Sustaining human connection in the virtual classroom, by Lynsie Monro, Pivotal GPI
Now more than ever there is a need for every member of the educational community to establish a sense of togetherness. Our schools and organisations may have been disbanded physically but we still can and must work hard to create a culture of genuine and sincere relationships.
Ironically, the internet that has at times caught us up in printable worksheets and avatar reward systems is now the main indispensable resource enabling our young people to continue their education independently although still under the guidance of their teachers/instructors/lecturers.
As a result, we have been spun into an educational revolution, transforming the way we support our learners. It is now the World Wide Web and the devices through which it is accessed that are driving teaching and learning through these hard times.
Let’s therefore take heed of Dickens’ warning of the dangers we could face in allowing humans to become like machines and channel our compassion and our imagination into keeping the light shining on our students’ developing strengths and aspirations despite this new set of circumstances.
You’ve made it this far through the school year and no doubt more recently, had to deal with your pupils’ worries and anxieties as well as your own. These virtual learning days, with a little bit of thought and a little bit of imagination can be full of bright moments for everyone concerned. Sustaining a level of human connection between you and your learners during this challenging yet eye-opening time is vital for these positive experiences to play out.
First and foremost, take a deep breath, take a moment to appreciate the brand-new days that lie ahead for you and your students.
My advice would be to treat the first two weeks much in the same way you would the ‘settling in’ period of a new year. Find ways of establishing a culture which motivates your students to engage in distance learning. Households are now navigating a different landscape of home-schooling/home-working/home-recreation.
The predictability of routine and clear expectations can offer some comfort in an otherwise unpredictable world. These systems and expectations will help to set the tone for and support learners, parents/carers in navigating the remote teaching and learning journey ahead.
Establishing clarity around what the next few weeks/months will look like will help all those involved in education to cope with change, to form healthy habits and to reduce stress levels. The message is simple. ‘This is what I expect from you during this new phase of teaching and learning and this is what you can expect from me.’
That smile in the morning, that question that makes them feel like they’re all that matters in that moment, the ‘How are you?’, the ‘Did you watch that documentary last night?’ can still happen. Find a way of greeting each one of your learners either in the day or at some point throughout the week. Build in opportunities to acknowledge positive behaviours – set up virtual recognition boards, emojis, post feedback in discussion forums, send positive notes home for over and above attitudes.
The context and age will determine your approach but let your students know you’re still very much a part of their lives and no matter what problems the world is facing, you will continue to be their teacher in as full a capacity as possible.
Let’s use these initial weeks to set up the conditions under which our learners can continue to feel safe in the knowledge that their teacher is still championing them, still able to say hello and ask them how they are. As stoic members of an often misrepresented profession, let’s put the academics to one side just for a moment and make the most of having some time and space, albeit cyber, to, in the face of adversity, amidst the ever-evolving geo-political problems, model how we can still stand strong together.