With the new school year beginning for many teachers and students in a virtual environment, it will be critical to decide what usual beginning of the year classroom practices need to be consciously planned and implemented. What are the similarities in establishing respectful relationships among students and teachers and a task-focused environment with high learning expectations in the virtual classroom and the physical classroom?
Many teachers shared the fact that they already had relationships with students and students knew each other and knew teachers’ expectations when the quarantine closed classroom doors in February and March. Starting school virtually in August and September with students new to the teacher and new to each other will require purposeful planning by teachers to create an environment and expectations that maximize learning.
A Social Emotional Learning Roadmap from CASEL provides many valuable tools and strategies for school leadership teams to explore as they plan reopening. Instructional coaches can find elements there to trigger teachers’ conscious planning. I feel strongly that every school year should begin with very purposeful relationship planning. (See an earlier blog on coaching teachers during the opening days of school.) This school year demands purposefulness in a social emotional focus.
The Search Institute website provides a developmental relationships framework which identifies five critical elements along with twenty actions. Two of the elements strike me as starting points for teachers conscious planning for the opening days.
Express Care: Show Me That I Matter to You
The actions described for this element revolve around the teacher listening and communicating warmth, encouragement, and belief in the student. The student feels known and valued and is convinced the teacher is someone that can be trusted.
Here is a tool to guide 5-minute, one-on-one chats with students. While virtual opening of school may make this somewhat more challenging it is probably that much more critical. Teachers with a single class should be able to interview all of their students. Teachers working in a secondary program with rotating classes can work as a team or perhaps in an advisory to see that all students are involved.
“The primary purpose of the chat is to hear about your student’s experience and perspective so that you can know them as an individual, be responsive to their needs, learn from them for the benefit of the class and school, and build relational trust.”
There are five suggested steps:
- Initiate – Invite students to the conversation with a statement of why you want their input.
- Open – Share your enthusiasm for working with them.
- Personalize – Invite the student to share experience from last year or currently.
- Invite Feedback – Seek students’ perspectives and ideas for the coming year.
- Close – End with an optimistic, forward thinking note.
The actions here have the teacher push and stretch the students by expecting their best and holding then accountable. Teachers promote reflection and help students learn from their mistakes.
In promoting Academic Engagement through Insistence, Being a Warm Demander, Dorene Ross (et al) identify that a teacher’s capacity to insist that students meet established academic and behavioral standards creates a positive psychological environment. This environment requires:
- A strong, caring, respectful relationship between each student and the teacher.
- Caring, respectful relationships among peers, creating an environment for risk-taking.
- A task-focused, calm environment enabling concentration.
- High and clear expectations for academic performance.
Lisa Delpit in Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom describes the need for teachers to be authoritative, which differs from authoritarian. The authoritative teacher exhibits personal power, earning respect rather than demanding it. She holds students’ attention with a communication style that appeals to affiliation. The authoritarian often expects obedience from students without justification. The teacher with strong relationships and high expectation has been referred to as a warm demander (Kleinfeld).
School leaders and instructional coaches should engage teachers in exploring plans for the opening of the year. If students are in classrooms, what should happen in the opening days? What messages do we want to communicate to learners and how can we best communicate them? If you must begin the year virtually, what are your options for building relationships among students and teachers. Can your technology coach provide teachers with some ideas of tools they can consider? How can you work with students to set high learning expectations and communicate your commitment to support them? A coach’s pre-conference, observation, and post conference feedback around these important teaching decisions can be extremely valuable.
Will teachers best be served by school leaders who are warm demanders?