“Can we have a video call at…” seems to be the opening line of most conversations these days. In the blink of an eye, life completely changed for our school community. Gone are the days of morning greetings, announcements, high-fives, and heart-to-heart talks about making better choices. The sounds of student laughter, enjoyment, and brains hard at work quickly disappeared. Visiting classrooms to witness teacher creativity and student engagement in action is no more. The evolution of the schoolhouse and the way students learn is nothing new, but our new norm during this pandemic has caused an extreme shift in how we interact with our staff, students, and families. In the first week of remote learning, I did think about how we would educate our students. Still, then I was left wondering, “how do we maintain relationships and continue to build community virtually?”
The business of education relies heavily on relationships and school culture. As a principal, I believe that relationships matter, and building an influential school culture is foundational. Finding ways to continue in this relational thread is challenging. I jokingly tell people often, “we are making this up as we go along.” As much as I joke about this, this unprecedented event has left school communities to seek out answers in these uncharted waters, and make the best decision possible for students.
However, there are several actions schools can use as starting points to continue this vital work:
- Redesign The Norm. As a principal, I feel it is essential that I greet my students every morning. Since I can no longer greet my students at the door or visit each classroom to say “good morning,” I asked myself, what can I do that follows a similar theme? I understood my ultimate goal was to start my students off on a positive note and then I brainstormed ideas to meet the same objective, however, virtually. I decided to do morning messages using Flip Grid, as a way to say “good morning” and share a brief message. By understanding what I ultimately wanted to achieve, I was able to package the same objective in a different box.
- Continue Community Builders. If we were in the school, somethings that would consistently happen are assemblies, spirit rallies, and other community-building events. During this time, one idea is to continue those! Why not? Typically, in the final week of March we would have had a spirit day and an assembly to honor students for specific achievements. Who’s to say we couldn’t still do this? I used the power of our School Messenger tool and Flip Grid to get a message to my staff and families to announce a spirit week and assembly! The families were encouraged to share their pictures with us! We would post those pictures on our Twitter account, which created a fantastic platform for all of our families to get connected.
- Power of Social Media. I previously mentioned the use of Twitter and have found sending videos to my families has been well received. However, building relationships is a two-way street. I wanted to capitalize on the power of social media to create an opportunity for our school’s families to virtually engage with us as well. Organically, our families and staff created their Twitter accounts and have started following the school account as well. Each week that we have virtual trips, assemblies, morning messages, and other community builders, our families can share with the school what that experience looked like for them. Using social media has been fun and engaging for our staff and families.
And last but not least, I’m excited to try out virtual coaching through ADVANCEfeedback for the first time. The video platform offers synchronous and asynchronous video features, which will allow me to remotely connect with my teachers in several different ways. It will be helpful to meet with my teachers one-on-one, to review their digital lessons and I’m looking forward to exploring even more use cases made possible by virtual coaching.
These simple ideas are not perfect, nor do they fully resolve the disconnect we are currently feeling during this pandemic. However, the goal of this list is to be intentional in the pursuit to maintain relationships, build new ones, and strengthen the school community. Continue to be relentless in building an even stronger community. Let us use this dark time as an opportunity to become more connected, build more significant relationships, and grow in this journey together.
Educators, how are you maintaining relationships and staying connected during this time?
Feel free to comment on how you are adjusting and helping to support students and teachers from afar.