Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Classroom Connection Check-In: Making Sure All Children Are Seen During Remote Learning

By Tricia Taylor — May 13, 2020 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Today’s guest blog is written by Tricia Taylor, and consultant and author based in London.

A few years ago, while conducting a focus group, I started by asking the 10th grade students, whom the school classified as “low-performing,” if they liked being in school. One girl responded, “I feel like my teachers don’t even see me.” This has stuck in my mind. We know this girl: She is quiet and well-behaved but often falls off our radar, right under our noses.

And now, in these extraordinary times of school closures, as adults and children navigate new terrain, moving learning from the classroom to kitchen tables and from human interactions to digital devices, our ability to connect with students has become increasingly more challenging. We won’t see students on the playground to ask a question or pass them in the corridor to slip in an encouraging smile. In a remote learning environment, everyday interactions obviously become more difficult and less natural. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds will face the biggest challenges due to a variety of reasons such as lack of online access, quiet spaces to work, and anxiety about home life like finances and caring for others, to name a few. These factors will further alienate students from that sense of belonging to the school and classroom community that is so important for excelling at learning.

CLASSROOM CONNECTION CHECK-INs for building rapport and trust over time
In Connect the Dots: the Collective Power of Relationships, Memory and Mindset in the Classroom, we make the case that relationships influence every aspect of our teaching and we lay out the research to back it up. Positive relationships are the most powerful when they are intentional and inclusive. Everyone is seen. Classroom Connection Check-in is a simple set of tools teachers can create to build rapport and trust and ensure that they intentionally connect each student, adapted for the home learning but useful for when we return. These connections will impact future learning.

STEP ONE
First, collect information from students by creating a simple questionnaire using Google forms or some other method that is built into your remote learning platform. These questionnaires are private (for your eyes only), so make sure students know this. And of course, if you want to share any responses, ask permission.

Below are some suggestions, each aligned with topic categories, so it’s easier for you to find information later. For younger students, they can fill in the questionnaires with their parents or a caregiver. For older students, you might also want to include questions like: “What is your biggest distraction when you are doing schoolwork?” “Is there anything that stresses you out? How do you handle stress?” I have adapted the questions to make them more useful for home learning or in times of uncertainty. For example, you may want to include questions like, “Where do you normally study or do homework?” Some students may find it difficult to find a quiet place away from others in their homes, and this would be useful to know. Overall, though, keep it positive. These are also future conversation starters that you can use when students return.

Teacher Time Saver: Here is an example of one I created. Feel free to make a copy and adapt. Obviously, check with your school policy and safeguarding guidelines for remote learning.

STEP TWO
The next step is to create a chart based on your questionnaire. This is an invaluable tool for collecting potential conversation starters with students or remembering small details. In other words, it’s your crib sheet. It will also be important for understanding the home learning context and identifying students who may be struggling. Allow the charts to evolve by asking more questions or seeing if their answers have changed. Try to keep to the same categories for simplicity’s sake.

Teacher Time Saver: If you are using Google Forms or Google Classrooms, it is really easy to export as a spreadsheet so that this table is automatically made for you, with a few small changes.

STEP THREE
Then create your Classroom Connection Check-in Check List. This is where the magic happens because the chart helps you keep track of your interactions to ensure that you have connected with each student. I added the second column to encourage you to test yourself on what you can recall about your students. Simply check off each time you make a personal or positive reference. Because the online environment is more controlled than the classroom or school atmosphere, you’ll have to find new ways of reaching students. Try inserting a comment during a live lesson if appropriate (“Zain knows a lot .... Maybe he could explain that. Zain?”), asking a follow-up question in an email or call home; or making a small note on a student’s feedback.

BACK AT SCHOOL
As Geoff Barton wrote in a recent blog in TES, “After coronavirus, teachers will need to be given a long period to rebuild.” Strengthening relationships and re-creating a space where children feel cared for will be paramount and prioritized over Ofsted and performance tables. Classroom Connection Check-in will be an invaluable tool for when you return. You can also change the questions and expand across the whole school.

One whole-school example is Cold Springs Middle School in Nevada whose principal created a large chart with columns titled, “Name/face,” “Something personal,” “Personal Family Story,” and “Academic Standing.” Teachers collectively indicated how much they knew about each student, making evident which students were less known. This chat grew into a system for ensuring that every child connected with at least one adult at school every day and helped ignite conversations in the corridor about anything that interests them like collecting stickers or swimming after school. Read about this inspiring project and the positive impacts here in the article in Edutopia.

About the Author:
After 20 years of teaching and leading in schools in London and New York, Tricia Taylor founded TailoredPractice to pursue a passion to make educational research more practical for educators. Tricia has since worked with a wide range of schools, presented at numerous conferences, and is the author of a new book, Connect the Dots: The Collective Power of Relationships, Memory and Mindset in the Classroom (John Catt Educational). Connect with Tricia on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Tricia Taylor.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP