Rebuilding Relationships With Your Students Now and Post-COVID

Wf1350300 Venola Student Teacher Relationships Hero

Below is a follow-up to this blog post published in 2019 with additional insights and tips given the effects of COVID-19 on K–12 learning.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the past year has been rough. Really, really rough. While we’ll hopefully turn the corner amid the COVID vaccine rollout, the pandemic effects continue to ripple far and wide, and we’ll live for the foreseeable future within the long shadow of COVID-19. It’s normal and healthy to feel and process our pain, mourn our losses, and even miss the days prior to our current chaos, knowing full well that in many ways, things will never quite return to what we once knew. And specifically, within the world of K–12 education, 2020 was a year of jarring fits and starts, incredible perseverance, and downright scrappiness in the spirit of doing what’s best for our kids.

Like so many others, I return often to a feeling of gratitude for the many silver linings this crisis has provided, and up at the top of the list for me is something I think any educator can appreciate: Having a fresh perspective on the role of schools in the lives of children. While we’ve seen social-emotional learning (SEL) gain steam in recent years both in its research base and its application in schools, nothing brought the fundamental need for positive teacher-student relationships into the foreground quite like the pandemic.

During most of the past year, I was writing a book about the interconnected influence of relationships, rigor, and relevance in creating welcoming learning environments and powerful teaching and learning. Would this book have looked different if I wrote it in 2019? Likely so. I feel fortunate that writing a manuscript mid-pandemic could inform such pertinent content in real time. And during this process, as I reflected on my own ideas about great instruction, student learning, and related beliefs around whole-child growth, I decided to revisit a blog post I wrote pre-pandemic to see if its suggestions still resonate now, considering all that leaders, teachers, students, and families have been through in the past year. I believe that ultimately, the depth of which any new perspective really matters rests on whether it truly changes our behaviors. So as my own thinking has evolved, I think it’s only right to revise accordingly.

Educating the Whole Child, Revisited

What would I have written differently? Well, the good news is that the original five tips for increasing teacher capacity around social, emotional, and academic needs of students still apply, but I think there are a few modifications and additions I’d make in light of the current K–12 landscape.

1. Make family outreach part of your practice.

Now more than ever it is time to extend outreach beyond students to involve, inform, encourage, and support our learners’ families. With parents and caregivers stepping in as “co-teachers” in many cases to guide remote and hybrid learning, developing strong relationships with them makes it easier to understand what they need to best support their child at home. This will also help them view you as an invested partner in their child’s success.

2. Rely on your tools.

Responding to the needs of every student takes time and energy. Making things up on the fly isn’t efficient or sustainable, but by knowing and using the tools and strategies that work, you’ll sharpen your skills, establish consistent norms and expectations, and set you and your students up to succeed.

Here’s a tool to get you started—a simple and practical frame I developed for approaching positive relationships, called PAUSE & REACT.

3. Consider the new needs of students.

Many students started this school year off differently—without meeting their teacher or classmates in person. We will have to adapt our approach to creating a positive culture in classrooms to ensure that students feel a sense of connection regardless of the modality in which they learn. Consider incorporating a class slogan, monthly celebrations of students, or shared goals to help create the classroom culture you desire. These efforts will make a difference in the quality of learning environment and thriving classroom community.

4. Tighten connections amongst students themselves.

It can be tough to create a community where students feel comfortable engaging and sharing their ideas in a non-traditional environment. Look for opportunities to build trust amongst students by allowing them to share their ideas in small group settings, which can be less intimidating and can build their confidence in the whole group. Also, structure activities in ways that allow students to collaborate with different sets of their peers. This will help them form the necessary social bonds for effective learning.

Building strong positive relationships will ensure students are better adjusted, have more confidence, and perform better academically. Consider how to incorporate these tips into your practice to strengthen relationships with your students and have a lasting impact on their future.

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

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Learn more about how educators can build positive relationships with students and the community in a recording of this edWeb webinar featuring Venola Mason of ICLE and Dr. Meaghan Pavlovich of HMH.

Explore our evidence-based solutions, which include opportunities for intervention, assessment, and differentiated instruction to close the COVID learning gap.

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