30 Ways to Build Caring Relationships on Zoom
With more and more schools offering remote learning opportunities and parents flocking to virtual school options during this high risk back to school season, teachers and parents are more involved than ever in trying to figure out how teaching and learning can take place online and at a distance.
After extensively researching virtual schools attending open houses galore, I discovered that the one trait of a virtual school I was looking for, I could not find —an emphasis on relationships. With some, students have the chance to meet with a teacher twice a week and ask questions during office hours but the learning relationship was consistently deferred to the parent or caregiver, called in virtual schools, “the learning coach.” Research time and again has shown that no matter how interesting the curriculum, if there are not safe, caring relationships in place daily and a regular aspect of a child’s learning, a child may struggle. And that research played out before my eyes last Spring as I observed children who were doing distance learning while their parents worked full-time at home and could not serve as a learning coach. Gifted, high performing and highly intelligent students failed without an adult relationship regularly engaged with and helping support their learning.
So what do we do? The answers right now are unclear, highly complex, and will be variable with each and every family’s needs. One thing though is for certain, teachers and parents are both required now to play significant roles in their child’s learning more than ever before. Communication between teacher and parent will be vital to truly support distance learners (but that’s another article that will be posted in the coming weeks!).
Meanwhile, as parents and teachers facilitate learning through Zoom whether its social learning by getting networks of students together when not engaged in academic content to connect or holding class discussions on academic content, all of us need plenty of ideas to build those caring relationships online. Parent friends and I, part of our original baby playgroup, created an experiment this summer – a virtual summer camp – and tried out a number of these ideas.
This summer, two friends and I experimented with a weekly virtual summer camp trying out various structures and strategies on Zoom. There were a few structures that worked well with a group of children. We taught nonverbal signals to communicate. Thumbs up if you agree. Thumbs down if you disagree. Hands up if you want to speak. Thumb to heart and pinkie out pushing outward to express “me too” agreement on what’s being said. We used a go-round structure so that each child had the chance to give input on a given question. Be sure to go over ground rules to 1.) listen when the featured speaker is talking, 2.) raise your hand (or other signal) to speak, and 3.) say “pass” if you cannot think of a response. Voting with a thumbs up works well for quick decision-making.
Here is a top thirty list to get you started.
- Play name games at the beginning of the school year for the first whole week. It takes awhile to truly learn names. You could do the Adjective Greeting — “I’m joyful Jennifer.” Or “My name is _______ and I like to _________” I love The Morning Meeting book for more name games.
- Ask each person to share something unique about them.
- Brainstorm ideas and decide together on a learning team name.
- Create team identifiers collaboratively like a theme song, or theme chant or cheer, a logo or image, a mascot, or a t-shirt or mask design.
- Bring an object that best describes who you are.
- Bring an object that best describes your family.
- Ask participants to tell what they are proud of related to their heritage.
- Engage in cooperative story-telling. Start with any beginning of the story prompt such as, “there once was a young witch who didn’t know how powerful she was…” Have each person add to the story.
- Brainstorm ideas together. Pick a topic like ice cream cone flavors or ideas for fun Zoom meetings. Share the rules including no judgement on any ideas; all are welcome; and creativity and piggybacking are encouraged.
- Could take turns teaching each other about a prosocial cause each person cares about. Be sure to include information on the mission, services and how to get involved.
- Bring a family heirloom that offers a sense of culture and history. Tell about it.
- Most were immigrants to the U.S. at one point or another. Learn about and tell your families’ immigration story or share the story tracing your Native American heritage.
- Collect baby pictures and show a slide show. Ask for guesses on who the person is.
- Share a few lines from your favorite song, poem or story.
- Share the book that’s been most meaningful to you and why.
- Share your favorite book or movie character and why you love or admire him or her.
- Share COVID-kindness stories. We all have the “other” stories that we tend to recount. But also, people have risen to their best during this stressful time. What small acts have you noted?
- Do a cooking challenge. Decide on three ingredients that have to be used. Establish a timeframe and have each child cook or bake or assemble ingredients to create a snack, dessert or meal.
- Share what each person feels gratitude for.
- Show a piece of artwork you’ve done and explain why it’s meaningful.
- Host a meet-the-family gathering in which all family members introduce themselves.
- Have a pet show. For those who do not have pets, have them talk about their favorite animal and bring a stuffy or picture to represent the animal.
- Take the Harry Potter houses’ quiz and see which house each child is placed in.
- Try cooperative song writing. Decide on a song everyone in your group knows. You could have all participants write their top five songs in the chat box. See if there are any common songs making sure all know it. Then, have each person write a paragraph individually on something or someone they love. Share the paragraphs with one another noting key words and phrases. Now link them together into lyrics. Sing it!
- Try cooperative music-making (think: Jimmy Fallon’s classroom instruments). Bring your favorite instrument to the Zoom meeting. Play an agreed upon song and play along!
- Try out cooperative poetry. Think of a creative prompt like “two kids walk through their backyard swing set and discover a portal to a jungle just beyond.” Establish the rules. Will it rhyme? Will each contribute one word, one sentence, three sentences? Now go around and compose a poem with someone designated as note-taker.
- Create a mural. Brainstorm ideas for the desired subject of a multi-paneled drawing. Divide the subject by the number of Zoom panels they are present. A facilitator could sketch it out to give a general sense. Then, play inspirational instrumental music while each member creates their part of the drawing. Hold up the finished piece together and take a photo of your creation!
- Use Go Noodle to share the screen and play a song and movement. Each person can try and keep up with the dance moves.
- Do a photo scavenger hunt. Create a list of fun items to find like: something purple, something alive but not human, something you are passionate about, something you love to eat. Share slide shows with one another of your photo collection.
- Create a cooperative play. This takes time and effort but with a group that meets weekly, this is possible. Decide on a theme all love. Use brainstorming, voting, story boarding and consensus building to make story decisions and also, decide on how the performance will look and feel.
In testing these strategies out, I found that the group of kids we worked with were highly collaborative when adults facilitated these processes (though were less so when left on their own). That means that children will gain valuable online collaboration skills practice by engaging in this kind of social Zoom connecting. That old proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” is a great one for the moment. How can we create opportunities for meaningful, caring connection during this time when in-person connection is so limited? We can not only survive this time, but thrive if we begin to get creative with ways to build our caring learning communities.
* A shout out thank you to Sharon Perez and Kimberly Allison, Camp Cheerio virtual summer camp counselors and dear friends who tested these collaboratively this summer.