Gaggle Speaks

Ideas, news, and advice for K-12 educators and administrators to help create safe learning environments.

Written by Charlotte Andrist
on April 13, 2020

Students have been dealing with a lot of stress since being forced to transition to distance learning because of the COVID-19 outbreak. They’re sad to be separated from their friends, worried about their academic progress, and anxious about the future. As a teacher, it’s important to stay in tune with issues causing your students stress so you can best support them in this unusual time. While you would be able to pick up on students’ body language and check in with them personally during a typical school day, it’s much harder to notice if a student is struggling over web conferencing, email, or instant messaging.

As more school districts officially commit to remote learning for the remainder of the school year, it’s crucial to remain connected to your students as they experience the challenges that come with being confined to their homes for an uncertain period of time. During school closures, it’s just as important to check in with your students about their emotional well-being as it is to check in with their academic progress. While you aren’t able meet with them in person, here are three ways you can check in with your students remotely:

1. Implement a Highs and Lows Check-In Routine

While this check-in technique goes by a variety of names from “roses and thorns” to “peaches and pits,” the idea remains the same. Students name one positive thing and one negative thing that has happened to them in the past week, day, or over the weekend. Asking students to name a positive thing helps them practice gratitude, which has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health. Having students name something negative that has happened to them recently is a gentle way to pinpoint some of the things your students may be struggling with and allows you to follow up with them if you feel they need further support. You can bring this routine into your one-on-one virtual meetings with your students, as a group activity during a full-class conference call, or even over a discussion board within your learning management system or other communication channels for your class.

2. Create an Anonymous Discussion Board or Chat

Allowing students to ask questions anonymously offers a platform for shy students to speak up without worrying about judgment from others. While engaged in distance learning, it’s important to maintain student-to-student interaction as much as possible, and an anonymous discussion board or chatroom can be the perfect place to do this. Students can talk about common experiences, discuss academic topics or assignments they’re struggling with, and even share some of their feelings or worries about this difficult time. While this may not give you enough information to identify specific students’ struggles, it can help you understand what your class is feeling and experiencing as a whole and adapt to support their common needs.

3. Incorporate SEL Into an Activity or Lesson

Social and emotional learning (SEL) can be a valuable addition to your distance learning curriculum. While your school or district may already be requiring students to complete specific SEL curriculum from home, you can incorporate SEL into your own curriculum to stay connected with students while they’re learning remotely. If you are a social studies or civics teacher, you may find it beneficial to help students build social awareness by focusing an activity or lesson on how your local community is responding to the COVID-19 crisis. As an English or literature teacher, bringing SEL into your curriculum could be as simple as asking students to write about what they’ve been feeling, how they’ve been dealing with their feelings, or how they’ve been staying in touch with others while social distancing. Guiding your students with SEL activities not only helps them become more in touch with their feelings, but the way they respond to the activities can also help you understand what social or emotional support they may need.

These are just a few of the ways you can check in with your students remotely to make sure you’re supporting their emotional well-being during school closures. Have other ideas? Please share with us below in our comments section.

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