On Friday, I joined a Google Meet in the middle of a game of sight word concentration. My first grade student, Jack, and his mother cheered as he found the matching card for the word, “here”. Before collecting his cards, his mother reminded him to read the word out loud thus supporting his learning of the word (just as I had explained in our last one on one reading session). It was gorgeous. I sat back for a moment, watched them play and cheered them on as they found matches for "where" and "when". Here we were, mother and teacher working together to support the child.
While this time of distance learning is filled with challenges, it is also ripe with opportunities to make powerful connections with families. Being a literacy specialist, I find that while I communicate with families, their first point of contact is the classroom teacher. Perhaps the greatest gift of this period is the opportunity I've had to to build and nurture relationships with families.
Working Side by Side
I meet with my striving readers and writers once a week, same day and time, for approximately 25 minutes. When I first started this routine, I wasn’t sure what to expect especially when it came to working with my youngest students. I’ll never forget working with Finn, a kindergarten student for the first time. When the camera came on, I saw him sitting beside his mother on the couch. His face lit up, as did mine. It was wonderful to see him again and I realized that I needed this perhaps as much, if not more, than he did! After catching up a bit, he began reading a book he'd read with his mom. When he came to a tricky word, I asked:
“What can you try?”
“Sound power!” he responded.
Finn showed his mom how he uses his reading superpowers (terminology from the Teacher's College Reading Units of Study) to figure out words. As he kept reading, his mom reminded him to use his reading powers. Hearing the language I use when I coach Finn gave his mother the tools to use as she works with him daily.
By the time I left the meeting, my heart was full. This is the stuff we learn about in our teacher training! Many times this month I have heard the voice of my graduate professor saying, “Involve families. Invite them to come in and work alongside you.” In the non-distance learning era when family members are at work or busy caring for other family members, this becomes incredibly challenging. The sweet spot of learning from home is the opportunity for teachers to join forces with families and harness their shared devotion to support the child's well-being and academic needs.
Parents of my older students also take an active role. While they may not sit with us the entire time, they walk by, listen in, grab materials needed or encourage their child to follow through with my suggestions. I include families when I send students a summary of our goals for the week in between our sessions. Family members often jump on at the beginning or end of our reading session and share what their child did that week.
Welcoming me into their Home Environment
Not only has distance learning offered opportunities to get to know families, it has also enabled me to get to know students better. Students who tend to be quiet, even in a small group setting, open up and share more of themselves when we connect one on one.
Seeing students in their home environments provides insight into the child's identity. I have met beloved pets, siblings, grandparents and other caregivers in the home. Many students begin our time together by introducing a favorite stuffed animal or sharing a project they’ve created.
Students have given me tours of their bookshelves! They proudly share the books they’ve read. We have used this time to consider which book they might read next. It is an honor that they trust me enough to invite me into their lives in this way.
Being There For One Another
In addition to walking families through how to get access to our class Epic account or use Google Meet, I am able to connect with them on a personal level. We often conclude our time together with a check in. We talk about how we are coping with this time at home. These conversations build relationships and offer support.
What Comes Next?
I have no doubt that this period in history will impact the way we live and teach. Here is the question I ponder and pose to all of you:
How can we hold onto the gifts of this time?
How can we maintain this level of connection once we all return to our classrooms?
I would love to hear your thoughts and any ideas you have to keep this connection going!