by Katie Devlin, Secondary Social Studies Teacher
When I first became an online teacher three years ago, I felt as if I needed to adapt and acquaint myself with a brand new world. However, I knew that I still needed to present myself as the teacher that I knew I was; someone who was dedicated to her students and school and who really wanted her kids to succeed and do well.
In a cyber world, the computer is both a gift and a curse. It enables us to create lessons that are interactive and at the cutting edge of technology. However, it can be so hard to maintain that human connection in our digital world. As a fairly new educator who is currently in the midst of her fourth year teaching, I have found that connection is key to fostering student success. Here are some of the tenets of online teaching that I try to integrate into my daily practices as an online educator:
- Embrace your humanity! As I often stress to my students, we are all human. This means that mistakes will happen, as well as amazing successes in the school environment. In my live classes, I use my webcam so my students are aware of what I look like and see my smile as they enter my online classroom. When I create videos for courses, I use my camera so my students see that I am putting time and effort into crafting a (hopefully) great lesson for them. If I make a mistake, I acknowledge it and move forward; modeling to students that we can all overcome our missteps in the online world. Keeping a human element in an online world can foster connections.
- Make it a community! Throughout my years as an online teacher, I have stressed to many students that this is a community of learners, not just a teacher and students. I also use online mediums such as Twitter and Instagram to follow educators that inspire me. One of the things that has stood out most to me in the past year is that teachers also need to assume the role of learner in the classroom. If we aren’t willing to accept changes, we won’t move forward in an ever-changing society! In my courses, I offer students the chance to offer feedback on lessons.
Many students can be timid, so I stress to them that all feedback is valued and appreciated, even negative feedback. By showing students that they have a valued voice in the classroom and can indeed “teach the teacher”, a community is formed where everyone is valued.
- Keep in communication! The hardest part about working in an online environment is communication. Many students who come to our school are extremely shy and mentioned that they “don’t like talking”. This means that self-advocacy skills are often lacking. I’ve tried to diversify my means of communication with students at our school. This means that I text students, email them, use gchat as a communication means, and use the phone to contact. While a student may be shy on the phone, they could be comfortable expressing themselves in a different manner.
I’ve also found it important to ask students about their lives as well as how school is going. In the past, I have done check-in emails that ended with a fun question instead of asking about their grades. The insight I gained into the lives of my students was powerful and helped the human connection grow in our digital environment.
Although this list is short, there are many different ways to foster the human connection in our digital world. How do you do so? I’d love to see your feedback in the comments section below!