How do kindergarten students start the year virtually?
Kindergarten students all over are starting school remotely. As leaders debate how to go back to school safely, teachers everywhere are wondering how they can build relationships with their students during remote learning. When schools closed in March teachers had already developed relationships and classroom culture. It was hard, but teachers everywhere quickly figured out how to end the year virtually.
But now it’s back to school season and teachers are faced with brand new students. Kindergarten students are starting school in a whole new way. Teachers have to meet their students virtually. Suddenly ending the year seems like a cakewalk compared to starting a new year. So many questions, so much unknown.
The single most important element in a classroom is relationships.
I can say this with 100% confidence that the single most important element in a classroom is relationships. The relationships you form with your students, with their parents, with your co-workers. Relationships are the foundation of all learning. So how do you build a relationship with a 5 year old over Zoom?
So how do you build a relationship with a 5 year old over Zoom?
Here are some tips from the field.
Hello my name is…..
Kindergarten students will forget your name. They will, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called “teacher” in the first week or 2 of school. Make sure you open every Zoom reminding them of your name. I have always prided myself on my ability to memorize all my students names’ before lunch on the first day of school. It’s even more important now because you can’t control keeping a name tag on them. If you have used Zoom, you know the name that appears under their face may not have any connection to the child’s name. So you need a plan to memorize their names. I have created these name plates.
In school, my morning meeting always starts with me pulling a name and having that child stand up while we all sang to him/her. It’s an easy way for the kids to work on identifying their name and for the other students to start reading names of their classmates. It’s also a great way to reinforce everyone’s name. Well, you can’t do that the same way on Zoom. However, you can still start your meeting calling out everyone’s name. On a Zoom class you can pull a Zoom name tag and have the kids sing to the child. The kids need to learn each other’s names as well as your’s so make sure you spend some time working on names. It may feel a little unnatural to say their name a lot but the kids need to connect with each other and the easiest way is by putting a name to the face.
Be a team player! You can help out your specialist. Take a quick screen shot of your class, print it out and write their names under their picture. Then email that to the art teacher, the gym teacher, anyone who comes to your class. This will be a huge help to your specialists because they most likely have 100’s of names to learn
Eat lunch together
There will be plenty of time to craft lessons, and work on teaching students how to read remotely. However, at the beginning of the year the most important lesson they need to learn is who you are, and if you care about them. Nothing builds connection like breaking bread together. Skip the reading groups the first few days and spend time getting to know each other. Food is a common thread, sharing a meal with your students whether in school or remotely brings a deeper connection than being in front of them talking.
Have one on one time together
One of the greatest features of Zoom is the breakout room. As remote learning moves into weeks or (gasp) months the breakout room is a terrific way to have guided reading groups. At the beginning of the year use the breakout room to have 1:1 time with each child. When we are face to face with students I always “strive for five”. I make sure that I focus on conversations with each child that include 5 back and forth elements. Use the breakout room to have a quick chat with each and every child in your room. Use a parent volunteer or a para to stay with the group while you get to know your kids. Nothing says “I see you” better than being one on one
Let the dogs out
Do you have a pet? I was surprised to see how excited my kids were to “meet” my dog Sandy. Bring your pets into the frame and introduce them to your students. One of the benefits of teaching virtually is that your students get to see you at home. So many of my students over the years thought I lived at the school. They were always so surprised to hear I had a husband and kids of my own. Introduce your life to your students and let them get to know you on a whole knew level.
Routines, Routines, Routines
Every teacher knows that they need to spend the first few weeks of school building routines. The more time you spend on routines the first week of school the easier your year will be. Well, this year routines are even more important. We need to build a sense of structure for our kids. Routines are the best way to do that. Have a morning meeting, word work, literacy, math, writing at the same time every day. The hardest part of this whole pandemic has been how everything was turned upside down and every day felt like a new change. Start the year with a routine and build on that routine. One of the greatest gifts we can give the kids right now is predictability. Our world will be changing by the day so make sure your school day feels safe.
Limit the links
Oh my, all those Zoom links! In the spring I had a spreadsheet with all my Zoom links. Links for staff meetings, CPT links ,class links it can make your head spin. Make it easier on parents and kids by using just one link. Even if you close down the link for lunch or a break. You can reuse the same link later in the day. You are not bound to the time on a Zoom link. Have your specialists use the same link as well. It can become very overwhelming if kids need to keep track of one link for morning meeting, one link for music, one link for gym, it makes my eye twitch just remembering all those links. Keep it simple. Just have one link. Ask the gym teacher to join your class link, then make her/him the co-host and you step away for your PD. Trust me, your parents will thank you and your specialist will thank you too because they will have better attendance if you use the same link. Most parents are juggling multiple kids with multiple links all while trying to work themselves. Do everyone a favor and limit links.
Use a parent communication platform
I personally love Class DoJo it’s an easy way to remind parents via their phone that your literacy block is starting. You can quickly get info to parents and it’s a great way to share photos and links to your students.
It’s actually exhausting and really distracting having to look at yourself while you are teaching. Most teachers feel at least a little awkward on Zoom. Make sure you take some time to have the kids look away. Have them color, write, cut, play with play-doh anything to get their eyes off of your face. The kids also get distracted looking at what you have in your kitchen. How many of us have been in a staff meeting and we zone out looking at our colleagues living rooms or kitchens. Make sure you take some time to have the kids focus on something in front of them and not just you.
Give your students control
The best way to keep them engaged is if they have some control over what is happening in their virtual class. If you are using Zoom you have the ability to give control to your students. I like to think about it as asking a student to come up to the board. It keeps your lesson a little more interactive. The very best way to include kids on the meeting is with Boom Cards. Boom cards are self-checking task cards. The kids can click or point to show the correct answer. Boom Cards are a great way to “keep them in the game”. If you want to learn more about Boom Cards and distance learning check out this video.
Show and Tell
Growing up I loved show and tell, but in my classroom I’ve struggled to make it work in my kindergarten class. So many of my students never actually brought something in to share. It was always the same kids, and I always felt, those who needed it most, were left out. Well, that has been one good thing about distance learning. Every child is at home, so every child can share something. My students LOVED sharing the stuffed animals on their bed, their legos, their toys. One student loved to show me what she saw outside her window. This one makes me laugh out loud! It was shared on Facebook. The girl is showing “something that smells good” .
Scavenger hunts are awesome on Zoom. I ask the kids go find something green, red, shiny. I want to get the kids moving. I usually pick colors because even if a child doesn’t have a lot of items at home, they can show a green towel, a spoon, anything. I just want them to have a chance to talk about what they are showing.
Let them talk to each other
One of the biggest downsides to remote learning is the social isolation. I want my students to get to know each other. So give them a chance to turn and talk. I use breakout room for this. Send 2 or 3 students into a room (with either a parent volunteer or with a para) and let them turn and talk. Give them a chance to talk to each other about their favorite part of a story. Relationships are built in small 1:1 interactions.
You’ve got mail
Send them a postcard. Yes, good ole snail mail can really make you feel special. Put in a special sticker and have a sticker party where they show what they received.
It’s not perfect, none of this is perfect. But we are experts at making things work for our kids. If you work in a public school you probably have experience making something great out of nothing. Use those skills now to help our students feel a connection. One day we will all look back at this time and reflect on how we got through it. Chances are it’s the personal connections that will stand out.
Good luck and stay safe.