Innovating Personal Connections with Students During COVID-19

April 3, 2020 |

By Jennifer Jendrzey
Vice President of Strategy and Evaluation at Raise Your Hand Texas

Districts, legislators, and community members have inquired about lessons learned and guidance to be gleaned from Raising Blended Learners, an initiative we developed to help schools improve student achievement using blended learning. While the lessons from Raising Blended Learners reveal what is most important during this time, they also reveal why blended learning is not possible in this environment.

While blended learning certainly provides teachers and students with meaningful opportunities to use technology for teaching and learning, the key is that this occurs within the classroom with the help of technology. Unfortunately, this is not possible under the current circumstances. What our educational system is currently facing is not blended learning. It is not even online learning. It is emergency remote teaching and learning. Our blended learning blogs, as part of the Rising to the Challenge series, seek to address these challenges and offer resources to school leaders, educators, and learners.

One of the most complex aspects of the emergency remote teaching response to COVID-19 is how districts must balance educational rigor with the social-emotional wellbeing of every student in their communities. 

Because blended learning relies on technology in part, it is easy to mistake it for the solution to the challenge schools are currently facing. But without the face-to-face component of blended learning classrooms, true blended learning cannot take place. For more about the difference between blended learning and the current situation, read our companion blog

In our experience with Raising Blended Learners, one of the most significant impacts on student learning and what brings the most joy to teaching is the process of developing relationships with students. Therefore, as we are rethinking the different elements of what and how a student learns during the day, we must not only innovate around technology use to support learning, but also innovate around personal connection and relationship building.

Supporting Students’ Wellbeing First 

Supporting the social-emotional wellbeing of students is the most pressing responsibility for districts right now. This challenging task is made even more difficult with emergency remote teaching and learning. The following resources offer research-based suggestions related to fostering emotional safety during this transition to remote learning. Among these recommendations, experts agree on the importance of the human relationship and finding ways to make connections, even before completing assignments. Beginning with physiological needs, safety, and social belonging helps to build connection and foster hope for students.

Supporting Students Needs During COVID-19

Tools for Communicating Online

Where access to computers exists, teachers might divide the day in a way that allows them to leverage video conferencing tools for small group or one-on-one conferences, while other students work on an online lesson. Teachers can still monitor the progress of students working online while finding new ways through video to connect with students to address the challenges and support they need.

Tips for Making Video Conferencing Work
  • Zoom provides helpful tricks for scheduling virtual meetings that teachers can apply to student conferencing.
  • Google provides educators resources on getting started with Google Classroom and Hangouts.
  • These apps and websites for texting, messaging, and communication make it easier for teachers to send out assignments, reminders, and progress reports and communicate with parents and students.

Low- or No-Tech Ideas

In the absence of technology, as students are working through paper lessons, teachers could schedule brief one-on-one phone calls with each student to check in on their daily progress and well-being. Teachers may be able to even record comforting routines like morning community meetings, circle time discussion topics, or homeroom teacher read-alouds. In technology-accessible environments, these could be done interactively, but in the absence of internet and computers, since many districts buy time or have a dedicated community access channel, schools might try to share these videos over public television channels for students to tune in and follow along.

Resources for Low-Technology Remote Learning
  • Public Impact provides ideas for both high-connection and low-connection at-home learning.
  • Tinkergarten provides outdoor, play-based learning activity options to help kids develop capabilities, including empathy, collaboration, creativity, persistence and problem solving.
  • Curriculum Associates offers printable at-home activity packs designed to provide students with valuable self-directed exercises and practice during extended absences from school.

Although true blended learning can’t take place without a classroom environment, we offer these ideas to help you think about how relationships can be built and strengthened in innovative ways during this time.

We'd love to hear from you!

We’re looking for stories from students, teachers, and school leaders about your experiences, challenges, and strategies you think might benefit others. Please share your perspectives and let us know how you’re approaching and responding to the current situation. And know that you are not alone in these struggles. We thank you, we honor you, and we want you to know we are cheering you on.

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