Coffee Breaks in Times of Covid-19

By Olivia Grugan

WOL VLS, Arabic, Spanish and German Instructor

I got the idea from an elementary school principal who has started doing morning “Coffee Breaks” on Zoom with her staff. The informality and consistency of a daily check-in seemed like just what my students might be needing in these volatile times.

As our districts adapt to this “new normal” and each determines how they will continue to provide educational opportunities for all their students, our students themselves sit at home, waiting. Maybe engaging themselves with a book or a project. Maybe hanging out with siblings. Probably bored. At least, that’s what I presume. On the district level, there are so many questions to answer: How do we ensure access to everyone? What will feedback and evaluation look like? Does everyone have the resources and skills they need to make this shift? And on and on. But, for us teachers and our students, there is much less to figure out: We just need a place to connect.

So I began hosting my own morning “Coffee Breaks,” not for staff, but for students. Here is what they look like: Every morning at 10am, I reheat my coffee, open my Zoom room and wait to see who shows up. I have invited all of my students, even those studying different subjects. I told them this: it is optional, it is daily, it is short. They show up any time between 10:00 and 10:20 (though most come right at 10). Some days I have 2 students, some days 6, but always at least 1. We talk about how everyone is doing. Students show me projects they are working on at home, tell me what they’ve been reading or watching. I ask them their opinions about stuff and why they feel that way. We engage each other. I meet their pets and sometimes their little siblings or parents.

Am I seeing all of my students? Definitely not. Though the word is spreading. I always remind those who come to text one friend from class and invite them.This “word-of-mouth” approach is bringing new students almost every day and may reach those who don’t have access to my original email.

Are we moving forward with lessons? Also, no. But there is definitely learning. Just yesterday, I told my students I wanted to do some cross stitching and… guess what… we had an expert among us! Over the next 15 minutes, a 17-year-old taught me how to start my sewing project! Even better, she explained it in Spanish (one of the subjects I teach). So yes, there was definitely learning, for me and for her.

But most importantly, there is connection. Bored students are seeing my face; they are seeing each other’s faces. Students who spend the day alone in their homes have an outside connection. Students are waking up 10 minutes before “coffee break” to join! And we are laughing together every single day.

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