Increase Student Engagement While Teaching Online

By Will Perry and Clinton Smith
SPRING 2021

Moving to an online learning environment is scary for teachers, students, administrators, and parents alike. Although blended and online learning have become online fads in education in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic turned “I’d like to try that” into “You don’t have a choice.” The move to an online setting has sent many teachers—brand new and veteran—into a panic of how to teach in the new environment. Teachers have scrambled to keep students engaged without having them in a face-to-face learning environment.

Building student relationships is one of the tools to ensure student engagement in an online environment, and it is not a new innovation. Student relationships are key to being successful in an online setting. Strong relationships enable teachers to engage students and lead them to success in their learning. Quin (2017) found that strong teacher–student relationships correlate positively to higher levels of engagement, better grades, higher attendance, less disruptive behaviors, and lower dropout rates.

In our brick-and-mortar classrooms, we naturally found ways to build relationships with our students but, with some strategic planning, teachers can build strong relationships with their students online, too. If you are still teaching exclusively online, remember these principles to build strong relationships with your students and keep them actively engaged.

Stay connected.

You are not a computer that posts assignments and assigns grades. As the cliché goes, students “don’t care what you know until they know you care.” That’s overly simplified, but within those words lay the keys to success. Let students and their families know who you are by providing some of your background and interests. Take the time to get to know your students. Get to know their likes and dislikes and try to incorporate them into your lessons. Let students know that you care about them and their well-being, distress, and trauma. We need to make sure the basic needs of our students are being met.

  • Create virtual opportunities for students to connect with one another and with you. Schedule one-on-one check-ins to make that personal connection with students just as you would in the classroom.
  • Enrich your lessons by using personal examples and anecdotes, and encourage students to do the same.
  • Send weekly updates for due dates and important events through newsletters or blogs.
  • Provide opportunities through virtual games such as Quizlet, Kahoot, or activities such as show and tell, comedy time, charades, or a scavenger hunt.

Consider student needs.

Consider your students’ basic human needs before getting wrapped up in academic content. Pearlman (2020) says we need to consider Maslow before Bloom. The pandemic may have caused students to experience grief, distress, and trauma. We may need to make sure the basic needs of our students are being met.

  • Ask students regularly how they and their families are doing. Students have missed important events such as sporting games and seasons, graduations, band concerts, and other school activities, not to mention normal activities they’ve grown accustomed to, such as birthday parties, holidays, eating in restaurants, or taking their yearly vacation to the beach. Worse, others have experienced the illness or loss of family members or friends to COVID-19.
  • Listen to them. Students are missing out on daily interpersonal connections with their peers and their teachers. Consider a “virtual hangout,” where you share about the good things your students are doing during online learning.
  • Look for opportunities for students to talk about their lives, their concerns, and any problems they may be having with the lesson.

Provide opportunities for engagement.

Students who are engaged are more likely to experience academic success.

  • Consider formative assessment strategies such as using journal entries or exit tickets to engage students.
  • Increase questioning during lessons, like “How would you feel if this were you?” “What’s something that’s happened in your life that’s similar to this character?”
  • Create writing opportunities for students to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • Examine crises through stories or historical analysis, and ask students to describe similar experiences and if they can relate to how the characters feel.
  • Moderate a classroom chat or discussion board.
  • Create funny videos of a science experiment, read a children’s book, or take them on a virtual field trip.

Concluding Thoughts

Teachers are master relationship builders, so don’t let an online environment be a barrier to building student relationships. If you expect your students to be engaged, show them that you care about them, even from afar. Teaching in an online environment may be challenging, but focus on building strong relationships with your students and increase student engagement. Your students are depending on you!

Dr. Perry is Associate Director of Philanthropy at Vanderbilt University and a former high school Spanish teacher.

Dr. Smith is Associate Professor of Special Education at the University of Tennessee at Martin and the KDP Public Policy Chair.

If Not Now, When? Making Time for Wholeheartedness and Wellbeing

By Sharon McDonough and Narelle Lemon

This post is by the authors of the article “If Not Now, Then When? Wellbeing and Wholeheartedness in Education,” in the current edition of the KDP journal The Education Forum. You can view the article here for free during the month of August.

