The education world suffered a seismic shift in its learning landscape last spring, when it abruptly moved from in-person to remote learning. It continues to struggle with what learning outside an actual school building means.
It’s no surprise that challenges persisted from March through the end of last school year, given that teachers, school boards, superintendents’ cabinets, students, and families were all collectively thrown into an experiment in learning for the safety and well-being of the greater community. I cannot recall an entire industry (teaching) altering its services so drastically to all of its 50 million daily customers (children) under such a quick turnaround.
Of course, we don’t think of teaching and learning like typical businesses that strive to develop products or services and ultimately make a company and its employees money. No, schools are not anything like making an automobile, building a house, or serving you dinner. Schools are in the business of making people, little ones who will develop and grow into citizens, pursue happiness, uphold their liberty, and have the opportunity to live the American dream.
If we can agree that schools are in the people-making business wherever learning happens, shouldn’t school and district reentry plans include what motivates students to actively participate in the learning process in the first place—namely, effective relationships with their teachers? Unfortunately, the time, effort, and energy devoted to relationships is disproportionate to their importance in the classroom during a “normal” summer of planning. Add in a raging pandemic, the ever-changing plans that ruled the summer months, and the challenge of becoming more racially just—all important considerations for the upcoming school year—and we can understand how the priority of building strong relationships, which was shaky to begin with, fades into the background.
For a moment, consider a teacher, coach, or mentor who positively impacted your life—an adult or more experienced colleague who really took an interest in you and your development. As you think of your experience with this person, I gather you have an image in your mind representing them and an emotion that bubbles up along with it. Why? Because meaningful learning does not happen without a meaningful relationship!
Whether learning takes place face-to-face or remotely during this school year, schools and districts may devote intentional plans to restoring, restarting, or building strong relationships, or they may not. But schools and teachers could learn a great deal from those effective educators who kept students actively engaged in the spring because they took the time to maintain relationships, regardless of where those relationships played out.
Building Relationships With Students During COVID-19
Here are some ideas for teachers and education leaders when it comes to building relationships with students heading into a most unusual school year.
1. Try the 2/2/2 Method
Talk with two students for two minutes twice a day about anything school related (or not)—in a classroom or hallway or through meeting software. Let students know you will be actively looking to engage with them before, during, or after class, and make appointments to do so.
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