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  • Writer's pictureKelly E. Middleton

Forging Relationships During a Pandemic

This is the third in a series of posts about what schools can do to survive during this global health crisis. You can view the first two here and here.

Do you have a favorite restaurant or retailer that you would swear by? Chances are, that company has established a good relationship with you. Whether it's great service, friendly staff or the feeling that they "get you" with their product offerings or marketing, the best companies consistently build relationships with their customers. Today, more than ever, companies are relying on their years of work creating a trustworthy brand in order to survive. Consumers who are under stay-at-home orders are scaling back their consumption and that means their money is going to their few, most trusted brands.

As businesses are forced to close their physical doors and rely on delivery and online shopping, those that have built strong relationships with their customers stand at an advantage. Similarly, schools that have put in the time to build deep relationships with their students and families stand to do better than those who have not. In my research for Simply the Best, we collected data on what is important to students in terms of their teachers' characteristics. Twenty of the twenty-nine characteristics students mentioned had to do with relationships. These students just wanted to feel connected to their teachers. They wanted to feel the way a good company makes its consumers feel: like they get them.

Schools across the country are learning this lesson. Remote learning has made us realize just how important that connection with students is to our success. The challenges of keeping up relationships via email, phone and video chat are colossal.

My school is no different. We've had to act quickly to set up students with technology and teachers have had to scramble to adjust lesson plans and their scheduling of classes. Because we were already giving great service to students by giving them all laptops or iPads, that forethought is paying off big time now. We were able to transition immediately into remote learning, even as teachers rewrote lesson plans on the fly. We've found that video chats allow for creative ways to interact with students. In addition to continuing learning through these chats with students, we've also been able to keep other programs going by having musical performances from students' homes posted online, having a virtual prom/school dance and sports conditioning. It's these means of staying connected while the school building is closed that helps teachers and staff forge deeper relationships with students. But implementation was just step one. Now, the challenge is keeping up engagement and getting quality results from remote learning.

Sometimes times of crisis are times to shine. For teachers who consistently give great customer service, that is certainly true for them right now. We're really seeing those teachers flourish. The switch to remote learning has become a major factor in the quality of education based on the connection between teachers and students. We've found that students have thrived when they have teachers who are good at communication and who have worked hard over the course of the year or semester to build relationships with their students. This crisis really highlights just how important it is to put in the time and effort up front with students. Now is the time to capitalize on the relationships you’ve built.

On the other hand, I'm seeing some teachers and school districts that are not doing well with keeping connections because they didn’t build those relationships beforehand. They are seeing the challenges of staying connected with students without having a strong relationship foundation to rely on during the transition to remote learning.

Forging relationships with students is not just about teachers though. The entire school staff can help find creative ways to make sure the students have some semblance of normalcy in these unprecedented times.

What can we do to make Seniors’ year special. Can we still do a graduation with social distancing? Maybe we have a maximum of two family members attend. Or perhaps we have a graduation parade instead. What about senior awards? Can that event still happen? How can you salvage anything for seniors to make it special? Asking these questions and problem-solving to try to come up with a solution that shows the students you care about them can go a long way in building students' trust in school staff and for subsequent years' students to know that you will go to bat for them. By continuing to give great customer service like in the examples above, you're showing students you "get" them. At the end of the day, that's what students want most.

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