Relationships: Now More Than Ever, Part 1

We at Collaborative Classroom know that relationships are at the heart of building a community of learners within a classroom. This knowledge is backed by decades of research on how important social-emotional learning is in growing self-reliant, responsible, and kind children who work well with others and go on to lead successful lives.

I am reminded of my student Samantha. After four years in our tiny remote school in Colorado, her family moved to New York City. Overnight she had replaced views of snow-capped peaks for intimidating skyscrapers and peaceful sounds of the country for blaring horns and squealing brakes. To say that Samantha was terrified is an understatement. The night before she was to start school in what was to her foreign and scary surroundings, Samantha called many of her classmates and me. We all bolstered our dear friend, convincing her she could be as successful in making friends and doing schoolwork in New York City as in our isolated community in the mountains of Colorado. What Samantha knew is that we all cared deeply for her and that each of us would take the time to listen. This knowledge came from four years of forming positive relationships within the four walls of our classroom. Samantha headed out the next morning emboldened to use all of her social-emotional skills to become successful in a dramatically different setting than what she had known.

Relationships in the Online Environment

In a previous blog, I shared some suggestions for forming relationships during online instruction. Over the last year, we have all done the best we can to form solid relationships using online learning platforms via a computer screen. Recently I was honored to watch a young teacher conduct an online SIPPS lesson for a five year old from a remote Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Although this brand-new teacher had done an amazing job getting to know her young student while teaching him beginning reading skills, they had not once been in the same room together. The positive regard these two held for one another shone through each activity. His reading skills were also quite impressive: eagerly he decoded new words, recognized sight words, and read his little book. It was also encouraging to see that this young teacher knew members of his family as well as the names of all of the family pets, some of which were very active during the lesson! Teachers peeking into and being a part of a student’s home has been a positive aspect for many online learning situations around our country. The fact that this teacher knew her student and his family so well speaks positively about the potential of online learning.

Recently, while coaching a teacher working with a group in Being a Reader Small-Group Reading Set 9, I witnessed first-hand how children can see online platforms as a way to connect with others. The group was reading the book Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole, in which Mouse is not comfortable eating lunch in Mole’s dark, underground home and Mole struggles to see in Mouse’s brightly lit upstairs house. One precocious third grader said, “They need to have a Zoom lunch! That way they can each be comfortable in their own homes but still eat together.” Obviously for her, online meeting platforms like Zoom are a positive way for friends and family (and classrooms) to get together. Unfortunately, this is simply not true for all students in our country. Although the SIPPS teacher mentioned above teaches an amazing daily lesson, many of her students fail to log in for these opportunities. Others log in, but are stressed and fatigued by this remote type of learning.

As we lean in to the hope that soon online learning will no longer be the norm, we must turn our attention to rebuilding our classroom communities. Within any classroom, there are several different relationship dynamics that affect each and every member. Of these, I have found three to hold the most importance for both academic and social-emotional growth: student to student, teacher to student, and teacher to parent. Each of these dynamics can support or hinder a student’s growth. When the teacher and parents are at odds, the children suffer; when the students are at odds, the children suffer; when the teacher and students are at odds, the children suffer.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will discuss these three relationships and share suggestions for ways to take full advantage of each.