Dr. Sharon McDonough is a researcher in teacher education with advanced disciplinary knowledge of sociocultural theories of teacher emotion, resilience and wellbeing. Sharon brings these to explore how best to prepare and support teachers for entry into the profession, how to support the professional learning of teachers and teacher educators across their careers, and how to support wellbeing in education and in community. Sharon’s research expertise lies in methods of phenomenology and self-study.

Associate Professor Narelle Lemon is an interdisciplinary researcher in her fields of education, positive psychology and arts located at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.  She is a researcher who focuses on translating theory and evidence into practice to enhance engagement and participation for teachers and students across all fields of education. Recent research has investigated mindfulness in education, self-care and wellbeing to empower educators, arts and cultural education, and her award-winning scholarship of learning and teaching in the integration of social media for learning and professional development.

“But why did it take a virus to bring the people back together?”
“Well, sometimes you get sick, my boy, before you start feeling better.”
—Tomos Roberts

In his picture storybook The Great Realisation, author Tomos Roberts creates a hopeful and optimistic vision for how we might all begin to live in meaningful and thoughtful ways in the time after the pandemic. His book suggests that the pandemic becomes the catalyst for the “great realisation,” and in our article in The Educational Forum we, too, suggest that the pandemic provides the perfect time to pause. Additionally, we invite you to embrace this pause as a time to consider what are the key principles and practices that we should seek to instill in education.

The global pandemic has brought shifts to remote and flexible learning across the globe as schools have faced temporary closure of face-to-face classes. These shifts have provided both opportunities and challenges. Teachers have innovated their practices, young people have found ways to actively participate, and parents have communicated and worked with teachers to support young people through these uncertain times. But alongside these positives has been an intensification of some existing inequities, the challenges of intense workloads, issues of access, isolation, and questions of how to support wellbeing for teachers, students, and the community more broadly. In our research with Australian teachers about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their work and wellbeing, teachers expressed that the pandemic highlighted the need to provide care and support to their colleagues, students, and their families. They expressed frustration with systems, government, media, and policy that seemed to suggest that teachers were ‘cannon fodder’ on the front lines of the pandemic.

The need to privilege wellbeing as a central endeavor in education seems more timely than ever in light of the current contexts in which we live and work. But has this happened? In our article, we draw on our data and Brené Brown’s guideposts for wholehearted living to create a series of poems that highlight the need to place wellbeing and wholeheartedness as core principles of the educational endeavor. For ourselves as teachers, for our students, and for our communities, now is the time to support collective wellbeing and to critique systems and structures that do not work to support this. In the light of all that has unfolded across the globe in the last year, we ask, if not now, when? We invite others to join us in this collective call for the prioritizing of wellbeing. You can join the conversation by reading our article in the Educational Forum. Will you join us as we seek to foster and support a wholehearted approach to education?

Click here or below for a live storytime reading of The Great Realisation by the author, Tomos Roberts.

5 Ways to Connect With Families During the Pandemic

Dr. Laura Anderson is a former elementary school teacher and now a Professor of Education at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. She teaches courses in pedagogy and children’s literature and is a counselor for Upsilon Kappa Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi.

Parents are a child’s first teacher. Few parents, however, envisioned being homeschool educators during a pandemic. Connecting with families is crucial for teachers during these times, not only to support parents but to keep in touch with students as well. Here are some ways you can keep this connection strong during challenging times.

Challenges for Families with Online Learning:

  • Questions about lesson content
  • Keeping their children focused on schoolwork at home
  • Two or more siblings sharing one computer
  • Internet and computer problems
  • Finding time to work with their children after working all day

How Can Teachers Help?

