It’s an understatement to say the sudden, pandemic-forced shift to online school disrupted teacher-student relationships. While headlines about lack of devices and Internet access took center stage, especially early in the pandemic, many teachers and students were grief-stricken from the loss of daily face-to-face exchange. It’s hard to connect with kids when they are boxes on a screen—and, as the pandemic showed, frequently blank boxes.
That’s why Gradient Learning and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative jumped into action, building a virtual tool that would make it easier for teachers to reach out to students one-to-one, and make it easier for students to feel more comfortable reaching back to them. The result? Along, a free, multimedia tool that has already been successfully piloted by hundreds of educators.
Along puts a 21st-century spin on the longstanding practice of dialog journals—where students and teachers write to each other over time in a notebook. With Along, a teacher can create a question, or choose from a library of questions intended to help students share their feelings and experiences, like “Who is a person who really supports you in life?”
The teacher can then record their response on video and send the message to one student, several, or an entire class–but in every case, the video appears as a personal message to each student. Students watch their teacher's reflection and record their own response—using video, text, or audio—that is sent only to their teacher. Teachers can view all their students' reflections in one place and follow up to make sure everyone feels seen and heard. Storing the information in one laptop—not tubs full of composition notebooks—makes the process easier on educators.
One of the educators who piloted Along was Dr. Stacy Perez, principal of Classical Academies in Escondido, California. Not only did she see the many ways her faculty put it to work, her own weekly check in with nine students turned out to be very rewarding. As she told the 74, “Within the first two reflections, I started getting positive feedback from the students and their parents. … They were looking forward to my videos and questions. It was one minute of my time that was coming back tenfold.”
That kind of timesaving and ability to zero in on relationship building quickly was exactly the goal. Given how pressed teachers are for time, “a lot can get in the way of having regular, one-on-one check-ins," said Andrew Goldin, executive director of Gradient Learning. "We built Along to provide educators with an easier, flexible, and more meaningful way to connect with students, so teachers can spend less time scheduling meetings and more time supporting each student."
Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Partner at Ed Post. She is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to ...