Keeping Students Connected: The Challenges and Opportunities of Remote Learning

Jess Smith, 3rd Grade Teacher and Lenovo Innovator

I am a teacher in 2020 and I feel like a superhero. A superhero who is constantly checking emails, running a digital classroom, running an actual classroom, responding to worried parents, staying on top of protocols, and doing her actual job. A superhero who wipes her tears with her cape at the end of the day hoping she is doing enough to impact her students in this strange new world of distanced, hybrid, and masked learning.

Turning challenges into opportunities

Challenges are part of the job. But teaching remotely brings a whole new level of challenges because a huge part of our job is interacting with our students. Technology, while a blessing during these times, is a struggle to have available to everyone.

Many students struggle with not having reliable or any Wi-Fi at home or not having more than one functioning device. Some students do not have the support at home to use technology to complete their work. But one of the biggest challenges is connecting to our kids.

How can technology support relationships, keep students motivated and foster learning?

While technology is a wonderful tool, it can also feel impersonal compared to the other school years of teaching in the classroom. The relationships that we form in-person are not the same as the relationships that are formed online. Some students who are on the quieter side or not as extroverted may feel isolated in their digital worlds. They are not as likely to reach out to peers or have peers reach out to them. “Out of sight out of mind” is a sad reality for some of these students who long to interact with their peers.

On the bright side, this is a time where students are able to become technology fluent. Students who were hesitant to present in front of their peers can now share their voice in a slide presentation, a video, or on programs like FlipGrid, Screencastify and PearDeck. Hiding behind a screen can certainly have negative effects, but for some students who are not comfortable public speaking or sharing their thoughts with peers or teachers because of anxiety or a lack of confidence, the screen amplifies their voice and gives them the power of thought like never before.

Every interaction counts

I have students chat me throughout the day asking clarifying questions or just sometimes a quick hello and conversation. These interactions are so important to foster for me because I want the kids to know I am here.

Relationships are built through communication. And if the way they are communicating with me is through technology, well, I’m going to go with it!

Moving forward, not backward

I know that at the end of this whole experience, if it ends, education will be forever changed. I, as an educator, will be forever changed. The challenges and reality of this time have made me think outside of the box on how to reach kids digitally and through technology. It’s allowed me time to appreciate technology for everything it offers outside my classroom and also how to utilize it more effectively within my classroom. Technology doesn’t put me in a box. It allows me to reach kids I haven’t reached before.

It also allows me to see the strengths of students I wouldn’t have seen before if it had not been for this pandemic. My biggest fear is that students are losing the ability to interact socially, read facial cues, and be listeners and participants. My goal as an educator, now more than ever, is to engage my students, whether on or off the screen, and let them know that they are important, worthy, and valuable of my time and the time of others.

Follow me on Instagram (@teachertalesofmisssmith) to be a part of my #LenovoInnovators journey and join me on my adventure as a teacher this school year.

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