Originally published in Education World – December 11, 2019
The rate of bullying in American classrooms is alarmingly high and our students are increasingly at risk of being bullied—both in person and online. According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, more than 1 out of 5 students are reported victims of bullying.
But for many students across the country, online public school provides a safe learning environment, free from the stress and potential trauma of this epidemic. As an online teacher for middle school students, I really strive to foster a classroom that helps bullying survivors and all students succeed and thrive. Here are three ways how:
I Help Them Build Trust in Me
The middle school years are critical times in which students—especially bullying survivors—need the guidance of teachers they can trust. According to a 2013 report published by New York University, if teachers form a positive bond with their students, the classroom can become a supportive and safe place to engage in learning, both academically and socially. Trust is essential in any relationship, especially one where so much is at stake. I need to trust my students and they need to be able to trust me. Students need to know that their teachers are opportunity-makers, not obstacles.
One of the ways I do this is by inviting my students to get to know me, so that they feel more open to sharing stories about themselves. I aim to be more than a face on their computer, and to let them know they are more than just an online profile to me. As students join my class sessions, I greet every single one of them by name. If I do something over the weekend, I might share it; they can share with everyone by speaking in front of the entire class, or send direct messages to me if they are shy to address the group. For example, a student recently shared that he had a baseball game coming up, so I followed up during class to ask how it went (his team won 10 to 9!). It’s important for my students to be able to share what’s important to them, so that they feel connected and can find common ground. A sense of connectedness is critical for encouraging their education. My virtual classroom has become a safe space to foster working partnerships and friendships, just like any other successful learning environment. Teachers serve as role models and are often the first adults students look to for support outside of their family. With the impact teachers can have on their students, it’s vital that these relationships are built on trust.
I Help Them Build Trust in Themselves
As a sixth-grade science teacher, labs are an essential part of bringing my lessons to life. I have been amazed at how these formative learning experiences can take off, even in my online classroom at Tennessee Virtual Academy. By creating interactive and engaging labs, I bring students together and encourage them to think hard, working through experiments and challenges in real time. They work with each other to investigate a problem and reach a conclusion together.
It’s important that I give my students the guidance they need to complete an experiment as independently as they can. Typically, I do a demonstration in class that gets students excited to do it on their own. By walking them through step-by-step instructions on how to complete the experiment for themselves, students raise their confidence levels and gain a better sense of the science behind it.
For example, when I teach food chains, all the students dissect an owl pellet. This is done virtually with interactive images and videos, with students across the state participating together. I first demonstrate the lab, then students complete the lab on their own, ask questions, and share observations with me and their classmates through their microphones and chat windows. Each one is on their own journey of scientific discovery, sharing what they learn along the way.
I Help Them Build Trust in Others
Starting on day one, it’s important for teachers to create a safe and welcoming classroom. Not only do I want students to believe in themselves while learning, but it’s also important that they feel comfortable working with others.
To foster this mindset, I encourage students to be respectful of all opinions, and that there is no wrong answer in class. Rather, there is always an opportunity to learn and grow. Introducing this growth mindset helps the students encourage and celebrate each other in all their lessons. By recognizing their triumphs and helping each other, they come together as a team and support each other’s learning.
At the end of the day, my goal as an educator is to help students learn how to ask questions and think for themselves. By building meaningful relationships in any classroom, teachers can show their students that they can achieve anything. When students trust their learning environment, they will feel confident to take their education to higher levels.
Heather Dorey has been an educator for 17 years. Heather currently teaches 6th grade environmental science at Tennessee Virtual Academy, an online public school powered by K12.
To learn more about Tennessee Virtual Academy, visit https://tnva.k12.com/