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Social Emotional Connection During Rossman Online
By: Upper School Director Debbie Brummit
At Rossman School our mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. This mission supports our academic excellence as well as our commitment to the social-emotional wellbeing of our students. These two objectives are crystal-clear on campus. Our close relationship with students is evident from the minute they walk into the building. We high-five, fist bump, pat backs, smile and laugh with our students. Student work adorns our halls illustrating academic successes in all subject areas. Our goal is to educate the whole child. It is ingrained in our being. Our desire is to construct a foundation for students built upon our core values of kindness, honesty, respect and responsibility. Balancing social emotional wellbeing and academics is what we do well because we love our students and the atmosphere of connection in our building.
Meeting the Challenge
We mourned when we learned in March that we would need to close our school campus to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the St. Louis community. Our new challenge was how to maintain our mission while remote. We wanted to model for our students how to rise through times of trial and so we quickly turned our sadness into planning. We did not start questions with “Can we” because connection is not an option, it is a necessity. We asked ourselves, how will we continue to support our students’ social-emotional wellbeing? How will we connect with our students from afar and maintain our environment? We began to grow, learn and connect from a distance.
Focusing on Emotional Wellness
After spring break, we enthusiastically launched Rossman Online. We continued to learn, make adjustments and reflect in awe of the connections we were still able to achieve. We reached academic standards while focusing on the emotional wellness of our students within our new environment. We did this as much for ourselves as for the children because we are educators and we too need the connection. Sixth Grade Teacher Jordan Andes shared:
“As a teacher, I often see myself as facilitating discovery. And a big part of discovery comes through social interaction; students learn from each other! When we went to Rossman Online, it was important to me that our students would continue to hear each other’s voices and see each other’s ideas. During formal class periods, that often looked like having an author's chair for students to present drafts in progress, designing class periods for discussion, or creating opportunities for students to engage with and reflect on each other’s projects.”
Morning class meetings, synchronous (live) and asynchronous (recorded) lessons via Zoom, and office hours in the afternoon provided abundant opportunities for connection. In between lessons and meetings our teachers enjoyed lunches and snack times with students. We laughed through virtual campouts in fifth grade and “Masked Singer” competitions in sixth. Third Grade Teacher Lynn Frankenberger said:
“A sense of humor goes a long way. Kids like to and want to laugh. They like to have fun. I like to have fun. If I am not having fun with what I am doing then it’s time for me to retire. Therefore, I try to bring into our distance learning some humor. I did that through wearing goofy things on my head, putting on a virtual background that would put a smile on their faces, or telling them something that I did the day before.”
Creating Consistency for Students
Our teachers mirrored their classrooms closely creating consistency for students. Mrs. Frankenberger was also able to reinforce math skills while connecting with the students. She describes:
“The students love hearing about my shopping adventures because everything I buy is at least 75% off the original price. In the classroom, I would randomly bring up how much I paid for a piece of clothing I was wearing. I would go into an elaborate story about the original price and tell them that it was 50% off or 75% off and they would have to figure out how much I paid for that item. Well, I also did that online and they loved the connection.”
We had virtual awards ceremonies, socially distanced parking lot parades, Family Gatherings and more. Mr. Andes reflected further on his time with Rossman students online:
“Advisory Zooms gave us opportunities to play games together and share compliments with each other. Community check-ins allowed us to share highlights and snippets from our new daily routines. Office hours made space for us to talk with students about whatever they wanted, whether it was a tour of their most complex Lego sets or a homework question. Live lunch periods became a time for us to share random stories and see what we like to eat in the comfort of our own kitchens.”
Keeping Connections Alive
Our science teachers completed experiments and had a NASA astronaut guest speaker. Our music teacher brought in a professional beatboxer and our art teacher helped students decorate their refrigerators and social media with beautiful pieces of artwork. Our specialist teachers kept their connections alive with students. Not only did they create invigorating synchronous lessons but they also provided a time in the afternoon for students to connect. Art Teacher Erica Spangler reflected on her experience during virtual office hours:
“I was able to connect with students during remote learning through the office hours I shared with Mrs. West [Spanish] and Ms. Fuller [Music]. During those weekly sessions for Upper School, we found ourselves able to laugh and chat with the students who chose to join. Although the office hours’ original intent was to provide extra help, it quickly became a time to be together and have fun. We talked about everything from our pets, what we were growing in our gardens, to what we were having for dinner that night. We got a tour of one student's art hanging in her playspace and did silly things like trying to beatbox. During Rossman Online, I looked forward to that special time with my students and colleagues!”
Rossman students engaged in writing poetry and held virtual poetry slams. They read and discussed novels, and our littles read in small groups and with their teachers. Our students sang together and played together and participated in virtual PE together. Students completed math assignments and lessons, and teachers would meet one on one to work through difficult problems.
Seen, Known and Loved
Mr. Andes further reflected:
“It is important for students to feel seen, known and valued for who they are as a whole person in order to grow and take risks in their learning. I think that taking care to see each other and hear each other is not only a delightful reminder of our rich community, but is foundational for any learning experience.”
These values were not abandoned in our remote experience. We learned what worked and most importantly we learned that the environment of our school is more than a building. Hybrid, remote or on-site, our connections remain strong no matter where we are because this is the Rossman way. As our mission states, we will provide strong academics in a nurturing environment. Mr. Andes continued:
“We made a space and created a learning environment online that allowed for the spontaneous expressions of community that we enjoyed in our classroom, from the tangible artwork that lined our counters to the intangible inside jokes built on shared experiences. I am glad we were able to create space to simply be together, remotely.”
Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in St. Louis, is a private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills. Request a free Rossman School brochure here.