Distance Learning: Making Connections

We all know that making connections with students is important. In fact, it might be one of the most important things we can do as teachers. Connections lead to a better outlook toward school and a willingness on the students part to engage in the learning process. But, how does making connections look when you are separated with miles between you and your students?

There are many ways to connect to your students when teaching behind a computer screen. And, they are all super simple. 

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Morning Meeting Share Time

Every day, we start our day with a "This or That" question. It's almost like a mini morning meeting where the kids get to share their opinion on a topic. I say mini because, my schedule is packed. In our first 30 minute block of online learning, I have to teach phonics, vocab, and reading. But, even though our daily question is quick (5ish minutes), the kids are given a chance to be heard and share their ideas.

Kids love to share. They love to hear their friends share. This allows them to make connections with their peers. This provides for a shared experience that in turn helps build classroom community.

Be Available/Let Them Talk

Our day is broken up between synchronous and asynchronous learning time. Typically, we have 30 minutes together for lessons and what not, and then the students have 20 minutes to work on assignments independently. This schedule is not my favorite, but in this learning environment, I'm not sure there is a perfect solution, so I follow the guidelines set forth by my school and district. 

During asynchronous learning time, I am always still online in our live Google Meet (it's a requirement). The kids know they can pop in at any time during asynchronous learning time to ask a question, get help, or just talk. A lot of my students will pop in just to talk. They like to show me things in their home or things they have made. They like to share stories and ask questions, and you know what? I'm fine with that. When they take the initiative to come and hang out with me, they clearly want to interact and are looking for a connection on their end. 

And, don't worry, I do check in to make sure they are caught up on their assignment for that work period. If they aren't, we work on it together. This allows me to make sure their assignment gets done, I can see where they are at, and we get to chit chat a bit along the way. This has really allowed me to get to know my kids on a more personal level. I love when they pop in.

Sometimes, kids will come back to our meet 5-10 minutes early. Just to hang out. I let them talk to me, and to each other. I do not put my Meet into present mode with music playing. I encourage them to interact. It's just one small way I can encourage social interaction. They know that when it's time to start, I will let them know and they have to mute as others come back to the Meet.

Communicate with Parents

Staying in contact with parents is a great way to strengthen connections with your students. When your parents feel in the know, they are more likely to support their kids with online learning. When your students have parents who support them, they are more likely to have a positive outlook toward school. Find opportunities to communicate with parents outside of reminders that their child needs to complete a missing assignment. Share a win. Give a compliment. Thank them for supporting their child. 

Social Time

At the end of each day, I have an optional Meet where the kids can come and do a quick directed drawing with me, followed by a Mad Lib (Mad Lib, Jr. is my favorite for primary aged students). We draw, we laugh, the kids often share stories and ask questions. It's just a nice time where we hang out without any academic instruction. 

Happy Mail

Snail mail will never go out of style. Kids love getting mail! I like to send my students some sort of mail every once in a while. At Halloween, I sent them a sheet of stickers and a pencil, along with a special note. 

For the winter holidays, I plan to send them a few color by code coloring pages, a fun sticker sheet where they get to create a holiday friend (from Amazon), and a word search (which I'm sure I'll be able to find on TPT). It doesn't take long to get this set up and sent out. 

My students loved their happy mail delivery in October, so I'm excited to put together a new one for December.

Most of these ideas are ways that I have connected with my students, but in the course of doing so, the kids have also been able to connect with one another. While it may not be the same as it would be in real life, it's something, and I'm grateful for the connections we've been able to make.

Share your favorite way to connect with your students during distance learning in the comments! 


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