The first week of learning from home was an experiment in connecting with kids in a new way. I was sitting at the back of Janine Lavelee’s grade 7 class for a chance to say hi to her students. She connected with them using Google Hangouts and Go Guardian every day during their first week of learning from home; one class at 11:00 and one at 1:00. It was like listening in on a “sort of” private phone call. The students (not all of them, but most of them) joined the conversation via Google Hangouts for a chance to talk to her and each other. It was a bit of a mess the first time as they figured out who got to talk and when. The conversation was a little awkward at times. Sometimes there were siblings fighting in the background. Some of the students were snacking. The students were a little shy at first but after a few minutes, it was like listening in on a regular class. What surprised me was what they said. “I miss you Ms. Lavalee, when do you think we’re coming back?” was a common question and it had only been 3 days. By Friday the most common response was “I never thought I’d say this but I really miss school”. Some students talked about their challenges. They had to share their devices with their family. Finding a quiet spot to read in the house was hard. One student had to do his phys ed work out in the bathroom, the only place in the house with room at the time. They talked about how hard it was to be motivated to work instead of watching TV. Some had to help their siblings get their work done. It was difficult not to be distracted.
What was most obvious to me was that the students really craved the chance to connect. They wanted to hear their teacher’s voice and the voices of their classmates. Janine and I talked after each Hangout about what a great chance it was for her to connect with her students in a whole new way. She met their little brothers and sisters, their pets, saw the posters on the walls of their room and their messy living rooms. It was a chance to get personal. But what we really noticed was how much they wanted to see their teacher. Some of them had emailed her every day with questions, but it was that chance to see each other they really wanted and needed. Taking the time to do a Hangout with them was necessary.
Some teachers at SMS divided their class into groups of 6 and did Hangouts in small groups; they found it was easier to talk and ask questions. Some teachers did their whole class. Some teachers with students with no computer at home had to phone their students. But they found a way to make it work. We know the value of connecting with our kids and in this strange new world of social distancing and learning from home that doesn’t change. Our kids still need us!