3 tips for engaging students in the post-pandemic classroom

This Michigan teacher is changing up her instruction to better meet the needs of her students in the post-pandemic classroom.
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Or listen on Apple, Spotify, Google, or another platform. Alternatively, you can read along with the transcript.

Today’s classrooms look different than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this episode of the BRIGHT podcast, I chat with Janet Swarthout, a speech, drama, and debate teacher at Caro High School, who was honored as a 2021-22 regional teacher of the year.

  • Her experience teaching through the pandemic,
  • How she’s changed up her instruction to better meet student needs,
  • Her top three strategies for keeping students engaged in the post-pandemic classroom. 

You can listen to my conversation with Janet using the audio player above or by subscribing to the BRIGHT podcast in your app-of-choice (find us on Apple, Spotify, Google, and more) or by reading along with the transcript.

Of course, we understand that educators are busier than ever. If you don’t have time to listen to Janet’s full episode (which offers the fuller effect of her wisdom, energy, and examples), you can still benefit from a glimpse at her top three tips below.

3 tips for engaging students in the post-pandemic classroom

#1. Getting to know your students is more important than ever

Relationship-building has always been an essential part of education. Still, Janet says that getting to know your students (and letting them get to know you) is even more critical post-pandemic.

As a speech, drama, and debate teacher, for her first activity each semester, she asks students to speak about themselves for a full minute so that she and their peers can get to know them better.

In return, she tells them about her hobbies, why she loves teaching, and about Bumpkin, her miniature horse (pictured below). 

“They need to know who I am,” she says, “so they can trust me with their education. They have to know I am a concerned, caring person.”

Today, Janet is also more explicit about letting students know her expectations up front and how they can get help if they need it.

“I set high expectations,” she explains. “But I let them know right away that I’m not expecting anything that they’re not capable of.”

Given the isolation students experienced during the pandemic, these pillars of trust and connection are more critical than ever before.

#2. Keep your lessons shorter and more collaborative

Teaching has changed a lot since Janet first entered the classroom 40 years ago. Since the pandemic began, she has continued evolving her instructional approach to better meet student needs. 

Upon returning to the classroom after remote learning, Janet found her students struggled to pay attention during long lectures and yearned for social interaction with their peers.

These days, she’s found success in keeping her lessons shorter and her activities more collaborative. 

“The thing I love about teaching is it’s always going to change,” she told me. “A teacher needs to constantly reinvent themselves and their material to meet the needs of the students that we have today.”

Given how effective these changes have been for her students, Janet believes that these concise, interactive lessons will persist in her classroom long after the pandemic is over.

#3. Draw connections to the future

Another instructional strategy that Janet has been more intentional about is drawing connections to the future.

“Students often have a hard time thinking about their futures,” she explains. “They don’t know where they’re going to be. They don’t know what they’re going to do.”

As a teacher, Janet then views it as her job to draw connections about how what students are learning will benefit them, whether it be for a future class, a career, or personal development. 

Now more than ever, she says this future orientation is vital. 

During the pandemic, many of her students were afraid they wouldn’t have a future. The world as they knew it shut down. 

By making more explicit connections to the future, Janet instills a sense of hope in her students. She reminds them that they will have a future and that the skills they’re learning in class will help them shape this future.

My favorite quotes from this episode

“I don’t know that my classroom will ever look like it did pre-pandemic years, and I’m okay with that.”

“These are our future leaders. They’re our future politicians. They’re our future doctors and lawyers. They’re our future everything. So, we have to get students to see how important their education is. They have to see that even though they’re only one person, they have an impact on everything that goes on in our world. My hope is that in the post-pandemic classroom, we take a look at how we view our students and set goals for them to become the people that we as a country as a nation as a world need them to be.”

“Teaching children is a privilege, and it’s not one that should be taken lightly.”

“I keep falling in love with teaching over and over again. Every time a student grasps a concept, and I see that light bulb turn on, I think, ‘Yes, this is why I do this.’ I truly love my job, which is why I’ve done it for 40 years and still plan to keep doing it.”

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Nikki Herta

Nikki Herta

Nikki’s love for writing, editing and pedagogy brought her to Michigan Virtual as their Content Creator/Editor. A Michigan native, she studied writing at Grand Valley State University before continuing on to the University of Minnesota for her master’s degree. While there, she also taught first-year writing to college freshman. Outside of work, she enjoys hiking, playing table-top board games, and curling up in front of the fireplace with a good book and her sassy, ancient cat, Princess Eugene.

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