Making Connections Before School

MICDS teachers were excited to re-connect with their students this fall, and many couldn’t wait for the first day to dive into meeting them and starting to form the important relationships that build the foundation of a successful education. Teachers from Junior Kindergarten through 12th grade took time during their summer to reach out to their new students through a variety of means.

Lower School teachers reached out to their students with introductory notes and Zoom calls. The junior and senior kindergarten classes enjoyed an online orientation, too, right before school started so they could personally hear from their teachers about what it would be like on our campus this fall. First Grade Teachers Kara Pracht and Robin Campbell sent their new students a colorful letter and gave them a sneak peek at what is in store for them this year: meeting fairy tale characters, a (virtual) trip to China, and learning about different communities.

Eighth Grade Math Teacher and Advisor Krystal White usually kicks off her new advisory with a service project, often at the Saint Louis Area Foodbank. Since meeting in-person to volunteer would have been especially difficult—if not impossible—to coordinate this year, White instead set up a Zoom call. “I wanted them to be able to say hello, introduce ourselves, make certain they could get on Zoom (so important before the first day!), show them where to find their schedules on the portal, and that sort of thing.” She kept the call brief, giving students the opportunity to start putting faces to names. “That’s even more crucial in the advisory this year because I have two new 8th graders and we have to start getting them connected to the community,” White said. She also sent each student and their parents/guardians a letter to introduce herself.

For Upper School Science Teacher Brian Coco, personal connections with students are vital for the effectiveness of his teaching. “Personal connections allow me to provide each student with what they need to feel supported and challenged.” It was especially important for him to reach out this year, he said, because he knew he wasn’t going to start the fall working in person with students. “I wanted to make the time to get to know each student, as much as possible, before entering the class,” Coco said. “I used 12-15 minute Zoom meetings with individual students to talk and to ask them a variety of ‘get to know you’ questions. This really provided me with some valuable insight as to what they were like, their school successes and struggles, and how I could best help them when challenges arose.” He said the effort and the time involved were worth it. “For most students, I already have a relationship with them before class begins. Then, when students are working individually or in breakout rooms, I have a better understanding of what to look for and expect.”

White says that making these personal connections early can help students feel more comfortable expressing themselves online. “Kids are generally reticent to hit ‘unmute’ in Zoom, and that’s doubly true when they don’t know each other or the adult that well. That was significantly less of a problem in the spring when we had established trusting relationships. So they required more work on my end to convince them to say something (anything!) in a spontaneous way. Having to hit ‘unmute’ gives kids time to really question ‘do I want to say this?’ where if they were in person they might have fewer inhibitions in that regard. So the mute/unmute encourages them to be self-reflective and thoughtful, but it also made them quieter.”

Our teachers in all three divisions missed their students over the summer and found creative ways to start building their relationships a bit early. We’re excited to see how the fruits of their labor blossom over the course of this year!