Reaching the Hard to Teach During Remote Learning

Last week I met with a team focused on supporting students of concern, especially those who have been hard to teach during remote learning.  This past weekend, I was introduced to a recently published book by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie called The Distance Learning Playbook (yeah, they didn’t waste any time getting that published!)  While I was looking through the book there was a particular section that caught my attention, probably because it’s been on my mind ever since that meeting last week – Reaching the Hard to Teach.

The authors suggest a couple pretty low-effort strategies that could really jump start the process of engaging some of those students who’ve been hardest to reach (for whatever reason) during remote learning.  Mind you, in this instance we’re talking about those students who are showing up but aren’t engaging much beyond that.  (For those who aren’t showing up, please be in touch with your grade-level counselor and social worker for support.)  Essentially, the authors suggest making a deliberate effort to shift the dynamic with those hard to reach students.  

I’m attaching two charts, from the book, that will help you think intentionally about those students who have been hard to reach.  The first is a chart to track specific behaviors, it could help engage those students and (hopefully) shift that dynamic.  The authors noted, “Many of these behaviors seem to come naturally, at least when it comes to those students with whom we have a positive relationship.  But it takes deliberate action to disrupt established communication patterns that are avoidant in nature” (Douglas et. al., 2021, p. 57).  It would be very worth the time and effort to print this chart and use it for at least four or five days, tracking interactions with those students who you’ve found it hard to reach during remote learning.  

After you’ve collected this data, for at least a week or so, take some time to reflect on both the data and any possible changes that you’ve noticed in the interactions with those students you’ve targeted.  You can use the second attachment to help you reflect on this data; these three questions will help guide your thinking.  Please note, this is not a cure-all and may challenge your thinking.  If you’re unsure, remember, no one has to know you’ve gone through this process.  You can do this completely on your own and don’t have to share it with anyone, so what do you have to lose?  (I’d love to hear from you if you do try it, especially if you feel like it was beneficial!!)

I’m particularly fond of this strategy because I’ve done something similar in the past.  As a new assistant principal I found myself at odds with a small handful of kids.  Some would call them troublemakers (I likely did at the time) but others (hopefully me today) would see them as kids who required a little more effort from me.  Luckily, I had an amazing mentor who challenged me to focus on my relationship with these students.  He encouraged me to look for opportunities to engage with them when they weren’t in trouble; positive interactions or even just neutral interactions went a long way.  By doing this I was able to restore some of the broken relationships that I’d had with these students.  This has been a strategy I’ve employed throughout my career as an administrator, working hard to build a relationship with those students who I will likely encounter most often for negative reasons.  I believe, actually, that it has decreased the amount of times I’ve seen them for negative reasons because it shifted our potential dynamic before it even happened!

I’m pretty confident that every teacher in the world who is participating in this remote learning experiment could benefit from partaking in this exercise.  I don’t think it will take you much time but it will require a small amount of focus and dedication.  In the end, I think it will pay off on some level with those students who you choose to focus on…it’s certainly worth a try!!

Note:  If you’re keen to buy the book you can get it a bit cheaper off their website (linked above) but I got it on Amazon and it came within 24 hours!

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