Savannah Staley, Possip reporter and former AP English teacher, writes about communication with remote learners.
Why Communicating Matters
With our world feeling a little more “pre-pandemic” each day, the excitement to return back to the classroom is buzzing through school communities. However, as teachers, students, and parents alike anticipate the start of the 2021-2022 school year, we must remember to continue to prioritize all students, including our remote learners. Communication to and about our remote learners matters. These students also deserve equitable access to quality education.
COVID-19 dramatically impacted education, resulting in a truly unfortunate learning loss and social isolation for many. However, it is also true that the pandemic simultaneously opened our eyes to the future of education. It allowed us to understand the possibilities of remote instruction. Simultaneously, it asked us to consider how we are meeting the demands of a technologically-advanced society within our classrooms.
As we approach the 2021-2022 school year, it is inevitable that some of our students will remain virtual. We need to continue to prioritize these students. One way we can be intentional about this is through the way we choose to communicate with, and about them.
Creating and Sustaining a Virtual Community
When students feel they authentically belong, they show up differently. Creating a classroom community, whether virtual or in person, impacts the way students learn and succeed. Therefore, creating and sustaining this community for our virtual students, will also positively impact all students! Here are a few ideas as to how to create this:
- Include virtual learners’ ideas into classroom discussions
- Create a Padlet where students can make announcements, or share and discuss recent events, recipients, multimedia, or books.
- Host weekly community circles where both virtual learners and in-person students have an opportunity to share and reflect
Regardless of how you choose to intentionally cultivate your community, be sure to share with students the norms and expectations of this community. Additionally, reiterate why it is so important.
Schools began to abruptly close during the Spring of 2020. As a result, teachers and school leaders were forced to rethink their curriculum. In turn, educators relied on a variety of platforms to support student learning. These platforms included: Schoology, Google Classroom, Nearpod, Flipgrid, just to name a few. While these platforms are extremely helpful, the lack of consistency across these platforms became more harmful than helpful for students. Many students were asked to juggle 2-3 platforms per class / teacher. Parents and families were then also asked to navigate a multitude of platforms in effort to support their students. The pandemic taught us many valuable lessons, and now we have an opportunity to do it differently.
Streamlining all communication for virtual learners makes it accessible and consistent. It’s best practice for teachers to use a common platform if possible. Teachers should then communicate how this platform will be used to both families and students. If possible, announcements and assignments should be posted at consistent times, and in as much advance as possible. Additionally, streamline due dates that are accompanied by clear expectations of where and how students should upload / submit assignments.
Try sharing a weekly or bi-weekly classroom newsletter to students and families with upcoming due dates and announcements. Or, post an outline of the learning unit on a common platform so students can see where they are and where they are going. If time permits, hold virtual check-ins with students to assess their progress and potentially needed support.
The unexpected nature of the pandemic demanded us to make significant changes immediately and with urgency, but now we have the time to slow down, and approach communication with virtual students with thoughtfulness, consistency, and intentionality.
Valuing Family Communication
Families are the MVP’s of virtual learning! Normalize communication with families of virtual students. Create a spreadsheet with virtual student’s family information, and document communication home. Or, invite families to student check-ins in order to make sure everyone is on the same page! Family communication may look differently depending on the student and grade-level, but it is always important!
Why We Win
Communication is not only the way we get our needs met, but it is also the way we share ourselves with others. When we prioritize communication with remote learners, we show them that they matter, and that we care about their experience. This school year, consider how you can prioritize communication with virtual learners within your school community in order to make it a more inclusive and equitable space for learners and families.