Staying Connected: Maintaining Meaningful Teacher-Student Connections During COVID-19

Main Author: Jill McVey
Supporting Authors: Dana Murano, Alex Casillas, Kate Walton
ACT Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning

If you are reading this, chances are your life has been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. You may be working from home full-time and juggling multiple priorities, from staying in touch with friends and family while maintaining social distancing to having your children learning from home. In fact, the pandemic has upended school routines across the world. Without warning, many districts and schools have been tasked with distance learning in a system set up for traditional face-to-face instruction. This has created challenges for everyone involved, especially educators, students, and parents, as we transition to a new “normal.” Staying connected, even when we can’t be together physically, is important to help us adjust and adapt to changing circumstances.

Research has demonstrated just how vital school and teacher connections are for students. Students who feel connected to their school are less likely to skip school or have disciplinary issues and are more likely to succeed academically as well as graduate. Arguably, connections between teachers and students are even more important now because they can serve as a constant amid the change we have experienced in the past two months. We asked teachers how they are staying connected to their students during this time and have pulled together some resources to help you remain in contact with your students, even when you can’t meet face-to-face.

How are teachers staying connected with their students?

We spoke to teachers across the country to learn what strategies they are using to stay connected with their students. We learned that teachers all have their own ways of staying in contact with their students and vary their approaches depending on individual students’ situations and needs. Teachers mentioned using learning management tools, videoconferencing, texting, emailing, phone calls, and (socially distant) home visits as ways to stay connected. Using multiple modes of communication can allow students to remain in contact with their teachers; given that some students don’t have access to a stable internet connection or computer at home, finding different ways to stay in touch is important. Sometimes teachers connect with their students to provide instruction or assign work, and other times they reach out simply to see how students are doing. This kind of support can be especially important for students who may be struggling with other issues that have arisen as a result of the pandemic, such as having a parent who lost a job or needing to watch younger siblings. With that in mind, here are some ideas for staying connected.

Find a way to stay in touch that works for each of your students. Just like in the classroom, students may respond differently to various forms of communication and may have different levels of access to technology at home. Some teachers have found that videoconferencing works well and has the added benefit of allowing students to see one another. Texting and phone calls are additional methods of interaction that may work for students who do not have a computer at home, and email is also often accessible to students who may not have a computer but do have access to a smartphone. Some teachers have even been sending letters in the mail.

Let students know that you care. No matter how you stay in touch or how often you reach out, take time to let students know they matter to you. Providing emotional support to your students during this difficult time is arguably more important than any content you could teach them and will help pave the way for their success at school in years to come. Here are a few ideas for showing your students you care:

  • Send them a message to let them know you are thinking of them and regularly check-in on their well-being.
  • Celebrate successes and milestones – this can be done in many ways (positive feedback, digital badges, a funny video).
  • To the extent possible, personalize assignments (or let students do so) by incorporating student interests.
  • Provide students opportunities to share things about themselves with you and their classmates (younger students may enjoy a virtual “show and tell” and older students could respond to writing prompts that allow them to talk about something they love).

 

Also, helping students build their social and emotional skills can help them adapt. In addition to the resources designed to help build students’ social and emotional skills we have provided on this website, several links to resources related to social and emotional learning can be found on Inside SEL.

Find ways to build engagement. Without face-to-face interaction, teachers need to rely on different skills to keep students engaged and motivated with the learning process. In addition to things like daily check-ins and goal setting, some teachers have found creative ways to keep their students interested and motivated with online learning. Some ideas include:

  • Joke of the day
  • Weekly virtual field trips
  • Daily virtual amusement park rides
  • Yoga and meditation videos
  • Mystery reader video calls
  • VIP shout out each week
  • Virtual spirit week

 

Distance learning may become a part of students’ educational experiences for the foreseeable future, so having a plan for building and maintaining meaningful student relationships is key. While this cornerstone of the teaching profession may look different as we adjust to our changing world, the relationships that teachers share with their students should remain as strong as ever. School building closures have been challenging for everyone involved, so in addition to reaching out to your students, remember to take time for yourself and reach out to your own support network as well.

Jill McVey, PhD

Jill McVey, PhD

Jill McVey is a research scientist In ACT’s Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. She completed her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Research Methods and Statistics at the University of Denver. Her primary research interests are in education, particularly the impact that social and emotional skills have on academic achievement.