I know that many of you hardworking, dedicated teachers will start thinking about your lessons towards the end of the week. Your brains will start turning again, your creativity will start to flow, and you’ll start thinking about how you can adapt lessons for virtual or face-to-face. You’ll be prepared. You’ll be ready. Because you’re awesome.
That brain power may need to be slightly averted though. I spoke to a Principal last week who said 160 of her students will have a new teacher when they come back from break because of schedule changes due to students changing their mode of learning (virtual to face-to-face and vice versa) and having to even out classes. That’s like 1/4th of her school. That’s a huge adjustment for everyone. While your school may not be that drastic, there are bound to be changes.
One of the biggest challenges that I’ve heard teachers talking about is connection. Connection through a mask, connection over a computer, connection with students who are absent…it’s a real struggle this year. If you’re looking to where to put your creativity, let’s put it there!
The number way to connect with your students is to get to know them. Whether that is in assignments they are turning in, or conversations in class, facilitating a time to hear from them is critical. And while you may be thinking, “I don’t have time to dedicate time to just talking to them,” I would submit to you that connecting with them will pay dividends in the work they will do for you later.
Unfortunately, because our students are coming from so many different backgrounds, coupled with the craziness of this year, we could unknowingly cause division instead of unity. I would like to caution you on a few topics.
Here are some things to avoid:
- Don’t ask about presents! 2020 was tough and many students may not have gotten much.
- Places they went/family they visited – I know for me, this Christmas was mixed with some sadness – we didn’t travel and my mom was sick – so this was the first Christmas I didn’t see any of my family for Christmas. It was different. Students may be in a similar boat.
Just keep in mind that there are traditions and wonderful feelings surrounding the holidays that come so second nature to you that you may forget that your students don’t all feel the same way. While I think it’s great to give them individual time to talk about these (perhaps in writing), requiring to students to write about their favorite present or tradition, or sharing it with the group may isolate so many students who may not have had the same experience.
Here are some discussion topics to connect with your students and learn more about them on a deeper level:
- If money wasn’t a factor and you could give any gift to anyone, what and who would it be, and why?
- If there was one thing you would change about 2020, what would it be in 2021?
- If there was one problem you could solve in the world in 2021, what would it be and why?
- If you had a super power that was meant to be used to help people, what would it be and why?
I want to say this – I definitely thing that giving your students the opportunity to share fears and hurts with you as their teacher is important and a privilege. I believe that this where choice comes in, specifically in writing. I used to like to give my students 2 topics to write about – one that was a “safer” option but still allowed me to hear their voice, and one that allowed them to open up if they needed an outlet. I learned a lot about my students this way.
Along with facilitating students voice and giving them the opportunity to share, I want to encourage you to give feedback. Students are used to being graded on their skill level, but if connection is the goal, giving feedback on their ideas is monumental. If you have a class discussion and give you acknowledge or even give “points” for sharing ideas or even better, adding on to someone else’s idea, you encourage a safe space to share. Giving feedback on their writing – not on the writing skill, but on the content- is also super valuable in creating student voice and connection.
You have the unique opportunity to set the tone for how the second semester will go. You will set the tone, no matter how 2020 went.
Play games. Have fun. Find joy in teaching – even if it looks different than it has in the past. Give the kids that show up 100%, even if it’s only 10 kids. They are in front of you for a reason.
Happy NEW YEAR!!! Let’s take it on!
For more ideas on connecting, don’t forget to check out our YouTube Channel: Jenn Kleiber 🙂