Let Students Disconnect … If They Need To

I was talking to my students about our upcoming return to in-person learning. There was a lot of excitement and speculation about what it would feel like to finally return to campus. My school went online in March of 2020. We were planning to reopen in February of 2021, but then the local political situation deteriorated and we were forced back online. So, it has been a long, long, long, LONG time since our students have been in a classroom. 

During our conversation, the students and I joked about the differences between online vs in-person learning and one idea that popped up was how to mimic the online experience when we were back in person, especially the ability for students learning online to disconnect from the classroom when they felt overwhelmed. 

When my school went fully online in 2020, I was frustrated at times by students who turned off their cameras, or just disappeared from time to time. I thought to myself “Ha! Enjoy the ability to ghost out now, but you won’t be able to do that when in-person learning resumes!!”

But, over time I realized that this need to leave class wasn’t a symptom of avoidance or laziness. This ghosting was a necessity. Students, from time to time, grew exhausted from the stress of online and on-camera learning and needed to disconnect and regroup. 

Rather than celebrating the inability for students to ghost when they were back in the classroom, I needed to find a way to duplicate that ability for students. Transitioning back to in-person learning was going to present some challenges. Students would have to be dressed for school, and no longer in their comfortable clothes. They would be mixing with other young people – something they haven’t done in more than a year. They would be seated at a desk, in the open – unable to shield themselves from scrutiny (real or imagined). Sitting at a desk, in a classroom, surrounded by your peers used to be normal. But, it isn’t normal now. 

And it will take a while to get used to the classroom experience again!

So, I wondered how I could duplicate the home/online experience in the classroom. 

Here are some ideas I came up with:

  • Provide students with some sort of discrete signal to let me know that they are not feeling it at that moment – to not call on them. I am thinking of some sort of visual symbol they put on their desk – a post-it note, or an object of some kind. 
  • Give students the option to take extended bathroom breaks. Students will signal that they are going to the bathroom, but once out of the room, they can go for a walk or find a quiet place to sit and chill. When they are ready, they can return to the room. In the past, I would limit bathroom visits to one student at a time. But, when school returns, I will bump that up to two or three – I will play it by ear at first to see how this goes.
  • Build in breaks for movement or quiet reflection. I used to run a tight ship, running my class from start to finish to maximize instructional time. When we return to the classroom, I will need to restructure my practice using the Maslow-before-Bloom philosophy. 
  • Be clearer in terms of my instruction and assessment – really focus on ensuring students understand what we are doing and why. I also need to give students the tools to reflect upon and assess their own progress. I can no longer rely upon the student compliance processes I used in the past. I must instead build my class around student self-efficacy. 
  • Be the teacher I would be for the latter part of a school year. I used to subscribe to the “Don’t smile until December” school of thought, focusing on routines and structure, instead of relationship building. I will need to put student social-emotional needs front and center from day one. 

I will continue to think about the upcoming transition for my school and my students. And, I will do my best to be flexible when the students return – throwing out what is not working and trying new ideas. This return to the classroom will be the proverbial work in progress. 

Although this transition back to in-person learning will be challenging and have its ups and downs, I look forward to it with enthusiasm and joy!

This will be awesome!

Ed X! 

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