Relationships that matter
Online schools offer an ideal platform for fostering meaningful one-on-one relationships. This is especially true for students who struggle with anxiety or other social disorders. These virtual environments are safe places for students to express themselves, find acceptance and develop friendships.
I teach twelfth-grade language arts classes online in live, recorded sessions. After walking through the day's lesson, I organize small groups based on students' needs, abilities and performance during the lesson. Here are the outcomes I've observed:
Students like meeting with me on an individual basis. I’ve had many students tell me they appreciate the chance to ask me specific questions without fear of judgement from peers. The time we spend together without distraction is incredibly valuable. I get to know my students in a setting where they have no one to impress. As a result, the conversations we have are deeper and more personal.
Students avoid judgement based on superficial factors. Many learners build relationships and friendships without having ever seen each other. One student called to tell me that a homeroom classmate reached out to her after she shared a tough story during our social-emotional learning lesson. She said this made all the difference for her and really helped to turn around her year. The two of them started a study group together, and I saw academic growth from both of them.
We can break down unhealthy mindsets and rebuild a positive frame for them. Many of our students come from challenging home environments or bad school experiences. As educators, it’s crucial that we model healthy habits for them. For example, I often tell students that when I need a little perspective, I’ll write a list of things for which I’m grateful—an exercise we got from our curriculum. Sharing about my own personal growth shows students that their teachers are people too. We have struggles just like students.
Our student population has been discouraged a lot in the past. Giving them the tools to believe everything is possible is a big deal for them. They’ve always thought that they can’t pursue their passions, but we teach them that they can, and show them direct paths for doing so. They start to realize their own worth, and that they can do anything they put their minds to. Seeing that kind of growth and change is incredibly rewarding.
Kate Farrell is a 12th-grade language arts teacher at Pikes Peak Online School. For the past year, the school has been using the 7 Mindsets SEL curriculum.
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