  1. Be an encourager. Let the parents and students know that they can succeed during the pandemic. Tell them that it’s been a learning curve for you as well. Respond quickly to emails or calls from students and parents who express fears and frustrations. Give written, encouraging comments with feedback on assignments.
  2. Be flexible. Not all families are equipped with the technology or materials needed to complete all of the assignments. Many of their schedules are different; some may be considered essential workers and may not be at home during the day, leaving their children in the care of grandparents or sitters. You can help by extending due dates for assignments, which will alleviate family stress. Also, adjust assignments for children who struggle academically.
  3. Be available. Using apps such as Remind allows parents and students to text questions to you without having actual access to your personal telephone number. (See remind.com/teachers). You might also set up specific times to talk with parents and students on the phone about assignments and concerns they have. Ask families to give you a contact number where you can reach them, and let them know the general time(s) you are available to receive calls. Don’t forget parents whose first language is not English. Written directions in their first language or a connection to a speaker to translate would be helpful.
  4. Be creative. Think outside the box on how you can be connected. For example, several teachers in my area wanted to see their students face to face and decided to have a school faculty parade through the attendance zones. They decorated their cars with signs expressing how much they missed their students, planned a parade route, gave families approximate times in which they would be on each street and sent out an “invitation” for families to come into their front yards to see their teachers. They smiled and waved as the parade passed their houses—while maintaining social-distancing guidelines
  5. Be consistent: Although flexibility is key, try to maintain some consistency by keeping things as familiar as possible. If you have circle time procedures such as the calendar, identifying the weather and day of the week, use these to open your Zoom sessions. When making assignments, try to use the same formats and procedures that you use in the classroom.

What ideas do you have that you can share with others? Please share your strategies and tag me at http://www.instagram.com/lhsa52

Culturally Responsive Family Engagement During Remote Instruction

Today’s blogger is Katherine Rodriguez-Agüero, a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University. She works as an Early Childhood Instructional Coordinator for the Department of Early Childhood Education in NYC. Ms. Katherine Rodriguez-Agüero is an advocate for family engagement in schools.

The Covid-19 Pandemic brought a new experience for educators, leaders, and our school systems. Most importantly, it ignited a change in the communication strategies we utilize to support families. Now educators use electronic communication as more than an additional form of family outreach: it is a source of teaching.

How can this outreach extend itself further to multilingual families? Moreover, how can it support families through a culturally responsive mindset?

Depending on your student population and resources, children experience online learning on an extensive learning curve. This goes the same for their families. Educators have to survey families to discover what works best for them.

First, consider the outreach your school or teaching team sends to families. Are the communications written or offered in the families’ home language? Go deeper! Is the family literate in this home language? My grandparents were illiterate, yet spoke Spanish fluently. By considering the way you survey and communicate with families, you are extending engagement in a culturally responsive manner. Provide voice recordings within communications through QR Codes and utilize technology on Google Translate to support families.

Secondly, discuss with families their time frames and the support synchronous or asynchronous lessons provide. Synchronous lessons provide first-hand support in the interaction between students and the teaching team. Asynchronous lessons provide activities and time frames outside of a scheduled session. Both types of learning support and affect families differently. By surveying families, educators make note of their working schedules, family structure, and even support the schedule created at home by the family.

Keep in mind that families with essential workers and multiple children can have trouble meeting a certain time frame, especially if there’s only one electronic device at home. Ask families how comfortable they are with technology and then support them. Do they know how to access Google Classroom? If not, you can send families how-to videos in their home language by searching for them online.

Furthermore, utilize the families’ funds of knowledge. Is there a family member that can play an instrument, create videos, or even share a personal story related to class’s current unit or theme? As educators, we often try to find new resources and create new materials. Families are assets right in front of you! Encourage family communication by creating a parent group or establishing classroom roles. Set up a heritage partnership between families on a school-wide level. Heritage partnerships allow families of the same cultural community to share resources, ask questions, and receive answers in their home-language. It builds a partnership based on trust.

Lastly, connect families with community-wide resources that will offer guidance and support. Certain libraries and educational organizations are providing virtual tutoring, language services, how-to videos, and partnering with heritage groups to offer language translations. By taking the initiative to support families through a culturally responsive mindset, we convey the message that our families are a priority. We recognize their hard work and look to support them at their level of need.

Reference:

Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Family Engagement in the Time of COVID-19 and Remote Learning, and Always. New York University Steinhardt, Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. Link: https://kappadeltapiblog.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/6213a-culturallyresponsivefamilyengagement.pdf

A Seat at the Table Is Not Enough: Making Purposeful Space for Parents

María Cioè-Peña is an assistant professor in Educational Foundations at Montclair State University. As a bilingual/biliterate researcher, she examines the intersections of disability, language, school-parent partnerships and education policy. María focuses specifically on Latinx bilingual children with dis/abilities, their families and their ability to access multilingual inclusion within public schools.

