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Connecting With Staff and Students in Difficult Times: Tips for Education Leaders

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It seems like each hour brings another change to communities, states, and our country. It’s hard to not want to be connected to our favorite social media app or news station as we continue to watch this global pandemic sweep the nation.

In fact, the governor of Indiana (where I live) recently issued a “stay at home” order for all nonessential work. This means that my wife (a high school CTE administrator) is now working from home, but my parents' manufacturing company remains in operation due to the products that they make.

So, how do we, as educational leaders, continue to motivate our students to stay connected remotely while also inspiring our staff members to serve as a foundation for students in this time of need? Take these proactive steps to get your communication plan in place.

Communicating With Staff

1. Set Up Regular Zoom Meetings

Hold a Zoom meeting twice a week with no agenda but connecting. Maybe you start with a movie challenge by having your faculty watch a specific movie (Dead Poet’s Society or Dangerous Minds are always favorites), and then have a brief conversation about the movie. Encourage the use of a system that allows them to see each other. Teachers need to feel connected.

2. Call Each Staff Member

Work with your administrative team (or yourself, if you are your team) and divide up the roster into fifths. Administrators should call their lists once a week to check in with staff and ask how they are doing. What is going well? What are they struggling with? How can you help? Give them space to share their concerns. We are experiencing primary and secondary trauma with this global pandemic. One way to support your staff is to make outreach a priority each week. This is more important than anything else you are doing. Call; don’t email.

3. Send Out Cards

This is a great time to use the U.S. mail system. We all love to get mail. Write an appreciation note to each staff member sharing what you love most about his or her abilities to teach and connect with students. Celebrate the good that they do!

4. Use Social Media to Celebrate

Each day, highlight a staff member who has done or is doing something amazing in regard to teaching and learning. Upload his or her staff picture or an action photo of them working with students. Tag them and your school or district. This is a great time to share with your community about the great work that is happening, even from a distance.

Connecting With Students

1. Have a Daily Read Aloud

Consider reading a picture book or a chapter of a novel each day via social media. It’s safe to say many publishers have temporarily softened copyright laws for educators to connect with students in this way.

Tip: Model a read aloud for your teachers and then encourage them to do the same once or twice a week, even at the secondary level.

2. Connect Through Videoconferencing

Conduct student focus groups using Google Hangout, Zoom, or other videoconferencing platforms. Offer a daily check-in session with students where they can connect with you as an education leader. Even though we are social distancing, we need to be socially connecting with our students. This is a great way to foster relationship building with students.

Tip: Also encourage teachers to have a daily office hour available, where students can pop in or schedule a time to have additional support for instruction.

3. Encourage Student Leaders to Step Up

Have student leaders check in on the student body. Even with different amounts of remote learning happening, students are reporting various levels of "free time." Consider creating a tele-community where student leaders check in on their classmates. This could be members of the student council, class council, student athletic board, drama club, or another student organization. You can even offer a weekly leadership course for these leaders to teach them how to lead and check in on students. Then, give them directions on connecting with classmates.

Tip: Work with your class sponsor to help you organize an initial Zoom or WebEx meeting for the students to help "sell" the idea.

4. Do Free Giveaways

Offer a challenge each day for students. Maybe it’s an academic-related question or a history question about the school. Do some type of trivia question, and ask for answers to be submitted online by 3 p.m. Then, go live and share the answer and the winner. Let the student know that his or her swag is going to be waiting for them when they eventually return.

Tip: Promote the free giveaway 24 hours prior to the day to help increase participation. If your school or district has a hashtag, use that hashtag. Also be sure to connect using the right social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, etc.).

5. Connect With Families

Utilize your student management system to send a weekly (or daily) video message to students' families. Let them know you are there and present, acknowledge the difficulties of the situation, and share resources. We have a host of resources you can utilize in your message.

Tip: Schedule a weekly (or twice weekly) time where you can do a live streaming session to increase communication, address questions, and support families during this time. Advertise with various media outlets to ensure folks are aware of these live sessions.

Never underestimate the power of connecting. We have taken it for granted. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we thrive for human connection. Be the cheerleader-in-chief for your students and staff during this critical time in our school, district, and nation’s history.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


To help you continue teaching and learning during the current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), visit our At-Home Learning Support page for free resources. You can also view free 20-minute webinars from the International Center for Leadership in Education—a division of HMHin partnership with the School Superintendents Association for advice and strategies on the most critical issues education leaders are facing during this time.

Check out these related resources for educators:

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