A Youreka perspective as part of its Terrific Teacher series

“Bachchon, just give me a moment I am not able to see the share screen icon,” said the teacher Mrs Mathur to her grade 4 students at the start of her virtual English class.

“Ma’am, it is right in the middle of the zoom window at the bottom,” blurt out seven of her high energy students, musically in chorus, while another three were busy playing “fortnite” and four catching up on Netflix on another window. The remaining seven were simply dreading another day of online classes.

“Oops. Sorry but I am not sure what I just pressed and now the zoom window has disappeared,” an exasperated Mrs Mathur exclaims to herself.

“Hey, where the hell is my phone that you were using earlier,” screams Mrs. Mathur’s husband from the background.

The children let out an audible collective giggle. Poor Mrs. Mathur is unaware and oblivious to what’s going on while continuing to struggle with her system.

Humour aside,  as teachers and educators, we have had to tread over the unexplored territories of virtual learning in the past year, anecdotes such as the above abound in every educator’s diary. We’ve got better, no doubt at dealing with the technicalities of virtual classrooms.

However, what has it been like on the other side of the virtual screen – for the students? Have they struggled and been laughed at or scolded for something out of their control?

Ensuring the emotional and psychological well-being of students has become more of a challenge in the virtual world than it was in the physical classroom. These aspects of classroom learning often get overlooked in the planning of learning modules, especially when online. With online classes, it has become imperative for teachers to recognise the potential blind spots of virtual classes and take active measures to counter them.

Without the physical presence of the teacher and the fellowship of their peers, many students struggle with a sense of isolation in virtual classrooms that eventually burns down their enthusiasm to participate or even learn.

The findings of Google’s Project Aristotle – which looked into the factors that make an effective team – throw light upon a possible solution. In a way, we can consider the classroom as a team that the teacher leads.

According to Project Aristotle, the most important dynamics of an effective team was psychological safety – a sense of trust amongst team members that allows them to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. Building this trust needs to be the standard practice of every virtual class team, inculcating in every student the assurance that the team will not reject, embarrass or punish anyone for speaking up.

Some active steps that the teacher could take are:

  • Initiate Participation: The teachers’ initiatives in enabling conversational turn-taking to ensure that every child is involved can help a lot in creating a positive learning experience.
  • Tone and approach: Being mindful of maintaining a friendly and cheerful tone of voice and sprinkling a liberal dose of appreciation and encouragement for all, helps eliminate misinterpretations and feelings of rejection (lack of attention) for the students and thus build psychological safety.

Assured psychological safety will sustain enthusiasm and foster creativity, openness, and risk-taking in students. It will transform the virtual classrooms into a safe place where students will enjoy a sense of freedom, healthy team spirit and the. absence of stress.

Knowledge without action is, quite frankly, of little value. Please take 15-30min to reflect on the following:

1. How do I view virtual classes? Would I have enjoyed my own virtual class if I was a child attending them? Time travel back and reflect on this as the child you were back in school.

2. As a teacher, do I make an effort to understand how each child in my virtual classroom reates to technology? Is it working well for each one? Is anyone frustrated with it?

3. Who are the three children in my class who I feel are not enjoying the virtual classes and not making much progress? What have I done so far to help them? What else can I do?

4. What are the three key actions that I will implement in my next virtual class that will help my classroom environment become more secure, energetic, vibrant and useful for my students?