In my article “Planning Inclusion: The Need to Formalize Parental Participation in Individual Education Plans (and Meetings)” in this issue of Educational Forum, I explore the tensions culturally and linguistically diverse mothers encounter during Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings and the possibilities that can come from reimagining them. This work emerged from my own experiences as a bilingual special educator and resulted in uncovering tensions between mothers’ intentions for IEP meetings and their actual experiences. Specifically, mothers spoke about how they intended to engage with the rest of the IEP team, how their expectations related to the realities they experienced, and factors they felt facilitated and/or impeded their participation and ability to enact their agendas.

As a teacher, I understood the importance of IEPs; a legal document that I was beholden to, reporting student progress and outlining new goals.  I spent hours crafting these: administering assessments, meeting service providers, and conducting observations. However, I did not give as much thought to the meetings. While I knew IEP meetings were valuable for parents, they also felt disruptive and inconvenient. Because of limited coverage, I was often expected to hold these meetings during my lunch hour or my preparation periods leaving little time to regroup between teaching blocks. The meetings were hard to schedule because of parents’ work commitments and because sometimes they wouldn’t show up. This was also an issue with service providers and district representatives. Imagine coordinating the schedules of five to seven adults on any given school day. It’s a very delicate and intricate process. So, when meetings did happen, they felt rushed. I would pop into the room, greet the parent, breeze through “on the fly” translations of the plan and wait for a series of service providers to mill in and out of the room. By the end, we (the service providers and myself) would have fulfilled the legal requirements of informing the parent of their child’s progress and of the upcoming goals. There was rarely ever time for thoughtful discussions, even less time for questions and concerns. Case in point, we never really discussed the parents linguistic, social or long-term goals for their kids. Nor did we discuss how they felt about their child moving to a new setting or remaining in the same one. It was an experience in unilateral information dumping.

Still, I was lucky. I was a self-contained teacher who spoke the same language as my families. I could check in with them often, they were highly engaged in the classroom, and we built community. I felt like I had an understanding of who they were and what they wanted for their children. Nonetheless, I would be remiss if I did not admit that the way that meetings were run at my school, and the way they continue to be managed at schools across the country, actively deny parents a seat at the table. We expect parents to speak up, without accounting for how intimidating those meetings can be or recognizing cultural differences in communication. It wasn’t until my dissertation that I got to hear just how alienating those meetings can feel; how mothers come to the meetings planning to ask questions, to share, to be heard and seen. It wasn’t until I interviewed mothers pre- and post-IEP meetings that I really started to pay attention to the ways in which educators, in checking off their own agendas and expectations, rob parents of the opportunity to be agentive beings who can advocate for their children. It wasn’t until I analyzed that data that I began to notice the ways in which we ignore the rich contributions parents can make. In making sure the parents knew what I was doing, I failed to acknowledge their expertise. In denying parents agency, we deny children agency. It is for this reason that my article explores why educators must create meaningful and purposeful inclusion of parents in IEPs and in the meetings. We will never attain true inclusion while continuing to exclude children’s first and most constant teachers: their parents.

#homeschooling: Problems with Synchronous Learning in COVID-19

Today’s blogger is Wendy Levin, MA, CCC-SLP, a Speech-Language Pathologist in Cherry Creek School District in Aurora, Colorado. She currently co-teaches a special needs preschool classroom and has recent past experience in PK-8 public schools.

If you are an educator, you are keenly aware of the inequities of the educational system.

Not all families have the privilege to be able to take time from work to help their child learn. Not all families have access to speedy internet for those teleconference calls. Not all families have the mental space to worry about both their changed financial status and how to help their child learn school material.

Not all families.

How many school districts have forced both teachers and parents to organize and schedule themselves so they can have “class” at a certain time every day? How many of you teachers and specialists have had students lose attention and wander away from the teleconference calls or simply not call in to begin with?

Everyone loses. That’s the reason #imexhausted and #homeschooling have skyrocketed in their usage during the pandemic.

So why don’t we just choose a more equitable method? Because it’s not what we’re used to?

