each other and need us more than ever.
You now have the power, free of red tape, to redefine “remote” learning. I’m starting to think about it as an exciting island where I go with all of my closest friends.