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Building Relationships in Uncertain Times: The Key to an Easy Transition Back to School

As an ELL and dyslexic student, I remember sitting in the back of my classroom while the other kids participated in fun activities and read alouds.

At the time, teachers weren’t trained well enough to provide the services that I needed. Schools did not ensure that differentiation was occurring, and a one-size all model was used, along with the “Dick and Jane” series, red ink (which I saw a lot of) , and back tables were full of coloring pages and dittos for students like “me”, Thankfully, I picked up the language quickly and made friends, learned, and eventually flourished in school. I use this anecdote because remote learning has literally been thrown at some teachers and districts and they themselves are not prepared or adequately trained in accommodating the needs of diverse learners on this new platform. Now mind you, some teachers and schools have adjusted quite easily, but unfortunately the majority have not.

Having ended the year with distance learning , and facing the likelihood that we will be returning to a school-year that is not as we know it, building strong relationships will help foster the encouragement, resources, and support that we will so desperately need . In order to best prepare to meet these challenges in the upcoming school-year, educators must focus on building relationships. When relationships are built, one does not work in silo, but rather has a network of resources and people to help guide them across these unchartered waters, thus improving the quality of education that students receive. The relationships built should include, but are not limited to students, parents, colleagues, and self. In this blog, student and parent relationships will be discussed, followed by a second blog on colleague and self relationships.

Student Relationships

As teachers it is key to build relationships with our students immediately. If we want our students to be empowered to advocate for themselves, the community, and the world , they must feel safe to be vulnerable , to ask questions, to speak their truths. Surveys are a great start to building these relationships. There are many surveys that can and should be given as a starting point- interest surveys, learning-style surveys, reading, writing, and math surveys are just a few. Also polls given before and after a lesson or discussion are critical. These engage students and allow teachers to see whether opinions or learning have changed. . Finally, daily conferencing , both formal and informal , are critical. You can conference with students about how their day is going (informal), and also conference with students during an activity to make sure they are on track and to provide authentic feedback that will ensure that they are growing as learners . Further, exit tickets at the end of class are a great way to have students demonstrate the learning that took place and plan for small group instruction the next day. Choice boards and project based learning are also wonderful ways to build relationships with students as they are able to see that you care about their voice and choice and that learning is indeed an authentic experience. All of these could be incorporated into a remote or personal classroom experience and there are many digital tools that support these activities: Padlet, Flipgrid, Google Classroom, Survey Monkey to name a few.

Parent Relationships

Parents are indeed a teacher’s greatest resource. Who knows their child more than their parents? As teachers , it is easy to overlook parents in fear that they will “overstep” their boundaries when it comes to the classroom environment and impede all that we are trying to accomplish. However, this is not the case. Parents should be our greatest allies. They know lots of things. Not only do they know things, they bring lots of experience and resources to the table, or should I say the “desk”.

Research shows that building strong partnerships with parents helps children feel safe and secure. Building these partnerships also helps teachers develop a strong support system that is crucial in these uncertain times . Some suggestions for building relationships with parents during remote learning are:

  1. Encourage parents to participate in the virtual or personal classroom as guest readers or guest teachers (great for S.T.E.A.M. activities)

  2. Make positive phone calls home, not just the “expected” negative phone calls.

  3. Allow parents to provide feedback through surveys, conferences, emails, Class Dojo, etc.

  4. Assign a class parent (s) and make sure to change them often so that all parents feel included

Dear teachers, it is an understatement to say that relationships are key especially as districts start the year in distance learning, blended learning, traditional learning, or some sort of hybrid of the three. There is no doubt that relationships will not look the same in the fall, but without a doubt they will be more significant than ever. Although no remote learning setting will not look the same , we as teachers must be intentional about the steps we take to build the relationships that will be necessary to our overall success. Build those relationships with students and parents, and you will build a strong bridge that crosses any learning boundary that will come our way. We are in this together!

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