Reimagining Remote Teaching Volume 17 | GCTC

Reimagining Remote Teaching Volume 17

by Dr. Kerri McKenna - January 12, 2021

As more and more High School students take advantage of dual-enrollment opportunities, our classrooms do not look the same as they did five or six years ago. Most of us signed up to teach adults and now teach an array of students, from Sophomores in High School to well-established adults.

Teaching both groups of students have many similarities, but there are differences between the two audiences. The good news: when you adapt to work with High School students, your engagement with adult students will also increase.

Successful teaching of High School students is about one thing: relationships. High school students are wise enough to know when someone is not authentic and genuine with them, while simultaneously lacking the wisdom to know they need to just accept it and focus on the work.

If you do not build healthy, genuine relationships with your students, they will not engage, participate, or show you the respect you deserve. And, when we think about it – we all know this is true. We were all teenagers once, and some of us even have our own teens and preteens in our homes.

Teenagers are not much different than dealing with a toddler. They need to know they are in a safe space in your classroom so they can safely flex their more advanced thinking skills and take risks. They need to know their mistakes will be accepted with encouragement and support. Often, just like the toddler, they need creative opportunities to be able to explore their content repeatedly. They do not learn a skill with just one lecture or one video. They need to hear it, then experience it, then duplicate it, then complete an assessment on it to truly sink in. Oh, and don’t forget – all of this in a creative environment where they can explore their identity and begin to shape their own thoughts. 

There are a handful of strategies which can aid you in maximizing your relationships with your students. 

  1. Embrace Theater: No, I am not asking you to enter a world of improve and goofiness in the classroom. Instead, I am telling you to exaggerate your communication style. Are you sarcastic? Make sure the sarcasm is on overload and blatantly obvious. Students will love the jokes – but only if they clearly know they are jokes. Many times, when teaching adults, we can get away with our dry senses of humor. Our students, however, do not always get this and can take comments meant to be humorous to heart. Additionally, make sure your tone is upbeat and positive. Use significantly more positive and supportive language than you would traditionally use with adults. This allows students to feel encouraged and keeps the energy level up in class. Finally, make sure you include critical feedback for the class with a healthy dose of enthusiasm. It’s not just “stop talking”. Instead, it could be worded such as “ok, everyone, take two seconds to complete this poll: Are we talking too much?” and throw it out there to your students. Then, once they acknowledge their talking, say “OK, now that that’s settled” .....and remind students that the chat is for our classroom conversations, not lunch discussions! In the end, you must remember teenagers are on the cusp of becoming adults. They will engage with adult behaviors but are insecure and need lots of positive reinforcement for healthy engagement and relationships. Tease them. Enjoy them. Encourage them.
  2. Consistency is Key: The most effective way to build a connection with your students is to provide consistent structure to your course. Students need to know what to expect, how they will be graded, and, most importantly, that you will not change the rules mid-thought. When you lack structure, you quickly lose the respect of your teenage students. Instructional time is lost, and your students can tell you are disorganized and do not care about the class as much as they do. Set the tone with consistent policy and procedure, while also remaining approachable for your students. When they believe you will treat everyone consistently; you will be able to show healthy boundaries and establish a positive learning environment.
  3. Embrace Theater, Part II: You must teach with enthusiasm and passion. You must show excitement for being with your class and with your subject matter. When you show exuberance, it rubs off on your students. If you show monotone, flat affect and tone of voice, well, you get the reaction Ben Stein did with “Anyone, anyone.....”
  4. Positivity is contagious: It does not matter how challenging your day is, or how frustrated you might be with everything going on around you. You cannot allow your emotions to infiltrate and corrupt your classroom. This also includes the way you view your students. If you think poorly of your students, it will be obvious. If you blame them for not being prepared, it will be obvious. If you criticize them, you will lose them for good. If you cannot be upbeat and positive with your students, it will strongly impact your ability to teach and make a positive difference in their lives. Instead, offer praise, provide positive support, and remember we can inspire students to achieve greatness every time we interact with them. Don’t settle for your own second-best by not showing up and engaging every single moment with them.
  5. Make Learning Fun: Engage your students by giving them case studies, small group activities, and allowing them to think. Thinking is fun. Processing is even better. Employers point out how our country does not know how to critically think – but how can they when they have been literally told what to think during lectures? When we lecture, we do the thinking. Not the students. Combine active learning opportunities and engage your students in Critical Discussions on content. Work through it together – and allow your class to become enthusiastic and positive!
  6. Tell Stories: Instead of lecturing from PowerPoints, tell stories from your real-world experiences with the content. Students will enjoy your stories, listen, and begin to make connections. When you allow students to think for themselves and then begin your Critical Discussions, use your stories to punctuate important ideas. This allows your students to make connections and find the information to be powerful. It also allows you to be positive, enthusiastic, and show your authentic self. High School students look for authenticity. When you can break down barriers and be in the classroom WITH them, you become genuine and they become motivated. High School students are not “lucky to be in your class” - you are all in class together. When you are part of the journey with them, they step up and work harder.
  7. KNOW them. Not just know them: It is important you take the time to learn about your students and who they are. Find out what they think about, and what motivates them to be successful in life. If you only focus on the content, you will lose them. If you do not show them passion for knowing who they are, why would they bother showing you passion in your classroom? Honestly, it truly is as simple as that. One of the easiest ways of creating this atmosphere is to personally say hello to every student as they enter your classroom. It lets them know they are important, and that you want to KNOW them.
  8. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: I hate to break it to you, but your experience and credentials does not earn respect from a teenager. The only way you can earn their respect is by respecting them first. Singling someone out, embarrassing them, using sarcasm (that is not over the top for humorous effect) or yelling at the whole class is the fastest way to make sure you lose your classroom. The most important concept to consider, here, is also your implicit biases towards your students. If you find yourself blaming them or criticizing them, you need to be careful that tone does not come across in your classroom. Typically, it does, and high school students are like bloodhounds. They can sniff out someone who is fake or who does not want to be there quickly.
  9. Make Connections: It is important you allow your students an opportunity to engage with you on a personal level that is professional and healthy. For example, ask them for Netflix recommendations, their favorite song, their favorite movie. Even consider looking through this LINK of 1001 Questions to Ask your students to find topics to discuss. This makes you more genuine and “down to earth” to your students. Most importantly, it gives you the opportunity to laugh with each other and create the “team” atmosphere students seek.
  10. Go the Extra Mile: High School students need to know they are more than just a number or body in your classroom. They need to know they are valued for their individuality and that we see their struggles as belonging to them. When they have a legitimate issue, it is important to be understanding. Use it as an opportunity to show that perfection is not required, but responsibility is. One of our colleagues demonstrated how going the extra mile is rewarding when he shared this story with me today: I just had a student that I was working with at the end of last semester tell me about the challenges she had last semester. She said I had helped her with all the school issues, so she felt like she should thank me for supporting her. Our colleague went the extra mile, his student passed, and her dedication to completing the course is based on the respect and trust he earned by showing her she was important.