Opinion
Teaching Opinion

Yes, Remote Learning Can Work for Kindergartners

Community and connection with those we love doesn’t have to disappear on Zoom
By Sydney Linderman — August 24, 2021 4 min read
Conceptual image of a parent and child walking on a path together.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With the Delta variant of COVID-19 on the rise, school districts may have no choice but to opt for remote learning once again. For now, my Utah district is for the most part back in person, offering a cohort of online learning for families if they choose. The mayor of Salt Lake City, where I live, recently imposed a mask mandate for K-12 schools, but I worry that it is only a matter of time before we are back to learning remotely. Not enough people are getting vaccinated, and children under 12 who don’t have that option are increasingly growing more vulnerable as school resumes. Yet, if I have learned one thing during this ongoing pandemic, it is the value of community and connection with those we love, even if it’s online.

Throughout the 2020-21 school year, my school district was among the many around the country forced to move school online. We didn’t reintroduce the option for in-person learning until January, with classrooms then a mix of fully in-person, hybrid, and completely remote.

When I tell non-educators that I taught kindergarten for nearly a year on Zoom—I returned to in-person teaching in March of 2021—they often look bewildered. And when I tell them my students accomplished an incredible amount of learning and that my virtual classroom was full of joy and connection, that bewilderment turns into incredulity. It’s hard to believe, as someone looking in from the outside, that 5- and 6-year-olds may have had a more successful 2020 than many adults.

My kindergarten-turned-1st grade students are incredibly technologically literate, capable of navigating multiple apps, multistep directions online, and complex technological vocabulary. Before being forced into online learning, I would have assumed those skills were too complex for 5- and 6-year-olds to grasp. I suppose that is a silver lining of this past year.

For many of us, it took a pandemic to make us reflect upon what is truly important. We know engagement in the classroom is key, and I was just about putting on a one-woman show each day in front of my computer, trying to hold the attention of my students while competing with the many distractions in their homes.

My days were spent alone in my empty classroom with desks pushed into the back corner, but in my virtual classroom, Fridays were “name change day” where I would allow my students to change their name on Zoom. Popular aliases included “Diamond Queen,” “Rainbow Sparkle,” “Iron Man,” and “Roblox,” among others. Taking a break from constant academics to share in these moments of silliness and joy is a memory from this past year I will always cherish.

Discipline looked a lot different, too. On Zoom, teachers can’t send a student out into the hall if they’re disruptive; there’s a mute button for that. But rather than simply defaulting to that mute button, I learned to choose my battles. Teacher-student relationships can be damaged when we nitpick minor annoyances that truly don’t matter in the long run and handle them with punitive consequences.

Kindness and respect should serve as guiding principles for how each member of a classroom community treats one another as we move forward into this next school year. If educators begin to see students’ “misbehavior” as a reaction to living through crisis, we can collectively begin to redefine what it means when a student misbehaves. Instead of taking it so personally, we can help students navigate big emotions that may stem from living through this collective trauma.

We know as educators that if a relationship is harmed, it must be repaired. And this goes both ways—children know intuitively if an adult is treating them with disdain. I prefer practices like restorative circles that teach conflict resolution and promote restoring relationships after harm over punitive practices, both during remote and in-person learning. For my students last year, this often meant pulling a student into a Zoom breakout room to have a private conversation that ended in a game of rock, paper, scissors.

I was surprised to find that this past year was the most connected I have felt to families.

The line between school and home has been blurred for many students learning remotely. I was surprised to find that this past year was the most connected I have felt to families. I will miss the experience of some families being within earshot of the classroom each day, which made it easy to check in right in the moment.

This past spring, we were able to hold an in-person kindergarten promotion event for families of both remote and in-person learners. I recall hearing family members recognize other children they had seen in their child’s Zoom. “There’s Katie who had the pet chicken! I remember Caleb—he loves Minecraft!” Both students and families were able to connect during this reunion-like event.

The 2020-21 school year was probably the hardest year of teaching even for many veteran teachers, but we must remember that our students came away with new skills. They don’t need lessons on grit or resilience because they already have it. We need to continue to create spaces of inclusion and empathy to foster love, hope, and connection for students moving forward into this next school year, regardless of whether they are online or in person.

A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 2021 edition of Education Week as Yes, Kindergartners Can Thrive on Zoom


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
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

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

Teaching Opinion You Can Motivate Students to Accelerate Learning This Year
If young people suffered setbacks during the pandemic, it doesn’t mean they’re broken. Now is the chance to cover more ground than ever.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Teaching Opinion A 6th Grade Class on Racism Got Me Ready for the Rest of My Life
Every student should have the opportunity to learn about race, writes a college freshman.
Cristian Gaines
4 min read
Illustration of silhouettes of people with speech bubbles.
Getty
Teaching Opinion The Classroom-Management Field Can’t Stop Chasing the Wrong Goal
And, no, new social-emotional-learning initiatives aren’t the answer, writes Alfie Kohn.
Alfie Kohn
5 min read
Illustration of children being cut free from puppet strings
Daniel Fishel for Education Week
Teaching Photos What School Looks Like When Learning Moves Outside
One class of 5th graders shows what's possible when teachers take their lessons outside.
1 min read
Teacher Angela Ninde, right, works with students in their garden at Centreville Elementary School in Centreville, Va., on Sept. 7, 2021.
Teacher Angela Ninde, right, works with students in their garden at Centreville Elementary School in Centreville, Va.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week