Coaching students online: What I learned from being an online admin for years.
I was confused why I managed to coach my students online without trouble but my colleagues seemed to be having more trouble until I realised I have been coaching people online for years.
Being a massive nerd has helped me once more. It was the year 2012 when the world was going to end, it was also the year another world started for me when I created an online writers community where fiction writers of my age could come and create a world together. This online community ranges from up to fifty people to around ten at a minimum in the past eight years. As the administrator I am in charge of pointing people to the rules we have (that have to do with playing by the rules, being active and using appropriate trigger warnings) but also making sure everyone is a-okay. The writing community has helped me over the years with coping with real life, practicing my storytelling skills and now it has helped me prepare for the COVID-19 driven digital jump we had to make.
So, I have been coaching young adults for eight years now. What did I learn from this that can help teachers that are now forced to coach their students through the World Wide Web?
One. Don’t let them come to you. The people that need you the most will usually not come to you when you don’t ask them to talk. The usual suspects that like to talk to you will anyway but it is about the silent ones. Send them a message, set a meeting. Don’t ask if they want to meet but just set a meeting. ‘I will see you through Skype at ten on Wednesday’ is a lot harder to say no to than ‘Can you make Wednesday at ten, maybe?’. Just because the coaching is online doesn’t mean it is optional all of a sudden.
Two. It doesn’t have to be all serious. Some of your students have a great support system with a loving family and friends that are calling them every Friday. A lot of then do not. I have had students that came to me to tell me about the good grades they got for classes and needed some confirmation someone was proud of them because they had no one in their direct circle that would tell them so. We are not just information-givers or educators, we are also people that can give them a form of confirmation that they matter. So when you speak to the students you are coaching also ask them how they are, did they do anything fun? What are they doing this weekend? Make them feel like they matter, why? Because they do matter.
Three. Be human. About sixty percent of my social life is in the digital world. I connect to people from all over the world even though we live in different cultures, countries and timezones. This is just my life and yet I still feel sad and alone at times. It is okay to show your students you also miss your social contacts and tell them. Tell them you miss going to the cinema or going to the pub, they know you understand their pain too. You don’t have to pretend to connect, you actually do. Find what is the same and right now, that is the inability to meet those we care about and the world sucks at the moment. For all of us.
Four. Don’t make them feel stupid. At a time like this people are required to read the manual (RTFM). They are not used to this, students are used to asking every question even if it is written down in the study guide. That is just how it is, every class you will answer questions that are answered on the screen in front of them. That is fine and while it is perhaps a little frustrating to repeat things, they need someone to ask these things to. If you can answer the questions they have (or even say you will get back to them) they will feel less like they are drowning in this huge sea of uncertainties. If you promise to get back to them though, be sure to actually do.
Five. Put in a little extra work sometimes. I only have eight students I am the official coach for, then I have classes where I am the lecturer. For the eight students I am the official coach for I schedule bi-weekly meetings where we sit together and drink tea together. Nothing too serious but just a chat as a group. Next to this I wrote them a card. The eight students all received a physical card in the mail to wish them good luck and tell them I believe in them. I didn’t lie, I have the best eight students under my wings in the whole country ( ;) ). They were delighted, it is a small gesture but it lifted their spirits and be honest: getting a card is super-uplifting.
For other the other students I can not time-wise financially send them all physical cards. Though I do plan extra moments where they can ask me questions and it is fine if it turns into more of a social talk too. Or I plan a Kahoot quiz as a semi-pub quiz event to end a project they all did together.
I am showing them that it is still possible to be a class, even online.
As a conclusion. I think it is important to show the students that we are
A) only human and struggle too
B) that they are still our students, even if we only see each other online at the moment.
C) They can come to us when shit hits the metaphorical fan and
D) which might be sappy but I don’t care, that someone is proud of them.
Not everyone has a supportive system at home, not everyone has a rolemodel they can look up to, be that person.
Or at least try, it seems to work for me.
So maybe this will work for you too.