This is the first in a three-part series of columns by Marybeth Flachbart, who lives in Boise and has more than 30 years of education experience as a teacher, administrator and consultant.
Behavioral health for children already was one of Idaho’s most pressing health issues before the coronavirus pandemic changed our lives.
COVID-19 led to stress, job loss, isolation, and food insecurity for many adults, which unfortunately, likely means children were exposed to more trauma. We don’t know and won’t know for a while the impact the pandemic has had on our children.
As children return to school — whether it be in a classroom or in a virtual setting — there is going to be an emphasis on teachers in the role of first responders. Teachers always have unofficially been in that role, but COVID-19 pointed a giant spotlight on everything teachers and schools provide beyond education. For some children school is their safe space.
Teachers, both in their role as educators and trusted adults kids can count on, will have additional pressure on them to serve both roles as the 2020-21 school year begins. Relationships are probably more important than they have ever been before, and teachers are going to have to find ways to create close relationship with students and parents.
It is crucial that teachers establish relationships with families. Parents and caregivers need to know that both the teacher and the building leader have the best interest of their child at heart. That was always important, but now it seems to me to be the critical necessity of all future academic performance.
Relationships not only build trust, but they can help provide self-confidence for students. John Hattie’s meta-analysis and website titled Visible Learning shows that students who receive positive reinforcement and encouragement from teachers are more engaged and perform better in the classroom.
How do teachers build these strong, trusted relationships, especially in virtual settings? Here are some suggestions:
- One-on-one phone calls or video conferences with parents and students
- Set up office hours when parents/students can contact teachers
- Use Google Classroom, Schoology, Padlet, or another social media site that encourages interaction and communication. Set up these environments and train the parents how to access it. Keep them simple!
- Encourage two-way communication
- Find out how parents prefer to communicate and make that option available
- Encourage parents to set up “school space” at home so kids know that’s where schoolwork happens
- Help parents set up a daily routine or schedule to help create a structure for the students
Building trusted relationships takes work, and its important work that will help parents, students and teachers get the most of out of the upcoming school year. The focus on relationships at the start of the school year will enable teachers to teach and students to learn.