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How to Connect with Students When You Need to Start the School Year Online

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Show Notes:

This past year, although the closing of schools caught everyone off guard, we had the advantage of having more than half the year to develop relationships with students.

Teachers had already developed classroom communities and children in classrooms had developed friendships and relationships that they cared about, and classrooms had already established routines and expectations that they had more than half a year to create and establish.

But how do you START a school year online?

Those first few weeks are crucial in terms of establishing routines and expectations, and schools – especially elementary schools – have never done this before.

We’re in uncharted waters.

While this can be a little scary, I also think that there could be some incredible opportunities hidden inside this experience.

Now, before we dive in and talk about exactly how you can do this, if plans at your school are still up in the air and you are concerned that you might need to make the transition to teaching online with your students, you might want to check out a brand new mini-course I’ve created to help you with that called “Transition to Teaching Online: Connect & Create a Safe, Caring Community, Build Ultimate Engagement, & Provide Social & Emotional Support to Your Students:

Inside this mini-course, I give you step-by-step PDF resources to relieve your stress about making the transition to teaching online.

I walk you through how to create your online teaching schedule and I give you a fully editable sample schedule so you don’t have to figure all of this out by yourself.

I show you exactly how to build that connection and start the year online, and I give you some awesome resources so you can quickly and easily set up a super cute at-home teaching space.

I give you 22 awesome ideas for how to ultimately engage your students, no matter what grade level you’re teaching, from 1st to 5th grade,

AND I give you audios for each step in case you prefer to listen on the go instead of reading through each step.

If you want to learn more, just click here and you can get all the details. This is all information that I created for my READY for School Academy Members to help them through this challenging time, and that I know you will find valuable if you need to make the transition to teaching online.

So, let’s talk about how to get started with being very intentional about creating a community of support with your students online: 

  1. Consistency is Key (Especially During a Global Pandemic):

    One of the hardest things for kids AND for their parents when everyone transitioned to teaching online was the lack of a schedule they could count on.

    The way we had always done things when it came to kids’ learning was suddenly thrown out the window, and that contributed to the sense of stress and overwhelm that everyone was feeling when all of this started.

But here’s the thing – change always feels hard, right?

It’s the sense of the unknown that has so many of us stressed out – especially teachers, who are by our very nature, planners.

I felt it, too. It was so hard to know how to support you through all of this because we were suddenly in a new game.

However, the opportunity for a NEW kind of consistency might be the biggest hidden blessing in all of this.

Just because kids aren’t in school full-time, that doesn’t mean that we can’t create some consistency and a sense of normalcy inside this “new normal.”  

Even though your online teaching schedule will look a little different than what your at-school schedule would be, creating and maintaining a new kind of consistency for your kiddos is the most important element when it comes to building genuine connection with your kids.

Your kids need to know WHEN you are showing up each week, what they can expect, and what that experience is going to be like.

So, the first step to creating a connection with kiddos from the start of the year is simple, but can feel hard – and it’s this:

Create a schedule, communicate it clearly with parents, and then stick with it to build trust with your students.

Also, be sure you check with your admin about what they are requiring in terms of instructional time online before you go ahead and create your schedule.

Again, if you decide to enroll in my Transition to Teaching Online mini-course, you’ll get an awesome sample schedule with 14 essential pieces into it to help you be successful in not only connecting with your kiddos from the start of the year, but to keep them ultimately engaged throughout the year.
 

  1. Remain Fully Present to Your Students:

    When you ARE connecting with your students online, one of the ways to build community and connection is to constantly check in with them and ask them how they’re doing.

    I know a thing about this because inside my Beginning Teacher Talk Private FB group, asking you, my students, how you’re doing and what you need help with is one way that I can stay connected to you, wherever you are in your journey, and how I can let you know that I genuinely care and that I want to support you.

The reason I choose the topics I do to focus on inside this podcast is because I’m paying attention.

I’m constantly asking you questions like:

What do you need?
How are you feeling right now?
How can I serve you?
How can I help you?

I hope you feel the love and the care that I’m sending your way. I hope you are listening  to my podcast or reading this blog because you know, without question, that I genuinely care and that I am to help you and to support you.

That’s what your kiddos need from you.

They need you to remain present to them. And so, you need a way, however you choose to do it, through Google Meet or whatever platform your school is using, to do a daily check-in with your students and find out how they’re feeling and what they need. This brings me to my third point, which is:
 

  1. Let Them See Your Face:

    I know, I know, you’re going to get SO tired of hearing me say this!

    If you haven’t already listened to Episode #71 where I talk about this, you might want to go back and listen to that episode because I talk about “How to Feel Confident on Video when Teaching Online – and Why It’s So Important.”

    Connecting with your students on video in some format each day, even if it’s just recording a quick video to tell them what you want them to do that day, will help your students to feel like you are in this with them. 

