We hate being stuck in a digital environment. We hate creating music without singing, dancing playing the way we love to. But we can still engage our students and connect with them. We all know that teaching virtually is not something that humans are meant to do. We are not meant to stare at the computer screen and connect with a couple of dozen people in different places and that’s how we interact with them, so it is a little difficult right now to get to know our students. Here’s somethings you can do to kind of let them get to know you a little better and help you get to know them.
Spotlight on them
Make sure you are taking time every class period to just give them a few minutes to share or tell them some, tell everybody something about themselves, tell a story, something a long those lines. This doesn’t have to be something really important, it could be “my dog learned a new trick!”, “My favorite color is red!”, or “I like pizza.” It doesn’t have to be anything grand for you to know the kids a little better. If you want to control the conversation, play the stand up and sit up game. EX: Stand up if you like pizza. Sit down if you like hamburgers better or say stand up for XYZ and the kids who don’t like it just remain seated. This quick sort of poll is just a quick way to interact with the kids and help build connections.
Let them be
We all know we have those kids that don’t like to sing or participate until it they really get to know you or until they feel comfortable with things in the classroom. Online, this can be a disaster. Use google forms as an exit ticket. Have students type in the comments to weigh in. Not putting their physical voice out there is going to help engage those kids that aren’t really great at trying new things. This is going really help them connect without a lot of pressure.
Let the kids be in control a little. This great free tool from Google is basically a digital whiteboard. Let them write a rhythm or pattern, create a vocal exploration or draw a picture of what they heard in the music. Let students hare their screen and have the rest of the class clap/sing/etc will catch their attention. Showing off what they have accomplished is going to create more engagement and help them feel more connected.
You are not a robot. When you are creating for online learning, we aren’t paying a whole team of people to help edit, light, run sound, etc. And by that I mean, if there is you know an air in your video, or it isn’t absolutely perfect, it’s ok. If you listen to my podcast, you know when I’m talking there’s lots of times I stumble over my words. I don’t go back and edit a lot of these because that’s not really how I talk in real life. I stumble over my words all the time. My mouth can’t keep up with my brain, and that’s ok. Of course I edit the AWFUL ones, but there are small ones that I leave in. That’s my way of remaining human for you guys and that is something that recording for my kids, I will leave them cause I constantly do that in class. If you ever see me in person, you will know that’s just part of Melissa Stouffer.
If you have a dance party on Friday, your saxophone section passes down a safety pin, or you always end Friday rehearsal that something ridiculous that you do, those things are important to your kids. Whatever those things are that you have in traditions that you have in your school or just your classroom, keep them, because that still going be something you will want to bring back when you are back in the classroom.
Have a planned coordinated day once a month. This does not have to be impressive or super involved. Wear your favorite color, funny footwear, or bring a favorite toy/book/stuffed animal. It’s important with this to make sure you’re not calling attention to something like funny hair or a specific shirt or because you don’t know situations. Chances are it will go over ok but there might be somebody who comes in their funny hair is that makes fun of other culture or a kid can’t afford a new shirt in yellow and they don’t have one. You never fully know people’s entire home situation, so it’s important to make sure that you do it a way that all of the kids can participate without feeling like they stick out or mock someone else.
Send a Note
Send a personal note or email. I’m not talking about letters that are several pages long but a quick little, “Hey! Great job in class today wanted to say hey. “ Send it to the kid or to parents depending on their age and give that sort of encouragement. Email is just fine. This is also a great way to build relationships with parents.
No matter what, keep track of personal contact so that you make sure you are reaching all of your kids. This a lot harder for us because we have so many more than a typical classroom teacher so just add your students names to a Google sheet and you know put a check box next to them if you have send them a personal mail or responded to a comment. If there’s a student that you are not connecting with you can reach out to them or their family and make sure that you make that connection with them.
Community is Key
Encourage community participation with the kids so if one kid is unmuted and they’re doing something, encourage the rest of the kids to participate with them while they are muted because that helps create that sense of community. When you’re in class, if you can give choices to the kids so if you are planning four activities let them choose the order of one of them and say, “Do you want it last or do you want it second to last?” And that little bit of choice helps them be invested. I’m not always about giving students options this way, but sometimes is ok. If you are doing breakout rooms make sure you pop in and out in all of them to monitor them and make sure that all kids are participating. In the event you have to check up on somebody make sure that you do it personally and not in front of the whole class, don’t call somebody out because you don’t know what is going on in their home situation
Think about announcements that you make to the class. If you can do it as a video or a quick audio instead of text, that’s a great option. 1: Your students who aren’t strong readers are going to get to listen instead of read. Two: Your students are going to get to hear you or see your face, and that’s something that will help with that human connection. Always respond to all of their comments and posts even if it’s just one quick word. It will help you be a little more connected.
Some of us don’t like to let kids really get to know us and keep a professional distance. In digital teaching, letting them see a little of your personality is helpful. Let them see a picture of your dog, or the painting on the wall behind your desk instead of covering it with a green screen.
Fight the quiet
Teaching to a wall of dark screens can be….whoa. We aren’t meant to teach this way, but there’s lots of valid reasons kids may not want their screen on: privacy, home situation, zoom fatigue, etc. If you aren’t seeing your kids but want to make sure they are engaged, have a password they have to type in at the end of class that you say somewhere in the middle of the lesson. When you have the kids muted, have them make a comment in a chat or give the thumbs up when they’re doing an in-class activity so that you know that they’re done or that they understand something like that to give engagement, they don’t have speak and unmute themselves to give you feedback. If you are doing breakout rooms make sure you pop in and out in all of them to monitor them and make sure that all kids are participating and if you have to check up on somebody make sure that you do it personally and not in front of the whole class, don’t call somebody out because you don’t know what is going on in their home situation
I am a super verbose person so I like to use a timer in my regular classroom. It’s hard enough for adults to sit online and stay focused, so it’s definitely worse for kids. Use a small timer so you know that you are not dragging out an activity too long. I’m all about these cubes that I got a few years ago on Amazon. (Affiliate link – won’t change your price. No pressure!)
Digital classroom made it a little more exciting for our students when we were asynchronous. If you are meeting online all together, what about building one that YOU use to link all of the things you’re using for that week? It will be a little more visually exciting for the students and help us be able to find everything without lots of open tabs.
I hope that this has been helpful! What are your tips for engaging your kids online? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment with your best tips!