Back to School Activities to Support SEL in a Digital Classroom


 With so many articles now coming out about the mental health ramifications of Coronavirus on our students, planning ahead to improve the social emotional health of your students is one of the best decisions that you can make for a positive 2020 - 2021 school year. With many districts still furiously putting together a plan, finding ways to connect, communicate, and get creative with your students will only help you to adapt to whatever situation is thrown at you. 

    My most recent post outlined what social emotional learning is, the importance of it especially after the pandemic and quick ways to connect, communicate, and get creative with your students. You can read more about it here. Below, I will outline specific activities that can be done remotely to help build personal relationships with your students while you are remote or distance learning. 

Ways to Build Personal Relationships to Improve Student Social Emotional Health: 

    One of the key differences between school before the pandemic and opening in the 2020-2021 back to school season is that prior to Coronavirus, we had enough time in your classrooms to develop personal relationships with our students. We were already able to use our expertise to make connections and tap into our student's social emotional health. A concern for many teachers starting this back to school season is... how can I make connections with students I do not know. It is not an ideal situation and it can be difficult, however, utilizing the following suggestions will allow you to do your best to form a relationship with your students. 

Making connections, communicating, and getting creative: 

    Students need to feel connected to your classroom, you as the teacher, and their classmates. The stronger their connection, the stronger their internal desire to want to try their best in the class. 

    Communication is important, and a two-way street. It is important as the teacher to be clear in your instructions and ways that you are communicating about academics. Students need to feel comfortable to communicate in return. Students should and need to feel comfortable to tell you when they do not understand something or if there are things in their personal life that inhibit them from completing assignments or doing well in school. 

    Students know when teachers care. They can tell when you WANT to be there and when you are trying your best for them. However, they may get bored at the same monotonous plan. Try to get creative every once in a while with a new activity or how it is presented. This will keep students engaged and motivated in your classroom. 

Ways to Improve Student Social Emotional Learning in Your Classroom: 

Below are specific ideas to use in the distance learning setting to build and improve your personal relationships with your students. 

    - Video biography: When the back to school season starts, our new students don't know anything about us. They don't know who our children are, pets, fun hobbies, favorite sports teams, or snack that we gotta have. These are usually things that we share at the beginning of the school year, as we are together in the classroom, or something students observe us doing in the classroom. Much of that is removed. Before the school year starts, create a video biography for your students. 

    In the biography, start with an introduction. Tell the students who you are, what you are teaching them (especially for upper elementary school teachers who may be departmentalized), and how you cannot wait to get to know them. Share about teaching experience, which college you attended, and degrees that you achieved.  

    After you have shared a bit about your professional side, get into some fun stuff. Share the fun facts. Since this is a video, you can even show them your house, pets, or family members. If you are comfortable, have family members give a quick hello. This aspect of the video will show students that you are human, just like them. You are their teacher but you also have a life outside of school. Creating these connections will allow students to understand you better as an educator, but also as a person. 

    Another good idea to do after you have shared your video biography with the students is to have them respond. Their responses could be done in a FlipGrid format. Allow them to share about their personal lives. If you have your students do this, be sure to take the time to watch and respond. Watching their videos will allow you to learn more about who they are as a human being. 

    - Theme Weeks! In my school district, every few months we have theme weeks. They are weeks when we can show our school spirit. Often the teachers get into it more than the students. Bring the theme weeks to your eLearning classroom. Theme weeks can take the anxiety out of what to wear when they are seeing their classmates and it is a fun way to get the students to come to the meeting. Some ideas for a theme week can include: 
            - Pajama Week (This is easy enough when we are working from home!)
            - School Spirit - wear school colors or any spirit gear
            - Dress for the Decade - choose a decade and dress like they did
            - Favorite sport team
            - Choose a color (blackout, neon, etc)
            - Dress to Impress - sometimes dressing up even when you are at home feels good for the body and spirit
            - Dress for the future - dress for the profession you want to become (I dressed as an FBI agent once! 😂 )

    - Tutorials - When introducing something new to your students, it is a good idea to create a tutorial to walk them through the steps. In the classroom, you would most likely be doing this as a whole class activity allowing the students to observe you. In remote learning, the video can serve the same purpose and allow students to rewatch it several times if they are having trouble. While it may seem more time-consuming, it may actually save you time in the long run as you can refer to the tutorial if there are questions and share it with parents. 

    A tutorial will also allow students to see and hear what you are doing. This hits several modalities that allow for better comprehension. Tutorials are very important at the beginning of the year as you set up your digital classroom procedures. Students need to understand your routines so they can fit into them. Tutorials can be created for concepts but should also be created for classroom procedures such as: 
            - How to take assessments
            - Course expectations
            - How to submit work
            - How and where to ask questions or get in touch

    - A safe place to share - Think about creating a safe place or an outlet for students to share about their lives. Discussion boards can be created in some learning management systems such as Schoology where students can respond to questions asked by a teacher or student response. The more places a student has to share, the more comfortable they will feel opening up to you. 

    Another option is an activity like, "Three Things I Want My Teacher to Know". This allows students to write down three things they want to share with you. Some students take assignments like this seriously and will divulge information about their personal life that can make their classroom behavior more understandable. Read more about it here. You can access the material to implement this assignment into your classroom TODAY below. 

    Also, an activity that I absolutely LOVE... having students share what their bedroom looks like. Initially, this activity was completed as a companion to a book but it gave me so much insight into the life of my student that I also include this as a back to school activity. Get the assignment and read more about it here

    - Remind! - This is an app that allows you to safely communicate with parents or students through text messaging in a safe way. The app ensures that your personal number is not given out. Communication is key in any relationship. When we are distance teaching, aspects of communication can be lost. The more ways you can communicate with students and families, the easier your life will be. Being able to remind parents and students of new assignments posted, due dates, assessments, etc may seem like a lot of work on the forefront but it will save you time on the backend. Think of when grades are due and you won't have to chase anyone down because you already have all quarter. Your future self will thank you! 

I hope these activities provide you with a starting point as you enter the new school year. It is important to keep in mind the fragile social emotional state of our students and doing our best to support them as we transition back into an unknown situation. If you have comments or questions, please share them below! 

Three Things I Want My Teacher to Know

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