How do we stay connected with our students when it feels like we aren’t? I tend to prefer face-to-face encounters with people because I feel more connected, so this transition has been a growth opportunity. I got to thinking about how my students might feel about trying to learn in isolation.
Here are some of the “connecting” techniques I’ve tried as a response.
- Ask students precise questions to check for understanding – Incorporating more frequent formative assessment can avoid students feeling more distanced because the teacher can respond in a more timely manner rather than waiting for a summative quiz or test.
- Listen to what students are saying – Students feel more connected when they feel heard. Paraphrasing student comments and building on their ideas are necessary to maintaining a connection.
- Make space for students to ask questions – Even in a face-to-face classroom, students can be reluctant to ask questions. Rather than make asking questions optional, create a mechanism for everyone to submit at least one question, whether they think they have one or not.
- Ask students what they hope to get out of the course – This is usually a question we ask at the beginning of a semester, but switching to distance learning is almost like starting over. Asking will help students remember their motivation and help the teacher focus their efforts to student interests.
- Don’t go too long without seeing each other (video) – Being able to read non-verbals and respond is a key part of connecting with students.
- Utilize breakout groups (social connection) – Teachers shouldn’t feel the lone burden of meeting all student needs; students should have time to connect with one another.
- Ask students how they are making the transition (address feelings and logistics) – Ignoring the disruption we’ve all experienced and acting like it’s business as usual does not put people’s minds at ease. Checking in communicates respect and honesty, which are paramount to a good relationship.
As much as this switch to teaching from a distance is not my preferred modality, I am learning and growing as an educator. I also feel a great sense of camaraderie with educators all over the world like I never have before.
Winnie Needham works in the Educational Studies department and enjoys growing as an educator.