As we know, our students’ brain development greatly impacts how they learn and their behavior. In particular, the areas of their brains that are changing the most are the reward systems, regulatory systems and relationships systems. As a result, our students desire new and novel activities, have an increased sensitivity to others’ opinions and thoughts about them, and their relationships with peers become their priority.
Therefore, can you imagine how our students are dealing with social distancing and not being able to spend time with their peers “in real life” aka IRL (you learned a new current acronym that they often use!)? Social interaction with others is important for everyone and research shows that healthy social connections are connected to good health and well-being. For many of our students, their friends and relationships are their life, therefore COVID-19 is really affecting them in a great way that we must be mindful of.
Although we are required to increase our social distance with one another for an unknown amount of time, we must be intentional in increasing the amount of social-emotional connectedness with our students. Therefore, in addition to providing our students with distance learning opportunities, we must also provide opportunities for our students to socially connect with each other.
Here are a few ideas on how to encourage social emotional connectedness with your students:
Give them an excuse to interact with each other
Admit it, you experienced a bit of joy when we had our first “virtual” Webex faculty meeting last week. To be able to “see” each other and interact with people outside of our home filled our hearts with something we have often taken for granted. Our students want to see their classmates (and even you!) and are dying to talk to each other. Even though a “group activity” may be a bit chaotic (and noisy) online, the students will be working together. And hey — if it’s a total flop, turn it into an SEL lesson and ask them what they learned and to identify the differences between distance learning and “IRL-learning”.
Provide rituals for class “meet ups”
Start and end virtual class meetings with opening and closing rituals. Rituals provide a grounded and predictable form for connection. Repeated over time, rituals invoke meaning and create a space for students to enter each day. You could start each meeting with a “check in” and ask a different question, such as, “What are you doing to pass the time?”, or “What is your favorite quarantine snack”? And a nice way to close the meeting is with an activity called “AAA”. Students can choose to either share words of Appreciation to someone, an A-ha from the class, or an Apology.
I will close with my own “A-HA”. I (actually, “Rhonda & Regina”) had the wonderful opportunity to “drop in” to two virtual check-ins with two different groups: a 6th grade class and an 8th grade class. Before I turned the video on, I simply watched the students and it was very clear how ALL of the students were truly happy to be able to connect with one another. The fact is, they did not HAVE to be there, but they all made the choice to log on, “press the link” and then engage with each other. This confirmed for me how important relationships and how we are truly made to be in social contact with one another.