There are so many things we cannot control right now. With distance Learning underway and no end in sight, teachers are concerned about how we can best meet our students’ needs.
I find it helps to consider what I CAN control instead of getting overwhelmed with what I cannot control.
Here is what we CAN do:
*we can make our students feel safe
*we can help our students to feel connected to us and to each other
*we can offer the best learning opportunities possible, given the limitations of distance learning.
This post is all about helping our students feel safe and connected.
A disclaimer: we all have a lot on our plates right now. I am sharing several ideas and resources here, but this is not to say that you should be doing every one of these things. Just pick and choose what works for you. Maybe try one thing this week and choose another idea next week.
*First of all, just checking in with your students helps to calm their stress and keep you connected. On her blog Teaching with Jennifer Findley, Jennifer has some awesome FREE Google forms you can immediately download and use as resources. I started by sending a Google form check-in once a week, but I have started increasing the frequency and asking different questions. I found that even the students who are having more trouble completing the academic online assignments will answer questions on the Google forms.
*Another way to use Google forms is to ask for student feedback on what is working for them with distance learning and what is not working. Simple questions you could ask are:
~what’s not working well?
~what suggestions do you have?
*Hearing your voice and seeing your face is key for your students. In my district, we are doing recorded video lessons but I know that many of you are doing live lessons. Either way — just seeing you and hearing your familiar voice are a comfort to your students.
So when you are getting tired of making all these videos and planning all these lessons, keep in mind that the social-emotional connection is one huge benefit of the work we’re doing to continue academic learning.
*If reading aloud was an important part of your classroom (and I hope it was!), you can keep it going while you are distant.
I have done a few different things.
~record yourself reading by putting your phone on a tripod like THIS ONE or record your reading with Screencastify or Screencastomatic.
~record yourself reading by using your phone as a document camera. (DIRECTIONS FOR THIS??) or buy a (relatively) inexpensive document camera. (Here’s another option that looks promising.)
~buy the Kindle version of a book and read it from your screen while recording your screen in Screencastify.
*Here are a few great picture books to use:
*The Day You Begin
*Let the Children March
*Do Unto Otters
*The Bad Seed
*I Walk with Vanessa
*Owen & Mzee
*There Might Be Lobsters
*The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes
*The Most Magnificent Thing
*Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
And here are a few great chapter books to use:
*Fish in a Tree
*Insignificant Events in the LIfe of a Cactus
*The Perfect Score
*Because of Winn-Dixie
*Home of the Brave
*Out of My Mind
*Pay it Forward
*Continue (or start) doing a morning meeting with your students. This doesn’t have to be a long meeting, just a quick check-in at the beginning of the day.
A recent article from Edutopia gave tips for bringing your morning meetings online.
Incorporating morning meetings into our home learning plan can help in a number of ways. First, students thrive on familiarity, especially in challenging times. Next, morning meetings help develop or maintain social and emotional skills. They can help increase student motivation for learning and sharing in online discussions. Finally, morning meetings can help get our students ready each day to take on the academic challenges we’re sending home.
Here are some tips:
~send a link in Zoom or Google Meet;
~as kids join, give them a few minutes to chat with you and with each other;
~try to show your students something familiar from the classroom (maybe a poster or chart, whatever talking object you used in the class, maybe a picture book or something your students would recognize as representing you or the class);
~use some kind of quiet signal to get students’ attention and have everyone mute their microphones (you’ll probably need to set some ground rules and consider using signals for your students)
~do some kind of check-in (show how you’re feeling with facial expression or on fingers with 1-5 ranking)
~use some kind of question for students to respond to. Here you might just call on a few students or you might let everyone share quickly
~do some quick activity together (see my list of possibilities HERE)
~give them their action plan for today (today you will . . .) & how to access help from you if they need it
~one more minute or two of social chat before signing off.
*If morning meetings are too much right now, you might make short, check-in videos for your students. You might do some kind of morning greeting, tell a joke, read a story, make “announcements” about learning for today — use your usual routines for starting class in the morning.
*If morning meetings and making videos are not feasible, try posting a daily question or prompt and allow students to respond. You could post the question using the question feature in Google Classroom, post a question on Padlet, or allow students to make short, 90-second videos in FlipGrid to respond to the question.
*Send a brief note or card to your students through the mail! Everyone loves getting mail and this will make them feel special. There are some great postcard options on Teachers Pay Teachers, like THIS ONE.
*Use Google docs or Google slides to create a virtual journal for students. You could write a prompt on each page or slide or just ask your students to write daily and update you on what is going on in their world.
*Allow your students to process their emotions in a variety of ways. They can write a letter, a journal entry, make a Google drawing, use emoji’s or memes, or write a poem.
*If you’re familiar with Brene Brown’s work, you may have heard her talk about the importance of giving yourself “permission.” Here’s a quick link where she explains what she means. So give yourself permission — to stop working at a certain time, to not answer emails at 10 p.m., to create videos that are “good enough,” not perfect.
And give your students permission as well — permission to miss an assignment or take a day off, permission to talk to you about what is working or not working for them.
