Because of the pandemic, students do not have access to the familiar classroom life anymore. They have been immersed into protracted home isolation. Because of this, their sense of self has been challenged.
It is students’ identity that they use to forge their understanding of self-worth and that eventually affects their behaviors and choices. School has always been a source of messaging that fed into students’ sense of self. Suddenly, it has been replaced with limited online interactions.
We have conducted research about identity-safe classrooms and their effect on students. Such a classroom is one in which educators strive to make sure that a student’s sense of self is respected rather than ignored. During the year-long study of 80 classrooms, researchers documented the relationships and use of various materials and activities in those classrooms. The study showed that in identity-safe classrooms, children felt more belonging, liked challenging tasks, and performed better in overall.
So, what should an identity-safe classroom be like at the time of home isolation?
The main principles remain the same in both offline and online classrooms. Instead of ignoring personal differences, diversity has to be used as a valuable resource for education. All students have to know they are significant members of the learning community. The feeling of safety can be developed by supporting students in disproving negative stereotypes, and giving them a right of voice.
Creating a Caring Online Classroom
Now, educators cannot respond immediately to any confusion with a learning concept, or evaluate students’ comprehension by simply visually scanning the room.
Trusting relationships give children a chance to gain confidence and grow emotionally and academically. A distance-educating environment first requires more effort, but the level of trust can still be achieved if the educators strive to it.
In order to monitor how every separate student performs, teachers can contact from time to time by phone to talk about the student’s emotions and to suggest feedback on school assignments. It is a good idea to create a schedule for checking in each student. Educators can also cooperate with other teachers to divide students into smaller groups for check-ins.
Teachers should keep in mind that all students deserve equally valuable treatment, yet because of the inequities in access to technologies, not all students have a chance to attend online classes. One district remedied such a situation by creating a system to support all the students, even when it implied performing home visits and leaving care packages while practicing social distancing.
Social and emotional learning can be taught by articulating major values with such questions as: What do you think about empathy? How would you like to feel during online classes? Students can practice reflective listening skills, including paraphrasing and asking clarifying questions. It can help them feel understood and included.
In Zoom, there is a feature called “breakout rooms.” Small groups can discuss issues, and study various aspects of bigger topics — and then discuss it with the whole group. Educators can “drop in” to every separate room to encourage learning and to make sure interactions are respectful.
Encouraging Student Identity Through Diversity
Diversity has to be cherished. This diversity includes everything that makes students unique: race, ethnicity, culture, talents, and more. Educators can help their students examine diverse aspects of their social identities.
In these difficult times, students need encouragement in strengthening their identities. Teenagers may worry about losing contact with mates, and become disquieting about their life. By providing support, teachers can express faith in their ability to reach high expectations and success.
Journaling is a good way for students to track their emotions and develop confidence. Additionally, students can share various literature that concentrates on acceptance. Talking with family members, coming up with personal essays that go with pictures, or creating videos that show special family artifacts are all examples of projects that help acknowledge diversity and strengthen a sense of pride.
Identity-safe education should be adapted to distance learning since it is a flexible approach that helps students open up. Developing a sense of such safety includes recognizing each student’s unique features and strengths. Such a kind of education will help students easier adapt to these new circumstances and overcome the obstacles they are meeting. The confidence and resilience cultivated from this approach will significantly ease entry into the upcoming uncertain times.
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