Teachers across the country are navigating virtual back-to-school routines, so we caught up with two teachers at N.W. Harllee Early Childhood Learning Center in Dallas ISD to learn about what they’re doing to welcome students to the 2020-21 school year.

Kindergarten teacher Camerron Mason and 1st/2nd grade teacher Elizabeth Pizzurro shared several strategies they have implemented so far. Below is a summary of our conversation.

What are you considering as you welcome students back this year?

We know that we’ll be starting the school year virtually, and we’re doing synchronous learning which means we’ll be live with students for much of the day. We also know that once students come back to the classroom, we’ll be wearing masks, face shields or other protective gear.

What we know about virtual learning is that it’s hard to make the experience as personal as we can in person. We know that we want to get as personal as we can from a distance.

What are some of the welcome ideas you’ve come up with this year?

We are going to have a teacher parade but we didn’t want that to be the first time students see us. We want them to see us without our masks first! As a school, each teacher made a Bitmoji character and we sent our Bitmoji on a postcard which we mailed to each student in the class. The postcard had a little greeting on it and a QR code which led them to a little video of us welcoming our students. We had the postcards mailed out before meet the teacher night so they could see our faces outside of a virtual meeting format.

Another thing we did was take pictures of ourselves and put them on posters around the room. We want kids to see what we really look like and ensure them that we are smiling underneath the mask. It’s intimidating to meet someone for the first time with a mask on! So we want them to see us without our masks in a safe way, which we decided to do through photos and posters.

How are you thinking about the start of the year, in terms of getting to know students and building a class community virtually?

We are focused on adapting get-to-know-you activities to a virtual format. We are doing All About Me posters, having students fill up a brown paper bag with items that are meaningful to them, and using Google Jamboard so students can form connections with each other and with us. We’re thinking of all the ways we connect with students in person and figuring out how to do that virtually.

In what ways are you attending to students’ social emotional needs as they come back to school this year?

Just like we have feelings check-ins at school, we have created those online. Students can check in with different emojis on our Google Classroom and we can see how they’re feeling when they log on at the start of the day. If any student lists an emotion that makes us think we should connect with him or her, we can do a check-in during group time or during an off period just to see if the student needs any additional emotional support.

Any closing thoughts?

We know that forming relationships is the most important part of starting the school year and we are committed to figuring out how to do that virtually! We hope these ideas help other teachers and we look forward to learning what other creative ideas teachers have come up with!

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