As a consultant, my daily work life consists of learning with teachers and being a side-by-side thinking partner. We study, experiment, and explore practices with the goal of supporting students. It is joyful work, and I have always loved the connection and community that it brings. Coaching and consulting are equal parts instructional conversation and human connection. However, over the last few weeks, I have seen a sudden shift in my practice. While much of my role is still about supporting instruction, that equal balance has shifted so that emotional support, compassion, and comfort are now taking the lead- because that is what is needed. It is needed by the teachers, and it is needed by our students.
Many of us have spent long hours reinventing what the classroom looks like in a digital space. We’ve been developing video lessons, online choice boards, and playful ways for children to learn and explore their world at home. And we’ve been doing this under a time crunch! The parents and children appreciate all the heart, love, and energy that have been put into these creations. Yet what our students need more than anything right now is a connection to their teachers. After all, teachers are more than instructional mentors. They are cheerleaders, listeners, and counselors. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that they take on the role of therapist, but instead, that everyday teachers provide a lot more than academic support and can be someone that provides love and a safe haven for a child.
With these realities in mind, I’m calling on all of us to place academics in second place and make room for conferences all about connection. In their article on trauma-informed teaching, Teaching Tolerance authors share that, “Relationships and well-being can take priority over assignment and behavioral compliance.” Let’s make the space in our calendars and commit to one check-in with students per week. This doesn’t have to look one way. We can utilize technology with tools Zoom and Google Meet for face to face meetings; however, students without the access to technology can still hear our voices on a plain old phone call.
When engaging in these connection conferences, consider:
Beginning the call with an acknowledgement that the child is missed and thought about. You might start with something like, “You and your family have been on my mind. How are you doing/feeling?”
Inviting the child to tell you about their experiences at home. Ask questions about what they’ve been doing, playing, or learning outside of academic life.
Listening for things that the child or family may need. Many schools have access to resources for students who may be struggling with physical or emotional needs. While we may not be able to offer the direct help, we can be on the lookout for signs and let our school leadership know to reach out.
Offering compassion and flexibility. Students may bring up challenges tied to their school work. In these moments, we have the opportunity to validate the child’s feelings of struggle and let them know that we understand. Let them know that whatever they are able to do (or not do) is okay.
Ending by letting them know how grateful we are to see their faces or hear their voices, and telling them that they will hear from us again next week. This will let children know that we are still here for them and will continue to care for them from afar.
I know you all love and miss your students. I know that this is hard on us as educators and that we are worried about our children every day. And I know that there are few things that we want more than to get back into our classrooms. But until then, we can make a difference for our students by reaching out to them beyond the lessons, and letting them know that we are still here.