*Remind your students of certain life skills they can work on while at home. This is a time where learning how to do these skills can be just as important as their academic learning. Here are some ideas: learn how to do laundry (sort, wash, dry, fold, put away); cook something; bake something; learn how to wash dishes; care for plants or do yard work; write cards or letters to loved ones; organize areas (closets, shelves, books, toys, clothes); learn to do small fix-it chores around the house; care for pets; care for younger siblings; learn how to do cleaning chores around the house.
*Have a purely social Google Meet or Zoom meeting at least once a week. See my list of activities you can do in those meetings HERE. Playing a game together, seeing everyone’s faces, and having a chance to talk and laugh together is good for all of us.
*You could also do an activity together that students might also do on their own at other times. Examples are:
Go Noodle, Calm, Cosmic Kids Yoga.
*Consider asking your specialists or other adults at school to join your Zoom meeting or Google Meet. It’s fun for your kids to see other people that they know and to get a chance to engage with them as well as with you.
*I end my whole class Google Meets by playing a positive song. Here are some songs I’ve used and I’m still collecting recommendations! If you think of a song that would be appropriate, please share!
~Count on Me
~A Million Dreams
~This is Me
~Into the Unknown
~Heal the World
~We Are the World
~What the World Needs Now
*I’ve mentioned Edutopia before. It is an awesome website for all kinds of resources, but especially for social-emotional learning. I found some great tips in this recent article.
Here are the tips that resonated with me:
~create an engaging online environment. You can do this by providing
*a checklist for assignments to complete
*a way for students to interact with each other (maybe by using FlipGrid or Padlet and by having weekly social Google Meet or Zoom meetings)
*a way to interact with you or ask questions (with office hours via Google Meet or Zoom).
~build community (by using some of the tips in this post!)
~be present (by having those office hours, by providing feedback on student work, offer strategies or scaffolds to help students to become more independent with online learning)
~establish norms for Google Meet or Zoom meetings.
*It’s a good time to teach your students to practice gratitude. You could use one of these prompts as a check-in question or at the start of a morning meeting.
~What are 3 things you’re thankful for today?
~What are 5 positive things happening in your world right now?
~Who are 3 people you’re thankful for today?
~What’s a place that you’re grateful for?
~Who is a person you know that you are thankful for?
~Who is a person you don’t know that you are thankful for?
~What book are you grateful for?
What’s something outside that makes you happy?
*Before you begin a video lesson (or live teaching), ask your students to stop and check-in with themselves. How are they feeling? You can give them a number scale to use, ask them to use a “weather word” to describe how they feel (sunny, cloudy, stormy, etc.), or use emojis or memes for them to identify where they are and how they feel.
Then, after checking in with themselves, talk about what they can do to change their “state”. Do they need to take a break and do something active? Do they need to take a break and do something calming? Do they need to talk to someone? Do they need to be by themselves for a minute or two?
Asking your students to check in with themselves and to think about what they need helps to empower them to handle their own emotions and mental state. Even if they need help from someone else, it empowers them to ask for what they need. These are great life skills for all of us!
*Encourage your students to do mindful activities as part of their “work” at home. They can spend time creating art, writing, reading, spending time outside, taking a walk, listening to music. Encouraging these activities as much as you encourage academic work is very important right now.
*Check-in with families frequently as well. Just send a quick email or make a phone call, asking them how it’s going and checking to see if there is anything they need. If someone does share a need that you cannot help with, share the concern with the appropriate people at your school. For most parents, just knowing that their child’s teacher cares about them as people goes a long way.
*One Padlet prompt I am going to use this week is a 6-word memoir. To do this, challenge your students to write about how they’re feeling, what is going on with them, or a positive/hopeful thought, but limit it to six words. It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence. My example is: “This is not what I expected.”
*I saw a great tip where a teacher is making it part of students’ homework to check in with another student. They can email, text, or call. Then their job is to write an email to the teacher to tell the teacher how that other student is doing. I think this sounds like a great idea for reminding students that we are all still connected and still part of a learning family. You might need to model the process first, but I think it’s worth a try.
*Another idea is to set up virtual table groups with a discussion thread in Google Classroom. To do this, you would use the question feature. Post a question or assignment, then assign it to only the four or five students in the virtual group. (You can assign the same question to other groups as well.) Here’s a video link to explain.
You can use Google slides in a similar way. Alice Keeler explains how to do this on her blog post HERE.
*I read a great article on EdNC called “During Covid-19, teachers can support students using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” You may be familiar with the saying that we have to “Maslow before we can Bloom.” I completely agree with that statement, so this article made sense to me. I am linking this short article here.
The seven tiers, in order of what we need to do for students goes like this:
Level 1 – are students safe and fed?
Level 2 – do they know they are loved and missed?
Level 3 – do they have coping skills to deal with crisis and emotions?
Level 4 – do they have access to instructional materials?
Level 5 – skills for online/remote learning
Level 1 may not be totally under our control. But we can do things to support our students in levels 2-5. I hope that you found some suggestions in this post that will help you support your students with levels 2 and 3. Please share your own tips!
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