News flash! This whole pandemic is a situation that no one is used to. Let’s give ourselves and our families space while also providing the same instruction.

What is “synchronous learning”?

“Synchronous learning” simply means that all students and teachers are present at the same time on the same platform. They must schedule a time and a platform to meet and they all must be there at the same time.

This is impossible for too many families. Expecting a student or family to be online at a certain time every day is often too much to ask. I argue that we must rely heavily on parents for synchronous learning for PK-8 in order to gain student attention, keep them in front of a computer, help with login and technical aspects, and help with general attendance. This pulls parents and guardians away from the time that they need to work or handle family matters. They have no control in their schedule or their child’s learning in this model.

If there is “synchronous learning,” then is there such thing as “asynchronous learning”?

Absolutely. There are many ways to do asynchronous learning. You simply have to make sure a student has options. You have to make your activities and lessons available so the students and families can access them at any time. This allows parents to work with their children when it is efficacious for them. How much more equitable could that be?

Here are some ways to provide asynchronous, equitable education:

  • Create private or unlisted YouTube videos of yourself teaching the lesson. Provide students with the links.
  • Use your Class Dojo, SeeSaw, Google Classroom, or Blackboard to post videos or assignments
  • Provide a wide variety of office hours that work with your schedule, so students and parents can drop in at any time to ask questions if they need to.
  • Work with your specialists to provide any special education techniques needed for the lesson prior to releasing a lesson. Change your lessons accordingly.
  • Create discussion boards so students can continue to collaborate and discuss
  • Don’t punish a student for not completing work on time. Let them turn it in when they can.

Remember, every single family, including your own, is struggling during this pandemic, but we will all get out of this together.

You can still provide quality and equitable education.

5 Ways to Connect With Families During the Pandemic

Dr. Laura Anderson is a former elementary school teacher and now a Professor of Education at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. She teaches courses in pedagogy and children’s literature and is a counselor for Upsilon Kappa Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi.

Parents are a child’s first teacher. Few parents, however, envisioned being the homeschool teacher during a pandemic such as we have experienced in 2020. Connecting with families is crucial during these times, not only for supporting parents, but keeping in touch with students as well. Here are some ways that this connection can remain strong during challenging times.

Challenges Families Face With at Home Learning

  • Having questions about lesson content
  • Encouraging their children to focus on schoolwork while at home
  • Sharing one computer with two or more siblings to complete assignments
  • Internet and computer problems
  • Finding time to work with their children after working all day

How Can Teachers Help?

1. Be an encourager: Let the parents and students know that they can succeed during the pandemic challenge. Tell them that it is a learning curve for you as well. Respond quickly to emails or calls from students and parents who express fears and frustrations. Give written, encouraging comments with feedback on assignments.

2. Be flexible: Not all families are equipped with the technology or materials needed to complete all of the assignments. Many of their schedules are different, meaning the parents may not be at home during the day as they are considered “essential” workers, and leave their children in the care of grandparents or sitters. You can help by extending due dates for assignments, which will alleviate family stress. Also, adjust assignments for children who struggle academically.

3. Be available: Using apps such as Remind allows parents and students to text questions to you without having actual access to your personal telephone number. (See remind.com/teachers). You might also set up specific times to talk with parents and students on the phone about assignments and concerns they have. Ask families to give you a contact number where you can reach them, and let them know the general time in which you are available to call. Don’t forget parents whose first language is not English. Written directions in their first language or a connection to a speaker to translate would be helpful.

4. Be creative: Think outside the box on how you can be connected. For example, several teachers in my area wanted to see their students face to face and decided to have a school faculty parade through the attendance zones. They decorated their cars with signs expressing how much they missed their students, planned a parade route, gave families approximate times in which they would be on each street and sent out an “invitation” for families to come into their front yards to see their teachers. They smiled and waved to them as the parade passed their houses, while maintaining social distancing guidelines

5. Be consistent: While flexibility is key, try to keep a sense of consistency by keeping things as familiar as possible. If you have circle time procedures such as the calendar, identifying the weather and day of the week, use these to open your Zoom sessions. When making assignments, try to use the same formats and procedures that you use in the classroom.

