How To Motivate At A Distance

In other years, when we talk about ‘motivating at a distance’, we are usually talking about a paraeducator being on the other side of the classroom or maybe from another classroom entirely. This is the one time when we might think our motivators are completely useless.

Distance Learning, even crisis Distance Learning, requires the student to advocate for themselves. And for some of our students who communicate very sporadically when we are sitting with that student, this is more of a challenge that we have miles between us when the student is anywhere in the city (hopefully) and through the complexity that is now wifi connectivity.

But connections are happening. To be certain, Renay has probably only seen less than 1% of her students online. And like other teachers, she is finding that troubling. Not just because they have not logged in, but there might be barriers, but they are just not chatting or connecting with their teachers.

But successes are happening. That student who makes incremental progress is clearly making incremental progress. Last week, it was just to log in. Then this week’s assignments started rolling in. One or two classes and it’s enough to make you dance a jig of glee. Then they participated in a classroom online discussion voluntarily. They came to office hours. Be happy they logged in. Greeting as they are ready for class to start. More so than prior to being kept at home. This is not a ‘thing’. It works. Honestly. Connect to the students you say you enjoy being around. It matters. Celebrate those successes.

Greeting as they are ready for class to start. More so than prior to being kept at home. This is not a ‘thing’. It works. Honestly. Connect to the students you say you enjoy being around. It matters. Celebrate those successes.


This is a time to be handing out ‘thank you’s to students like candy on Halloween. Do it. Do it genuinely. Do it privately, do it publicly, do it with the teacher to call attention to their great work. Do it so their parents know about the leaps and bounds their student is making.

What About Those Not Participating?

Praise what you can. Be direct about the work they need to do. Lower the bar. Get it lower if you need to. Get the student to do the work you know they can.

The Distractions…

We would be dismissive about successes some students are having if we did not talk about the distractions of school. We are not certain, because there are no real studies done on distance learning at this scale, but we know a few things to be true.

Some students do better without the social aspect of school. The lunch room causes anxiety. The noise in the halls, the slammed lockers in the locker room. In their home, students know where they belong. There are inequities everywhere in life.

The novelty of distance learning has gotten some students to feed into the opportunities that have arisen. Coupled with some districts choosing that the end of the year grades are Pass/Fail, some students have an opportunity to do better than they have in the past.

Equally telling are the students who are experiencing anxiety because unlike in a classroom when everyone can speak at once, only a few people can speak and the calls are much less random, the teacher is choosing to go down the list alphabetically, or some other strategy because they are without their randomizers or cannot privately speak to a student about when they will be called on.

Because They Are About To Leave

A lot of attention is on graduates right now. And one of Renay’s godsons is graduating this year from high school, so she knows all too much about what he is not getting to do as his school year ends. And schools are managing to celebrate those seniors whether it is a school parade in a car by each home or a drive by graduation for a photo at school, there are celebrations.  There is another group of people about to leave school and we are not talking about them: the Teachers who are Retiring or leaving for a different job.

We normally don’t talk a lot about the professional end when it comes to teachers. Certainly, paraeducators come and go. Sometimes administrators too.

But teachers…they are the ones that are going to keep the boat going. At least so we hope. And now under Shelter In Place, finding out about a teacher who is retiring or leaving, it feels like that person is already even further away than they were.

What can we do? This is one of those times that perhaps ‘old school’ is useful. If your campus has a list of post office mail addresses, get one of those and write out a letter thanking that teacher for the opportunity to work with them. Have students write something they will remember from the teacher if they had the specific teacher. Remember you might need to support a student if they have an especially meaningful relationship with a student.

Thank you for being professionals with good humor as we worked to teach students. I appreciate your candor and support in making adjustments to being with the variety of students, and adults in your classrooms.

Speaking of Going…

ParaEducate will end for the academic year next week, on May 18. This academic year has been quite a surprise for all of us. Thank you for your support this academic year. You can always reach out to us and have a response.

Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

About paraeducate

ParaEducate is a company run to help reach out to paraeducators or paraprofessionals in public K-12 schools, giving advice, talking about publications that ParaEducate produces, and other useful information regarding working in public school settings.
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