Scarlett Tannetta
Kelly Knopf-Goldner
Liz Leidel
No surprise that here at WriteBoston, we take a lot of inspiration from writers. At this moment, one writer’s words in particular are resonating with us. Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

There is a lot we will forget about this time in history, but we are not likely to forget the way we feel in the midst of this global pandemic: scared, uncertain, anxious, frustrated, bored, confused, and disconnected .

Our students feel the same--and then some. 

And as the crisis continues, the challenge to stay connected in a virtual setting will persist.
The good news? To close this distance and reestablish ties, schools are responding in amazing ways

As WriteBoston coaches, we are in touch with teachers all over the greater Boston area. We are blown away by the creativity and ingenuity teachers are using to connect to their students in virtual spaces. Teachers know, now more than ever, that connection is everything .  

Because for students to learn, they have to feel connected.  

Maya Angelou’s words resonate right now when we think about how students will look back on this moment; they will remember the people who made them feel calm, safe, cared for, capable, and motivated.
The Coaching Connection Weekly Newsletter
The WriteBoston coaches are launching this newsletter for the teachers we support. You have been working under extraordinary circumstances to continue educating your students; we want to offer you anything that might make your job a bit less daunting. 

We are in new territory here too, but our goal with this email is to share inspiring stories from our networks, useful teaching resources, and encouragement. As your WriteBoston coaches, we are committed to helping you navigate through this challenging time.
You Already Use It; Here's a Twist
There might be times that we share a new resource, website or digital tool we think you'll find particularly helpful, but we also want to share ideas that rely on tools you’re probably already using: Google Forms, Google Classroom, Zoom, Google Meets, and regular old email . That’s where we’ll start this week.

While the examples we will share today all require access to technology, we will focus on how to support students with less consistent access in coming weeks.

Here are a few suggestions for CONNECTING and BUILDING COMMUNITY in your virtual classroom.

#1: Create structures within virtual settings that mimic the experience of an “in-person” setting.

Virtual work space : Brittany Fitzgibbon invited her students in Chelsea to a Google Meets session, not for any instruction or discussion, but to offer a space for students to be while working on their history assignment.

She described the experience: “Sitting here in a Google Meeting with my students. They're mostly working silently while I DJ for everyone. They keep occasionally smiling and saying things like, 'This is nice,' and 'I miss you guys.' Before today they were getting literally no work done. But with the small addition of friendly faces and a silent community, they're all diligently working. I'm glad we've created this work space for their success. But I'm also reminded of how much we all need each other, even if it's just to be there supporting one another.”

Small group discussions : In your classroom teaching, you would regularly create opportunities for small group discussion and/or turn and talks. In Zoom video conferencing, you can mimic this by using the “break-out rooms” feature to break up any whole class discussions or direct instruction with opportunities for student-to-student interactions.

Here is a support article with a short (less than 3 minutes) video showing how to use this feature when you host a meeting.

A few things to note about break-out rooms: 
  • If you are the host (as the teacher) you can pop into different break-out rooms to check in, offer support or additional feedback and monitor small group discussions. 
  • You can assign groups randomly or manually create and adjust groups live. 
  • Unfortunately, this feature is not part of Google Meets, so if you want to use break-out rooms, you’d have to set up a Zoom meeting.
#2: Integrate regular check-ins and opportunities for your students to share how things are going for them.

Check in on access and obstacles: Kat Korolkova, a high school English teacher at Chelsea High School, created a short check in using Google Forms that asks her students about their access to tech, how online learning is going and what has been getting in the way.

She adds, I made it a quiz so that you can directly respond to students’ answers and I plan on sharing it via google classroom.”   She was happy to see that several students who she hadn’t been able to reach until that point completed the form.

Here is a copy that you can use or edit as needed for your own students.

Another version of a check-in can be found here, courtesy of Edutopia ( 7 Ways to Maintain Relationships During Your School Closure). It includes a place for students to:
  • Share how they are doing
  • Report their (school-related and non-school) plans for the day
  • Request a check in from a member of the school team

Encourage personal interactions alongside assignments: When creating assignments in Google Classroom, students have three different communication tools within their response screen: they can
  • turn in the assignment
  • send you a private comment 
  • share a public comment to the class  

Here is a video that explains these three options, as well as some ideas about how to use the class comments section (video creator, John R. Sowash, has many quick, user-friendly videos about using Google Classroom if you are new to this or looking for other ways to use it).

Below is a screenshot of the student view of an assignment that encourages students to use all three forms of communication.

#3: Maintain the relational “small touches,” routines and rituals that help build and maintain your community and students’ sense of belonging.

Maintain daily routines: Karyssa Budd, a middle school teacher at McKinley South End Academy sends a daily email with a list of activities that mimic many of the activities she would be doing in class.

She starts every email with the introduction, “Here are today’s activities to keep you connected with and engaged in what we would be doing in class. Please know that these activities are not intended to replace school, but rather maintain our community and learning momentum in this time away.” 

And the list follows a predictable routine, with community building activities that she had included in class, such as a culture video, journal writing and skill practice using the same programs they used before schools closed.

Continue classroom celebrations: Angela Gordon, 5th grade teacher at the William Monroe Trotter School is used to taking time to give shout outs to students, celebrate their final drafts of writing with an on-line publication party, and even their birthdays. She is now doing this during the last few minutes of class on Zoom, telling her students to Come dressed in their best, with their favorite snack.
We want to hear from you!
In the coming weeks, we'll address challenges such as:
  • Motivation when not assigning grades
  • Low-tech options for student assignments
  • Time management for students and teachers

You can always reach us by email:

Be in touch if you have stories, suggestions or challenges you'd like to share. Also, if you know someone who would like to get added to this weekly newsletter, just have them send us an email.