As a classroom teacher, I always viewed the start of a new school year with a lot of excitement and a bit of trepidation. Excitement because I loved meeting a new group of children and looked forward to getting to know them and supporting their learning. Trepidation because I was never quite certain what curveballs might be thrown my way.
This year, the curveball is already in play. All across the country, teachers are gearing up for a kind of year that no one ever anticipated. COVID-19 wreaked havoc on schools in the spring of 2020, and the continued spread of the virus has led many schools to adopt safety precautions that turn some traditional practices upside down. Gone are the days when children cozied up to one another to look at a book side by side or huddled together to brainstorm ideas. Teachers who like to greet every child with a hug or a high five are now finding that they cannot safely do so. These changes have led many to wonder what effective interactions look like when teachers and children are physically distanced.
This post responds to some of the most common questions we’ve been hearing from members of our CLASS Learning Community on this topic.
1) How can we build relationships with kids when we cannot get close to them?
Teaching under guidelines for maintaining a physical distance presents some practical difficulties. Teachers—especially teachers of younger children—typically maintain a close physical proximity to their students. This allows teachers to monitor work and provide ongoing support. Because infants and toddler are dependent upon adults to have their needs met, their teachers cannot physically distance themselves. However, they will still work to maintain safety protocols in terms of cleanliness and may discourage children from being too close to one another.
While the term social distancing is widely used, it is a bit of a misnomer, because it suggests that we are not building social relationships. The term physical distancing may be more appropriate, because we are maintaining a physical distance as a safety precaution. However, we are still working hard to develop and maintain those very important social relationships that provide the foundation for learning. Below are some ideas about ways teachers can build relationships in socially distanced classrooms:
2) What if we are wearing masks and children can’t see us smile?
3) How can we be sensitive to children’s cues if they are wearing masks?
Teachers rely on reading children’s facial expressions to gauge their interest and understanding of what’s going on in the classroom. Below are some ideas about ways teachers can be sensitive to children’s cues:
4) How can we support the physical and emotional well-being of students?
Teachers do not want to raise anyone’s anxiety, but at the same time, they are responsible for enforcing safety protocols. Teachers can highlight the importance of staying physically safe in the following ways:
5) What about the physical well-being of the teachers?
6) What should we do if children seem scared or anxious?
Teachers have to recognize that some children may feel anxious, while others may have experienced trauma. Teachers can support children’s emotional well-being by doing the following:
7) How can we take care of our own emotional well-being?
The past five months have shone a spotlight on the critical importance of teachers—especially those who work with our youngest learners. It is only natural that teachers feel concern for themselves, their families, and the children and families with whom they work. In order to be present and helpful to others, teachers also need to take care of themselves. Some ways teachers can do this are below:
8) How can we help children maintain the appropriate distance?
We want all children to learn to cooperate and play together, and older students often engage in cooperative learning activities. Both of these things are hard to do when students cannot share materials and have to physically distance themselves. Some programs are putting students into small groups that they stay with all day, every day, which can help ease this problem. However, this is not necessarily the norm. Because COVID-19 is less likely to spread outdoors, teachers should consider extended outdoor time, which might consist of more playtime for younger children and distanced instruction for older students. For example, a teacher may set out a blanket that younger students can sit on to draw pictures. Older students may spread out for silent reading and then sit in a physically distanced semicircle to discuss the book. Other ideas include:
9) How can we engage children if we’re not close to them, their materials are limited, or they cannot do group projects?
Teachers often use a variety of modalities and materials as well as hands-on activities to engage children. However, restrictions on the types of materials available and limited supplies may make this more difficult. Teachers may engage children in other ways:
Do you have other questions? Or other ideas you'd add to these suggestions? Share them in the CLASS Learning Community!