    Just think about it as your morning meeting:

    What do you want to tell your kiddos today?
    What’s the schedule for the day?
    What times do they need to pay attention to?
    What do they have to look forward to?

    Ultimately, you need to way to connect with your students live at least a couple of times each week. Even if it’s hard for you.

    This is your growth edge and it’s something we are just going to have to get comfortable with because it isn’t about us and what we want - it’s what kids need right now.

 

  1. Introduce Yourself through the Mail:

    One wonderful way that you can make a connection with your kiddos is by sending them a note, a letter, or a postcard through the mail before the school year starts.

    Tell them how excited you are to be their teacher and how much fun they’re going to have this year learning online with you, maybe share a couple of fun things about you or tell them a story about something funny that happened over the summer, and then invite your new students to write you back.

    This is such a fun way to connect with your students through writing - and to model purposeful and meaningful writing.


  2. Let Your Creativity Reign:

    Finally, let yourself get creative with this new opportunity to teach online. For example, one creative way that I always used in some format to connect with kiddos was through animals.

    I focused my entire PhD on literacy learning with children and animals (and dogs in particular) because I learned early on, both when I was teaching in my classroom and during my doctoral studies, that animals act as a kind of "social lubricant" with kiddos, especially when you first meet them.

    The best teachers that I’ve ever known are the ones with ultimate empathy – the ones who have the uncanny ability to place themselves in the minds of children and view the world through their incredible eyes, who can get into their frequency of thought and bridge the gap between what a child knows and what we want to help them to understand.

    And one of the fastest ways to do that, in my experience, is to give children a conduit through which they are able to communicate. To help them to relax, to smile, to connect with you, heart-to-heart.

And that, in my experience, is why involving a pet or even a stuffed animal, can be so powerful when connecting with children.



When I did my PhD research, I was able to develop relationship so quickly with the children who were involved in my study, who I had never met before, because of Tango & Sparky. Tango and Sparky were my two little malti-poo puppies (Tango is the white one and Sparky is the gray sweetheart in the pic above) who I brought into the classroom twice each week and the kids could sign up to do extra reading and writing with my puppies and I.

How many kids do you think signed up for that opportunity each week?

Get ready for this: EVERY SINGLE CHILD, EVERY SINGLE WEEK FOR 10 WEEKS, SIGNED UP FOR ADDITIONAL READING AND WRITING SUPPORT. EVERY CHILD, EVERY WEEK.

Furthermore, when they had a doctor’s appointment or if they missed school for any reason, they arranged with another student to swap their time so they wouldn’t miss it.

It was so incredible and the results were so positive that I found a way to use stuffed animals in my online reading and writing program – so now we weren’t doing it in person – the kids had only met me online, and we were using sweet Dozer the (plush) dog, to connect each week.

And you wouldn’t believe the response. I literally have hundreds of endorsements from 6 and 7 year-olds telling me how much they loved that program.

So here we are, and you are now being asked to connect with your students online.

So, I’m asking you – how could you connect with kids through animals? 

Yes, this works with upper elementary, too – especially with them because they’re usually wayyyy too cool to connect with you through many other things.

Many children either have pets of their own or they really, really want one, and pets provide an immediate connection, something in common, between you and them.

And by the way – when I used to bring Tango and Sparky into my own classroom, the biggest, toughest boys in my class became the most gentle protectors for my pups.

Have some fun with this. If you have a dog or a cat, give them a bowtie & call them your teaching assistant, and just watch kiddos light up and feel an immediate connection with you. 😊

I have SO many other fun and powerful ideas for how you can quickly develop the connection you need to with your kiddos when you’re beginning the year teaching online as well as ways to create that connect with students when they don’t have access to technology!

For even more effective and easy to implement ideas, you might want to check out my brand new mini-course “Transition to Teaching Online: Connect & Create a Safe, Caring Community, Build Ultimate Engagement, & Provide Social & Emotional Support to Your Students.
 

Again, inside this mini-course, I give you step-by-step PDF resources to relieve your stress about making the transition to teaching online.

I walk you through how to create your online teaching schedule and I give you a fully editable sample schedule so you don’t have to figure all of this out by yourself.

I walk you through exactly how to build that connection and start the year online, I give you some awesome resources so you can quickly and easily set up a super cute at-home teaching space.

I give you 22 awesome ideas for how to ultimately engage your students, no matter what grade level you’re teaching, from 1st to 5th grade,

AND I give you audios for each step in case you prefer to listen on the go instead of reading through each step.

If you want to learn more, just click here and you can get all the details. This is all information that I created for my READY for School Academy Members to help them through this challenging time, and that I know you will find valuable if you need to make the transition to teaching online.

I hope you have a fabulous week, and remember: Just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one.

πŸ’› Lori

Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor

Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.

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