The ONE thing to do in Virtual Learning
Relationships matter in teaching and learning. full stop. And any educator will confess that likely what got them through the transition to virtual learning this past Spring~ that they had already developed relationships with their students, colleagues and parents, so they were able to simply build off of those connections. As we approach the Back to School season there is a growing body of resources about how to build a virtual classroom culture that are definitely worth a read. But as everybody scrambles to move lesson plans over to platforms and attend virtual staff meetings and technology trainings, it will be difficult to keep anything at the forefront of our planning-including how to establish relationships that are the foundation to all learning communities, especially in virtual learning. Eternally inspired by the book The One Thing by Garry Keller, I want to offer up what I think will be the one thing that we can do to be sure that we remain connected to individuals when we lack the human connection we are used to having: The one-on-one video call.
If you do one thing this Fall, arrange to have a one-on-one video call with every individual you work with in the first few weeks of school. The purpose of the one-on-one call is simply to get to know one person through organic conversation for 15-30 minutes. NO agenda needed-just talking and connecting… you know, like we used to do in the hallways, or at lunchtime. While the staff culture or classroom culture as a whole is significant, each individual member of a school must feel known and heard-that foundation is critical for the year. So let’s take a lesson right out of the business world, and transfer ‘the “come on into my office and sit down meeting” with the boss’ best practice, over to virtual learning.
Consider sprinkling a few individual video calls a day for 15-30 minutes during the first few weeks of school. You can assign students to time slots, or they can sign up for a time in a Google Doc. You may even consider giving students a reflection guide or discussion questions in advance, but if you are comfortable I think a free-flowing conversation is best just to help you get to know each other. If your district has restrictions related to individual calls between a teacher and student, then you can include the parents in the video call, which can only help build the home-school connection for the year ahead.
For Instructional Leaders-
Listening to the hopes, fears and needs of every teacher is one of the most important things instructional leaders can do right now. While so much is being piled on principals and coaches, one-on-one video calls can be the ONE thing to focus your time and energy on in the weeks ahead. As we all know teachers have big personalities and opinions, but across a staff those differ, so it’s important to tap into every teacher-in particular those who don’t feel comfortable or confident to speak up in a staff video call. No agenda or plans are necessary-just simply take the time to individually connect with each member of your staff. To help with the logistics of scheduling, you can put your availability in Calendly and ask each teacher to sign up for a time to meet with you in the next month.
Keep it going…
You can continue to keep the one-on-one connection going throughout the year if you are a teacher by sending a card home to students or making a socially distanced home visit. In PBL I strongly encourage the workshop model as a management strategy for project work time and in virtual learning you can continue this best practice by slotting individual student check-ins on work each week. If you are a principal you can leave a PBL Pep Talk note for a teacher (PDF download below or go here for more), or go for a lunchtime “walk and talk”. Small moves will make big gains with all the uncertainty that lies ahead this fall. While the one-on-one meeting may feel like an addition to your plate, it really can be the ONE thing that you focus on in the first few weeks back to school that will lay the relational foundation for the year ahead.
- Other blogs on virtual learning
- Curation of resources for virtual learning
- E-courses and workbook on PBL (including access to the NEW! virtual learning and PBL e-book!)
- Why PBL Can’t Wait, Getting Smart
- Making a case for Science and Social Studies, Getting Smart
- How to do the Feedback Loop in Distance Learning, Teaching Channel
- 5 Tips for Designing Asynchronous Learning, Corwin Press
- 3 Practices to teach 21st Century Skills in a Virtual Classroom, Teaching Channel
- Tech Tools to Take PBL Online, Corwin Press