What ideas do you have that you can share with others? Please share your strategies and tag me at http://www.instagram.com/lhsa52.

Positive Parent Partnerships for Student Success

Parental Involvement

In one of my college teaching courses, I received a piece of advice that I always implemented in my teaching practice: “Make your first contact with parents a positive one!”

So, I sent out a letter at the start of the year to develop a positive relationship with my students’ parents.

As a new teacher, I felt my introductory letter set a tone of caring and concern and demonstrated that I had their child’s best interest at heart. However, I learned that sending a letter was not enough. Fostering a positive partnership means developing a respectful relationship when working with parents, especially when addressing student concerns.

Make your First Verbal Contact Count

Often the first meaningful verbal contact with parents is when a concern arises about their child. If an initial contact addresses a concern, start the conversation by sharing one genuine positive comment about the student. For example, I had a fifth-grade student who was not doing his classwork, and I knew his parents had not received many encouraging phone calls from school over the years. His mom’s first response to my call was, “What now?” I shared how I enjoyed her son’s sense of humor and told her he could get the whole class laughing. Her demeanor changed and we talked for a few minutes. Then I told her I was worried about her son not completing his classwork and that I needed her help. That was the start of a successful partnership, and her son ended up doing very well in my class.

Another strategy is to make positive phone calls home to share good news whenever possible. This is particularly important for students who struggle. Let them know you are watching for something good to share with parents.

Tell It Like You Want to Be Told

Before talking to a parent, think about the child you care about most in the world. Then think about how you would want to receive the information you are about to share. When you put yourself in the parent’s place, it helps you to be empathetic and diplomatic about how you discuss the concern.

Remove the Emotion

When talking to parents about an incident or behavioral concern, it is easy to become emotional. Before speaking to a parent, take a deep breath and remember that the student is likely acting a certain way to obtain something (e.g., attention) or avoid something (e.g., a difficult task), and it is not personal. Once you can have the conversation without feeling emotional, then discuss the concern.

Ask for Advice

Sometimes, no matter what we try, we cannot help students improve the choices they make. Ask parents how they handle the behavior. They may share a strategy that will work in the classroom. Working with parents is a partnership in which both parties have something to share, and parents know their children better than anyone else.

Actively Listen to Parents

When discussing concerns with parents, listen to what they have to say. This validates their feelings, and the information they share can provide valuable input in helping to support their child.

Let Parents Know About Concerns ASAP

We often let parents know about behavioral concerns right away, but sometimes we are slow to discuss academic concerns. Make parents aware of academic concerns as soon as a pattern emerges (e.g., turning in homework late). Then both of you can address concerns with the child, with no surprises when report cards come out.

Share Concerns When Student Behavior Changes

If a student starts acting out of character, contact the parents to see whether they have noticed a change as well. Sometimes major life changes will affect students in school, and the parents can let you know whether something important is going on. They may not need to share the exact issue, but knowing there is a reason for the change will help you support the child.

Resistant Parents: Do Not Assume the Worst

Unfortunately, developing a positive parent partnership does not work 100% of the time. Some parents are resistant to a partnership. Do not assume they do not care about their child. One of my former students cried because his parent could not take phone calls from school. Taking a phone call meant leaving the production line and losing wages. Parents have a lot of responsibilities to consider; refusing a phone call or missing an event may be the better choice to make.

If you work with resistant parents, talk with your school social worker or psychologist for guidance in forming partnerships. Sometimes those professionals have additional insight into families that can help you form connections and ensure that the student’s needs are being met.

Creating a positive partnership with parents takes time and commitment. You develop this partnership by treating parents with respect. You strengthen it by sharing good news as well as concerns. You achieve it when you recognize everything that the parents bring to the relationship.

Resources

For some additional help with building strong relationships with parents, check out these resources:

  • Nurturing Positive Relationships with Parents (bit.ly/ParentRelationships)
  • Getting Derailed Parent–Teacher Relationships Back on Track (bit.ly/NEABackonTrack)
  • New Teachers: Working with Parents (bit.ly/edutopia_Parents)

Image result for barbara meier university of wisconsin-eau claireDr. Meier is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Clair. She teaches courses on reading for students with special needs, technology integration, and inclusion for elementary educators.