Are we already nearing the end of October?! This time of the year is typically filled with fun Fall activities, rigorous instruction and assignments, and a comfortable sense of where students are academically. Due to the new, pandemic-induced learning formats (remote, hybrid, and on-campus), this month probably looks different than the “norm” as academic tasks may be taking a little longer, getting to know students is more challenging, and classroom management requires a whole new skill set. Not to mention, along with the policies, school environments are shifting and schools may be opting for different learning environments than how the school year began.
No matter your school’s situation, focusing on the social and emotional needs of your students is imperative. Research shows that better quality student-teacher relationships can positively impact student academic achievement (Hattie, 2008; Quinn, 2017). If students feel connected to school, there is more potential for academic success, and what better way to achieve this goal than being intentional about how we approach fostering relationships.
Over the summer, the Teaching and Learning Team at Turnitin shared a post focusing on establishing connections with students in remote learning settings. We proposed relationship-nurturing strategies such as hosting informal meet-ups, checking-in with students frequently, and consistently connecting with students via feedback. We also hosted a webinar featuring several veteran educators exploring the topic. (And if you missed it, don’t worry! You can watch the recording here.) Now that the school year has begun, we’d like to dive deeper into what teachers can do to continually grow student-teacher relationships all year long. Here are a few meaningful tips for maintaining relationships with students in changing environments:
Find multiple ways to check-in with students, often.
We’ve discussed a few initial strategies for checking in with students (temperature checks, informal meet-ups, spirit days, etc.) and how these engagements can help cultivate relationships (see Part One). As the school year progresses, consider several methods for connecting with students and do this often. Set a goal of connecting with students about their emotional well-being every day. Create a safe space for students to share anxieties or struggles.
During the morning meeting or warm-up period, ask students to choose an emoji that represents how they’re feeling that day. Catalogue which students might need a separate “Let’s talk about how you’re doing” email or a 1:1 meeting based on their emoji. Consider having students complete a daily writing task responding to a simple prompt such as “Tell me how you are doing today.” Allow students to choose the format for a response (email, message, etc.), or create a Google form template for easy data collection and analysis.
Naming and expressing emotions will not only help students process what they’re going through but working through it together will build trust in your relationship. As the expression goes, we must “Maslow before Bloom,” and that is even more important as we’re navigating different learning environments.
Make sure every student feels seen and heard.
Students are connecting with peers and teachers in new ways and it can be easy to feel hidden in remote and/or hybrid settings. Surveys report an increase in student anxiety and depression after the pandemic began (Jones, 2020). Making sure each student feels seen and heard is important for academic success and their mental health. Set-up a system to ensure participation from each student during in-class and small group meetings. If you’re meeting synchronously with students via technology, review the available features to enable engagement. For example, show students how to ‘raise a hand,’ take a poll, or use the virtual whiteboard. If your technology is limited, seek outside tools to supplement these areas. There are several school appropriate technology tools (some free!) to generate quizzes/polls, brainstorm using virtual sticky notes, or create other opportunities for participation. As an added bonus, not only will students feel like they’re more a part of the classroom, requiring them to do something during meetings will increase their engagement.
Feedback on student work is also a powerful method for showing students that you “see” them. Yes, our goal for leaving feedback is to address areas of concern, suggest actions for improvement, and highlight strengths. But leaving feedback also shows students that you really are looking at their work and taking the time for each and every one of them.
Turnitin Feedback Studio users, consider using voice comments as a method for leaving feedback on student assignments. Voice comments are a powerful medium, allowing students to hear personalized feedback from their teacher.
Build on the routines you’ve started.
Routines build comfort and remove the anxiety from day-to-day activities. When students know what to expect, it’s easier for them to focus on learning. You’ve most likely established routines with students, whether it’s virtual classroom meetings, processes for submitting work, or the technology you’re using in the classroom. Now that you’re getting into a rhythm, consider how you can add to (or modify) your routines instead of introducing too many new ones. Maybe you’d like to add more requirements to your daily meeting, or perhaps have students take over part of the routine.
This is also a great time to explore the features available in the technology you’re using. Are you taking advantage of what you have? Your students are getting more comfortable with the technology so it’s time to step it up. Revisit the documentation or training videos and consider what else you’d like to try. Seek out a colleague with the expertise to share ideas and discuss new strategies. Surprisingly, many educational technology product features go unused amongst its customer base.
For Turnitin Feedback Studio users, review all of the available feedback features. Try adding QuickMark comments as a time-saving method for leaving consistent, targeted feedback on student assignments. Consider using the ETS e-rater which provides automated feedback on grammar, usage, mechanics, style, and spelling errors. Also, choose and evaluate students’ work using a Turnitin downloadable rubric.
For tips on using the available features, review our library of VidBITs offering best practices and product training. If you’d like to connect with other Turnitin educators, join the Turnitin Educator Network to find answers and share ideas.
Get feedback from students and accept when something isn’t working.
Is your learning plan for this school year unfolding exactly as planned? Probably not! It’s okay if your research and preparation for this school year aren’t falling into place. Or perhaps some of it’s working, but you’d like to improve a few areas. Although you may already have an idea of what needs improvement, involve your students by asking them for feedback on what’s working and what isn’t working. This activity could open a can of worms so choose your questions and format wisely! Elicit feedback on an area of concern and the proposed alternative ideas. For example, “In what ways is it appropriate/helpful to have cameras on, and in what ways is it distracting?" or “How would you prefer to have private conferences?” or “What is the most effective way to communicate reminders?” Keep feedback confidential by having students respond to questions individually and in writing.
When you show your openness to feedback, you’re modeling the way that you hope your students will receive feedback, and a two-way communication system will help students to know that you trust and respect their perspectives as key stakeholders in the classroom. Tangentially, when you enhance your classroom experience to better meet the needs of students, you’re setting sail for a more smoothly operating classroom with happier students.
Consistently radiate positivity and warmth.
No matter your experience for the school year thus far, there has no doubt been unique challenges and there won’t be a shortage of them moving forward. As the leader of the classroom, you set the tone for learning and your energy (whether good or bad) is contagious. In all of your interactions with students, try your best to exemplify positivity and gratitude. I know this isn’t easy in less than ideal scenarios, but your students are looking to you to guide the ship. They’ll follow the course you set and the best shot at success is intentionally choosing your attitude. Your students will feel the positivity in the safe space you’re creating, be more willing to connect, and as a result, increase their academic achievement. For all the science teachers out there, “Think like a proton, and stay positive!”
Facetime with your students may be limited so it’s important to make it count!
Instruction doesn’t always need to take place during your time together. Consider other ways (videos, slides, WebQuests, etc.) for students to get the instruction, then use the time together for deeper discussions, to talk to them, and nourish relationships. Don’t feel like you need to recreate your traditional classroom this year...there’s nothing about 2020 that is traditional! Check in, make sure every student has a presence, optimize routines, implement feedback, and maintain a positive attitude throughout your interactions.
Need more resources on remote learning? Visit Turnitin’s remote learning page for a collection of dynamic videos, downloadable resources, and best practices to help make remote learning engaging and effective.
Miss Part One of this blog series? Read Building and Maintaining Strong Student Relationships Remotely.
Interested in listening to more strategies about building relationships with students in remote settings? Watch the recorded webinar.
Berger, T. (2020, September 23). How to Maslow Before Bloom, All Day Long. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-maslow-bloom-all-day-long
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group.
Quinn, D. (2017). Longitudinal and Contextual Associations Between Teacher–Student Relationships and Student Engagement: A Systematic Review. Review of Educational Research, 87(2), 345–387. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654316669434
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