Building and fostering positive relationships with diverse students in virtual, hybrid classrooms
Monday, December 07, 2020
As virtual and hybrid instruction continue, positive relationships are pivotal in keeping students engaged in learning. By now, you have long established positive relationships with all of your students, and they are engaged in the learning process.
The process of developing and building relationships with your students is ongoing, though, and we must continually foster, nurture, and celebrate these relationships, especially as we continue with virtual and distance learning. The following strategies will help to do just that. These strategies, while beneficial for all students, are especially important with culturally and linguistically diverse students.
Greet Students by Name Daily
Greeting each student intentionally shows that you acknowledge them and care about them. This seemingly small step is of great importance, as our names reflect our identities and who we are. It is critical that we learn to pronounce our students’ names correctly, and not change students’ names because they are pronounced differently than what we are used to.
There are simple ways to address this, including using phrases such as, “Teach me how to pronounce your name correctly; I want to make sure I say it right.” This simple phrase honors and validates students and their names and shows that you care about them and who they are. As students come into the classroom, be it virtual or physical, greet students with a quick “Hello, ________” or “Good morning, ________” as acknowledgement of their presence.
As an alternative, learn some greetings form the cultures that your students come from, including short greetings in different languages. You can ask students to teach you a common, short greeting that people use in their culture or in languages that the students speak, and then incorporate those greetings as students enter the room. You do not need to be a speaker of the language, necessarily. Ask students “Did I say that correctly?” or “Teach it to me again, please,” as a way to validate that the cultures students bring to the classroom and the languages that they speak.
Check in Frequently on Students’ Well-Being
During this unprecedented time, everyone benefits from checking in on well-being. Over the past several months, there have been increases in stress, anxiety, and depression. By checking in with students consistently, we show them that we care about them, and can act if we see signs that a student needs additional support. This can begin with something as simple as asking each student how they are doing on a daily basis.
There are also many strategies that can be utilized to check in with students, including using visuals such as pictures and sketching. For culturally and linguistically diverse students, you can build in some instruction on language around emotions and feelings, and the various degrees of emotion that people may feel at any given time. Specific vocabulary, as well as examples and non-examples, and potentially photographs of people displaying those emotions can be utilized. Activities such as a weather report, in which students relate their current feelings to a type of weather, or an emoji check in, wherein students display an emoji that relates to their feelings and emotions.
When students have been absent, be sure to welcome the back and let them know that they were missed while they were gone. This shifts the paradigm from one of punishment or admonishment for being gone, to a sense of welcoming, care and concern when someone was absent. This develops a sense of community and belonging for all members of the class community.
Provide Frequent Opportunities for Interaction
Students enjoy interacting and collaboratively working with their peers. In distance learning, it has become even more important as students do not have the opportunity to interact with their peers during breaks or in the various informal situations that arise during face-to-face instruction. Some students may be hesitant to share in both whole class and small group settings, especially if they are still learning to communicate in English.
To increase interaction, utilize strategies such as choral calling, wherein students call out specific words or phrases that they are learning. Choral calling can be done when students have their microphones on or off. As long as they are practicing verbalizing, it will help them to begin to be more confident speaking in a virtual setting.
From there, have students work together in short intervals in breakout rooms. They can work in pairs, triads, or small groups. Providing a sentence frame or starter for students also helps to guide the interaction and can support deeper levels of academic language.
Check for Understanding Frequently
Throughout instruction, check that students are comprehending instruction. Again, a variety of instructional strategies such as quick-writes, discussions, sketching, and other tools can help to determine if students are understanding the materials and are being successful. As you check for understanding, adjust instruction when students are not comprehending, and celebrate successes along the way! As you show students that you care about their learning, and that you both notice when they are making gains as well as adjusting your instruction when they are not.
Ask for Feedback on Instructional Practices
Perhaps most importantly, ask students for feedback on your instructional practice. Provide students with opportunities to anonymously share what is working for them and what is not working in terms of your instructional practices. While this can be difficult to hear, it shows students that you care about their opinions, while also building metacognition within your students.
As they reflect on what is helpful for them, they are engaging the metacognitive process. As you then acknowledge what was shared by students, and act on it, you are sharing a powerful message with your students: you care about them, their opinions, and what is helpful or not helpful in terms of their learning process.
Each of these strategies and ideas help to continue to deepen and foster positive relationships with your students. As you consistently communicate to your students that they matter to you, that you care about them and what they think, and about their learning.
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