Many teachers, including me, have been asked to assign work to ensure students continue to learn during the coronavirus crisis. We also must take the time, however, to support students’ social and emotional learning as well.
Our students need to be reminded that their teachers care and are thinking about them.
The last days before the school closures in Los Angeles Unified where I teach were filled with anxiety and unanswered questions. When I sent off my few remaining 3rd-grade students at the last bell on March 13, I felt an emptiness. Now what?
I quickly realized, as we adjust to this new situation, we teachers have an opportunity to refocus our priorities and re-center our work on what is truly important — our relationships with our students.
Teaching and learning start with building those relationships.
Today, despite our isolation, we must continue to connect with students and maintain those relationships. We have a responsibility to keep things together — for our students, their families, our communities.
So, I began. I spent most of Day One in front of my computer, putting together files and updating our class website. I reviewed district policies and watched for updates from my principal. On a whim, I decided to post a quick one-minute video for my students with a brain-teaser question, something I would normally do as a warmup in the classroom.
On that first day, I heard nothing: total radio silence. I wasn’t sure that parents and students had seen my video and, to be honest, I was a bit disappointed.
By Day Two, I started to get email responses from my students. The best included a note from a parent sharing that her daughter’s face lit up when she saw the videos online. For the first time in weeks, I started to feel relief. My students and I could still be connected, despite our physical distance.
Less than a week after schools were closed, my teaching partner and I successfully have held our first webchat with our students. It was wonderful to just see each other and to share how the first few days felt. You could see the excitement in the children’s faces across the screen.
Fortunately, all of our students were in good spirits. A few mentioned that they are bored and can’t wait to get back to school, which should remind all of us of the important role schools play in our communities.
One student said, “Sometimes I cry because I don’t have a pet to keep me company.”
Other students replied immediately: “It’s OK. We’re here. We miss you, too.”
Since those early connections, we have continued to grow our communication, and students are getting accustomed to our routine of meeting three times a week. When we had to cancel a recent meet up because of district-mandated professional development for the teachers, one student immediately asked if we could reschedule for another day because she didn’t want to miss a chance to see her classmates.
I am encouraged and emotionally uplifted by the empathy our students demonstrate and the community we continue to share through our screens.
Just to keep it fun, we have themed meetups, like crazy hat day and stuffed animal day.
We’re also encouraging our students to be “teacher for a day” and create videos or take pictures to share their expertise. One girl, for example, created a short workout video to encourage others to stay active while at home.
I’ve often wished I had the time and resources to have a project like this in our regular curriculum, and now I have.
I’m loving my students’ ingenuity. I’m planning to take advantage of every opportunity to encourage them to come together, showcase their strengths and talents, and give them opportunities to celebrate each other.
Some of my students do not have all of the technology hardware or internet access and I am checking in with them via phone calls. On these calls, we talk about what they have been doing at home, how they are feeling; I offer some ideas to keep them thinking.
I want my students to know, despite the distance, their teachers are still here for them. I’m doing everything in my power to make sure we see each other, hear each other and connect with each other as much as possible.
Meghann Seril is a third-grade teacher in the Mandarin dual-language program at Broadway Elementary in Venice, a Los Angeles Unified public school. She is a 2019-20 policy fellow with Teach Plus California, a nonprofit organization that trains teacher leaders to shape educational policy.
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