In our webinar, "Interactions at the Core: The Life-Changing Power of Interactions In Any Setting" leaders from across early childhood settings came together to discuss how we can continue to build and foster relationships, enhance engagement, and inspire learning in this moment.

Dr. Anabel Espinosa, the director of research and evaluation at the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Dr. Elisa L. Johnson, a founding principal with AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School, and Dru O’Connor, an NHSA consultant and education coach and disabilities manager with the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency, shared a few practical ideas for those returning to school in virtual settings or with new distancing protocols in place. Below you’ll find a few of their suggestions for the school year.

Relationships are Foundational to Learning

Teachers can support positive relationships with students by:
Taking time to learn about student interests
  • Create a "getting to know me" questionnaire and have each family fill it out.
  • Start the class with an icebreaker that will allow you to learn a little more about each of your students.
  • Allow students to lead the conversation and have discussions about their families, pets, favorite people, favorite places, and interests.
  • Incorporate students’ interests into synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities, acknowledging students by name when referencing their interests.
  • Schedule “office hours” or “lunch bunch” where you can meet with a small group of students.
Creating a consistent routine
  • Create a predictable routine that children and families can count on.
  • Start the lesson at the same time every day.
  • Give each staff member a role in the daily greeting. Document these roles on the lesson plan.
Making social-emotional learning and positivity a part of each day
  • Be intentional about what area of focus or behavioral skill you will target during each lesson.
      • Examples include: celebrates own success, practices patience, provides peer encouragement, adapts well to change, etc.
  • Have a bank of celebrations that work in all settings.
  • Give individual and whole group recognition (examples include: roller coaster, "you go girl," two snaps, or round of applause).

Teachers can encourage positive peer relationships by:

Providing in-person opportunities for peer-to-peer interaction
  • Help schedule play dates for small groups of children.
  • Set the stage for peer engagement by making plans beforehand.
Creating small group and 1:1 peer opportunities
  • Use technology to create small group learning opportunities during synchronous learning.
  • Assign each child, or let each child choose, a virtual buddy. Children can send their buddies pictures, drawings, or messages throughout the year.
  • Provide Google Meet rooms where families can schedule meetings with buddies at their leisure.
  • Use intentional partner activities and provide opportunities for children to ask their peers for help, instead of the teacher.
Intentionally creating opportunities for connection
  • Generate prompts for conversation and turn-taking, and encourage all students to engage in conversations.
  • Include time in every synchronous lesson to focus on children's connections to others. This might include building community, problem solving, greetings, or understanding leading and following.
  • Encourage students to lead parts of the lesson. This will emphasize student responsibility as well as allowing students to see their peers as individuals they can engage in learning with.

Teachers can form relationships with families by:

Remaining positive and supportive
  • Share positive anecdotes of student behavior and performance.
  • Reassure families that we are all in this together, as partners
Providing emotional support
  • Educate families on the importance of their involvement.
  • Respect families. Accept families where they are in their own development and knowledge.
  • Acknowledge families' struggles when they have them, and be solution oriented in helping them take on their new position of “teacher."
Providing flexibility
  • Use multiple platforms/modalities to share information. Some families may be more responsive to texts, while others are great with calls and voicemails.
  • Have designed office hours during which families can seek support, ask questions, or simply have “Tea with the Teacher”.
  • Engage interested families in virtual learning. Host a "Trivia Tuesday" or "Motivational Monday" (families post their favorite quotes). Invite parents to sign up as virtual guest readers, or give family shout-outs.

Download These Strategies


Enhance Engagement in Online Learning

Teachers can engage children in their online synchronous lessons by:

Connecting student interests with content
  • Include opportunities for games that are connected to the content delivery (Simon Says, scavenger hunts, I Spy).
  • Create lesson plans that are engaging and fun, and that incorporate children's interests.
Encouraging family engagement
  • Reach out to families and find out what their specific needs are. What are their fears and concerns for online instruction
  • Incorporate synchronous activities that include families, not just students.
  • Increase family engagement by sharing goals, objectives, and materials (for example, videos or readings) with families in advance.
  • Set expectations and boundaries for synchronous learning time.
  • Talk with families to help them understand the importance of their child's engagement as well as their own engagement in enhancing their child's school readiness skills.
Using multiple modalities
  • Visuals, visuals, visuals! And enthusiasm!
  • Incorporate many opportunities for movement and music, and provide activities that ask children to respond directly to teachers' instructions.
  • Identify 2-5 objectives for each session.
  • Focus on offering repeated opportunities to teach these objectives using multiple modalities.


Inspire Learning in this Moment

Teachers can inspire deep learning in a virtual setting by:

Promoting Classroom Organization
  • Create a predictable routine that your students can learn and expect each day.
  • Provide the technology needed for success.
  • Keep schedule and routine consistent while varying the delivery of content.
  • Avoid rote activities in which students follow along passively rather than egaging actively.
  • Utilize the element of surprise. Think outside the box.
Fostering Instructional Support
  • Differentiate instruction. Plan to engage the entire class, small groups, and individual students.
  • Provide meaningful, specific, and intentional feedback and praise. This also helps to model for families how they can support children during asynchronous learning.
  • Connect skills and concepts across activities. In the face-to-face classroom, it is easy to make connections between activities, or reference previous learning. Make the same true in the virtual classroom by planning how you will help students connect learning across a single day, a week, and a month.


Support for Teachers, Coaches, and Leaders

We can provide support to our educators by:

Offering self-care opportunities
  • Encourage educators to support their children and families through these complicated times. At the end of the day, if they can reflect on a single high-quality interaction with a child or a family member, they have accomplished the goal.
  • Provide reflective practice, counseling services, coaching, and training on self-care.
Providing regular check-ins
  • Visit classrooms often to check in on the team. Sometimes face-to-face connections are all that's needed.
  • Ensure that coaches and leaders are supporting teachers with frequent check-ins.
  • Listen to teachers' success, their concerns, and their needs.
Continuing to offer professional development
  • Include an opportunity for learning or extension with every request. For example, if teachers are expected to lead a story time activity, include short videos of other teachers leading a virtual story time or a virtual storytime checklist.
  • Support educator engagement and collaboration among colleagues. Find ways to meet educators where they are, value their perspectives, and encourage them to engage in meaningful discourse with their colleagues.
  • Make space for innovation. Educators often have the most innovative ideas to serve their children and families. Lift up and celebrate innovative practice.
  • Challenge educators to step outside what’s given and anticipate the unknown by coming up with those ideas that "would never work", then figure out a way to make them work!