This school year has been unlike any other. Our educational systems are being tested in ways we probably would have never dreamed of or completely revamped overnight. Just when you think you have a plan or direction to start in, procedures or expectations change.
One thing that has not changed is the students we get to work with. They are still the foundation and focus of our careers, so how do we connect with them and make them feel safe during a time that can feel anything but? Taking the time to forge new relationships can be a tricky task each year, trying to make connections through a computer screen can be even trickier. One activity I have loved doing each year is creating a “First-Grade Friends” journal with answers to questions asked during what we call “interviews” across our first few days together. These journals become a go-to reading option for independent reading time and give students a chance to get to know each other as we start the year together. The question for this year was how do I turn this activity digital?
Thankfully, educators are a sharing and creative bunch, so I was able to find a template for students to complete online as one of their first assignments for this school year. Out of 17 online students, 7 students participated in the activity. Upon reflection, would more students have participated if a video/audio submission was available? This activity came during a time while we were still figuring out what was possible with our online platforms, so a lot has been learned since those early days. Even though the participation was low (under 50%) valuable information was still there for the students that did complete the digital document, for example, one student loves baked brie while another enjoys quiche as their favorite food. I was even able to learn about which students had traveled abroad. While this can superficial on the surface, students may not be comfortable sharing deeper thoughts or ideas with a stranger. Before we get to the big, vulnerable stuff we first need to be comfortable with each other and that is what the goal was for this assignment. Sharing about ourselves to find common ground, I too love baked brie.
While I would go back and change a lot of what was decided/executed for this assignment, I am thankful for the opportunity to get to know my students before I had even met them in person. By starting with a relationships first approach I believe I am able to connect with my students and provide them with a safe place to be vulnerable. Relationship building is a year-long task, and I am curious to see what my students will share as we navigate this year together.