Teaching is relational. So much of what we do as educators and parents depends on the relationship we have with our kids. That is the same whether we are teaching or learning online or in the classroom. For this reason, the first tier of successful engagement is going to be through the adult relationships a child has in their life. The second will be accountability.

We don’t always have control over what is going on – whether we are an educator and attempting to reach parents who lack resources (either time, technology or physical) or a parent who is attempting to reach educators (people too, who might have priorities inside their home as they work remotely). Empathy and consistent communication is going to be your primary line of defense between losing learning or keeping kids from falling behind.

Be flexible. Everyone has a different level of training around technology, and the resources needed to access this technology. If you are well-versed in technology, consider making YouTube tutorials by recording your screen. Just make sure there is not sensitive information in the video (children’s headshots, personal info etc.). If you’re a parent, you are in a prime position to help other parents! You know what they need. If you can’t, or don’t have time, ask your teacher if they would be willing. We are all learning!

DON’T inundate your teacher or your parents with loooong emails. We are visual in nature. This is why I promote videos. If you send emails, keep them short, use bullet points, bold key points and don’t send emails more than twice a week. AFTER A WHILE, if you send long emails with too much information, it’s going to end up in the trash. Think like a marketer. People skim. So, make sure they skim what you want them to.

Educators, your students LOVE seeing YOUR face. I create videos for my kindergartners, and we create read alouds and post on YouTube. I have a YouTube channel for my website as well as my kindergarten team at my school. Yes, kids and families can google read alouds on YouTube, but it doesn’t keep that relationship growing between you and your students. They need to see your face. They need to see you! Nothing like a pandemic to get over your fear of the camera — at least that’s what it has taken for me! No one cares that your dog is in the background 🙂 Include them! That’s what I do!

Parents, consider making read alouds or videos of your own that you are comfortable sharing with the class. You can create an “unlisted,” YouTube video and only those with your link can see it. How fun is it to see what others are doing, and not just on your Zoom meetings?!

Bottom Line: Relationships build engagement!

But, what is engagement without accountability? The two go hand-in-hand. This is a tricky and sensitive topic. Expecting too much of yourself as a teacher, educator, parent or of your student will set you up for failure. So, let’s make sure we make appropriate accountability expectations.

Not everyone is going to jump on this new distance learning easily. I sure didn’t! I was more prepared than most, but no one was ready for a pandemic to change our life. This was not expected. So, here’s some ways I have provided accountability to parents and students as a teacher (keep in mind that each family is different and so I have alternatives for each family and go with the flow for each family). This is the same for our kids.

  1. Send weekly reports of online usage. We have what is called “Clever,” and this lets me know what online platforms kids are using, how long they sign in and which icons they visit. At the end of the week, I send this to families. This helps all families, including families working from home who can’t monitor their child’s every step because they too are working.
  2. Incentivize! I use what is called “online,” paw prides to encourage kids to access resources. Paw Prides in our building are paper tickets we would hand out when we caught someone being respectful, responsible or safe. I give a “virtual,” paw pride drawing each week and that student gets to pick a book (from a list I have) I read aloud and post on Fridays. I have all of them recorded ahead of time so that they are ready when they are picked. And don’t forget visual schedules, sticker charts, etc. Those work just as well at home as they do at school. Teachers, ask your parents what is working and what isn’t. Parents do the same. This dialogue is important!
  3. Snail Mail! Snail mail is not a thing of the past. With most things moving to online. Send a letter in the mail to your students. I still remember when my fourth grade teacher sent me a letter and addressed it as Miss Fyhrie. I felt so grown up! Parents, if there is a return address, write back! Or, connect with other families and have children write to each other in the mail.
  4. Flip the Behavior: What I mean by this, is that the same way we helped hold kids accountable at school, will work at home in reverse. Have parents who are willing, send you a photo of them doing their work, and send them an email back or phone call back telling them what a great job they are doing. Kids crave our attention, and that is often all they need to help them get moving.
  5. Parents, Include MANY transitions: kids need transitions and constant movement. For children struggling to do paper-pencil work, I have kindergarteners write first, then do Raz-Kids online. Then, children complete a math word problem, then DreamBox online. This helps keep kids moving and motivated. Writing is often the hardest subject because there is no practice online. It’s paper and pencil and go. This will only work though, if you expect quality work and aren’t afraid of holding out on other things until what you expect is completed. Don’t forget to add plenty of exercise. Kids need movement and if you are not in a place where the outdoors is accessible or can be safely accessed, GoNoodle.com is free and has lots of great exercise videos. It’s fun to do as a family as well. 6th Graders introduced my kindergartners to it.

In summary, accountability and relationships are two ways you will build the best engagement for online learning in early learners. Be flexible, consistent and empathetic. Approach each family and circumstance with a situation-based approach.

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