Most students are returning to in person classes this coming school year and may have started to spend time with friends over the summer. As COVID-19 restrictions lessen and it becomes safer to socialize, many students may be eagerly awaiting a return to school. There are some exceptions; however, including families that have at-risk loved ones or students who have been struggling with their mental health. Despite this being a time of excitement and celebration for many students, some may be feeling more isolated and lonelier than ever.

Here are four ways you can continue to support your virtual students to ensure a successful school year:

  1. Prioritize a way for them to communicate with their peers. Whether it be a virtual game at recess or creating a way for them to see other students during class, it will be important to foster socialization for those students still at home.
  2. Fear of socializing doesn’t imply a lack of interest. If some of your students are online learning for mental health reasons, that does not mean they don’t want to be social with their peers. Ask your students one-on-one the ways they would like to be included in the classroom.
  3. Continue some of the creativity you’ve used during last year’s online learning experience. Even though most of your students are back to the classroom in person, the students at home will still benefit from all of the creative ways you helped your classroom get through 2020 – such as creating an online profile or doing a pen pal system.
  4. Create a safe classroom for all families. Set up a phone call with your remote students and their families to learn if there are ways you can create a safe space to help them return to the classroom in person. Are they struggling with fear of being with peers or health risks? Is there a way to problem solve with them? 

But let’s face it, making a connection with your students virtually is much more difficult than in-person. Here are some suggestions for how to liven things up and keep kids engaged.

  • Have each student create a page about their likes, hobbies, family, etc. Create a slideshow or other means of sharing this with the class so they can get to know each other.
  • Create work groups and help the groups get connected online using applications such as Zoom, Google Hangouts or Slack. People are much more likely to speak up in smaller group settings (maximum of five people).
  • Try to have one on one time with each student at least weekly. We know this won’t be easy with all of your other responsibilities. But you’ll have more engaged learners if you show them you’re willing to make the effort to get to know them personally.
  • Encourage younger students to have a pen pal in the class. They can write letters to one another or share artwork. This can help improve writing skills and creates connections with peers. Added bonus: They will learn how to address an envelope!