The Power of the Chat: Amplifying Student Voice in Uncertain Times

There are a multitude of reasons for which this current school year has been the most challenging of our careers – myself included. We are transitioning from remote to hybrid and back again, learning new apps that allow virtual collaboration, leveraging technology in person to provide equity to those at home and in school, not to mention moving from room to room to allow for safe practices in pandemic teaching and learning to name just a few challenges. I’m certain any educator reading this post can relate to at least one of these as “taking its toll” and sometimes making them feel powerless.  

However, in the midst of these necessary measures, there are triumphs in trials, resilience from the rigor, and strength in the struggles. For me, the most profound revelations and resounding impact have come through glimpses of students through an unexpected window: the chat.

I’ve come to realize that the chat tool holds a bevy of important information/feedback in four main categories: statement of social emotional well-being, understanding of content, encouragement, and expression of needs. 

This is what my students have shared with me in our chat window this school year:

Social Emotional Well-Being

I would rather be at home not wearing a mask then doing the same thing wearing a mask.

A student reflected on being a remote learner in a hybrid learning model. This was unprompted at the time but told me a lot about his preferred situation.

my dad just dropped the hot glue gun on me and it is plugged in.

Students working from home may have many distractions. I found this humorous but also a message that it is hard to learn this way. She might have been feeling pain as well from the hot glue! Ouch!

Student: I don’t feel good

Me: Sorry to hear that. That is no fun.

I knew when I saw this that I should not call on this student during class that day. He messaged me privately, and I was so glad he expressed his well-being. 

I’m sorry my hair is so messy I didn’t have time to do it.

This chat was light-hearted and funny. It was from a student who is pretty comfortable in his own skin at age 12.  Without Zoom, he would not have likely commented, but with his camera on, he could see the state of his hair. It gave me pause as to how physically “seen” we all are on Zoom or video meetings with cameras. It is a strange thing to see yourself while you are talking and learning in a class.

My one word for 2021 is adaptability because we can’t just act like nothing happened. We have to adapt to keep things from getting worse than they are now.

After the start of 2021, I asked the daily student leader to share “one word” that they are claiming as their mantra for the upcoming year. These words are profound and give me pause. Taking an extra moment to allow this type of sharing in math class (any class) is essential. I learn from my students daily.


Context: A light-hearted soft start to class: Would You Rather… Have a pet unicorn? or Have a pet dragon?

Student 1: to have wings they can fly me around

Student 2: dragon because they can keep me warm

Student 3: dragon specifically shintarian ridge back because they can be small and then turn into really big dragon

Student 4: Pet dragon so I can fly and use its power to my own

Any relief from the constraints of learning in these challenging hybrid, remote, full in-person models is welcomed. Middle school students love playing the “Would You Rather” game.

Understanding of Content

I love science and math when you see a math problem you see math vocabulary words that help you in the problem.

I love this because it shows the student is making a connection between the importance of vocabulary as a tool to leverage problem solving in both math and science.

Ohhhh I get it there are two unit rates because there are two ones

This is a 6th grade student in an “aha” moment in Unit 3 Rates and Percentages. It was the lesson where they discovered the “other” unit rate in a ratio relationship. Perhaps in school of the past, this student might not have spoken up and shared. It is as if the chat window is a vehicle for student thought bubbles.

Now I get this!

On Zoom, many times students don’t want to blurt out as they might in the classroom. This student wants to share the lightbulb moment politely.

Thanks miss Dickson! today I really understood how to do this of unit rates I’m pretty confident now o wasn’t sure before but now I’m really happy!

This one exudes that feeling of confidence when you increase your level of mastery of a concept… The Open Up program scaffolds lessons and concepts over time and each student progresses at their own pace.


The above chat looks like merely a number to you. It is so much more. This is from a student who started the year speaking 97% Spanish.  Add to that a pandemic and  a learning model where we do not see students daily. Even providing this student the Spanish versions of lessons leaves him little support as he comes from a school where most of the math was taught verbally and without context. In December, I asked a math question and prompted students to use a calculator to solve. “0.6” was a quick response from this student. He understood my directions, he knew how to use a calculator, and most importantly, he felt confident and comfortable as a mathematician to take a risk and share publicly in the chat. I nearly cried when I saw this.


don’t be sweat Mrs Dickson you can do it

A student encouraged me when I was having major tech issues and was saying I was stressed but not giving up. I said “I am not sweating yet, but about to…”

this Whiteboard feed back process went great so smoothly no issues!

I recently started using and the Open Up PDF task statements so I can see students’ work live and give real-time feedback. I asked my class for feedback on how it went that day.

Expression of Needs

i can hear everyone but my microphone won’t work for some reason

While juggling multiple devices and managing Zoom, it is easy to miss when students have difficulties like this one did. If it wasn't for the chat, I would not have been able to respond so quickly.

can you slow down please?

I’ve seen this in the chat a few times as a direct message to me. I can imagine that if we were in non-pandemic times, these students may have struggled to keep up in silence. It’s hard to advocate for yourself at this age as peers might think something is wrong that you can’t write or work fast enough.

can I talk to you about a retake?

This student was listening to me talk about a retake opportunity and its requirements. I know students do not want to admit in front of the class that they need or want a retake. In the past, I would have them email me or see me in person another time of the day if they wanted to remain private. This year, it can be settled or initiated immediately in the chat.


can I please not turn on my video today, my allergies are really bad and I am blowing my nose every five minutes

Our district has a “camera on” policy. The more the year has gone on, the less it seems I am able to enforce it, and the more I understand why students sometimes don’t want to comply. 

How can we continue this when schools no longer run using Zoom/Meets full-time? What routines will we put in place to amplify student voice and provide an opportunity for expression that is silent but powerful? Would it be through a ‘parking lot” posted in class? I would love to hear your thoughts. As teachers, we have the ability to lasso the power of the chat. We need to pay attention to the bits and pieces of our students that are revealed this way. Building relationships has never been more critical. The conversations I am able to have through chat messages speak volumes.

Cathy Dickson, Open Up Community Coach
6th Grade Teacher
Lake Zurich, Illinois

Cathy was so inspired by how much Open Up Resources 6-8 Math transformed her classroom that she started a YouTube channel to reflect and share her experiences. She teaches both the 6th grade and 7th grade levels of this resource, is certified in Coaching High Impact Teacher Teams and serves as a 6th Grade Team Leader and Title I Math Tutor at her school. When not teaching, she enjoys playing doubles tennis, walking, traveling, as well as enjoying time with family and friends.