Here at Along, we sometimes refer to back and forth between teacher and student as a “communication loop.” It starts with a teacher asking a question; next the student responds; and lastly the teacher validates the student’s response. Each person plays a role in keeping the loop going.
This is simple in theory, but we know that opening and closing that loop doesn’t always feel straightforward. Teachers sometimes wonder: How can I best kickstart a conversation? How can I make sure my students know I hear them? How can I acknowledge what they said? This can prove especially challenging with students who are shy or struggle to open up.
Here’s the good news—opening and closing the loop is easy when you get the hang of it. We’ve talked with many Along teachers and students to bring you tips on how to make the most of each communication loop. See below for inspiration and ideas.
4 Tips for Opening the Loop
1.) It all starts with a question.
Perhaps the most important thing a teacher can do is choose a good reflection question. There is no “right” or “wrong” one — but there are questions that are better suited to your class, the time of year, and how far along you are in your connections. For instance, at the start of the year, you’ll probably want to begin with getting-to-know-you questions. We suggest spending time in our Content Library to find a question that feels like the best match for where your students are.
Need more tips on finding a good question? Check out our blog post on conversation starters.
2.) Tell students what to expect.
We’re all better prepared to have a conversation when we know it’s going to happen. (This could be why it’s so surprising when someone talks to you on an airplane.) Preparation helps us get in the right headspace and think of things we might want to share. That’s why it’s key to introduce students to Along and explain how it works before popping in with the first reflection question. Tell your students what you expect from them and what they can expect from you so there are no surprises Most importantly, explain how Along is different from conversations in the classroom and how it’s nothing they will be graded on. It’s just a way to connect.
3.) Be real.
When you open the loop for the first time, feel free to admit that Along is new to you too. Try to let go of “looking perfect,” rather speak like you would to a friend. You don’t need to bare your soul or share anything you’re uncomfortable with. Just try to open up and tell your students things they wouldn’t know about you. This gives students something to model and communicates that this communication loop is a place outside of the classroom.
4.) Show genuine curiosity and enthusiasm.
When recording your reflection question, explain to your students that you’re curious about what they think. Tell them how you’re looking forward to hearing their thoughts and how you’re excited to get to know them better. You don’t need to go overboard and become a cheerleader. But by dropping in words of encouragement, you’re motivating students to pick up the loop where you left it.
4 Tips for Closing the Loop
1.) Acknowledge the response.
So you’ve shared a question, your students answered and now…what? First and foremost, always acknowledge that you received your student’s response. You can do this with a quick video or written response. Thank your student for taking the time to reflect and show appreciation for them opening up. For students who are more closed off, you can take an extra step and tell them that you know it’s not easy to share — which is why you appreciate them making the effort. It’s all about acknowledgment and encouragement.
2.) Get specific.
Reflect something back that you learned about your student. Tell them how you didn’t know they had a special relationship with their brother, or how they loved punk rock, or how they journaled to unwind. This helps students feel seen and heard, and provides them with extra incentive to keep sharing.
3.) Speak to future (and past) questions.
If a student has opened up an interesting line of conversation, tell them that you look forward to hearing more about it in the future. As the year continues, you can also refer back to answers they’ve given in the past. While each reflection question is there to unlock new insights, don’t forget that Along is a way to have one ongoing conversation as well.
Along tip: Some teachers have found it helpful to jot down notes on what students have shared, making it easier for them to recall names, places, and stories.
4.) Express surprise and delight.
If a student shares something surprising or makes you laugh, tell them! Feel free to say that you didn’t know that story or how you’re happy to learn something new about them. This is a time to let your guard down and let your students “teach” you new things. The more you can communicate a genuine reaction to a student’s response, the more you validate what they’ve said. That’s how you close the loop on a high note.Ready to open the loop with your students? There’s no time like the present. Log in to Along to check out our Content Library and find a reflection question to get the conversation going.