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Relationships: More important now than ever before.

This is a repost and certainly as timely now as it was in March 2020. This blog series is aimed at helping educators in a time of uncertainty and challenge.

The cornerstone of being a No-Nonsense Nurturer is building meaningful relationships – with students, their families, and our colleagues. During this time of COVID-19, most schools are closed and quickly trying to connect with and teach their students in virtual learning spaces, changing the way we build relationships with our students and our communities.

As the [former] CEO of CT3, I feel the responsibility to immerse myself in medical journals and pieces on how the pandemic will affect the US economy. I do this to support my team and the many teams of educational leaders we support across the country. One thing that I’ve noticed is missing in the materials I am reading is a narrative on the emotional and psychological toll isolation will play on our most vulnerable communities – youth, the elderly, homeless, low income folks, people of color, etc.

I mentioned this observation on a webinar I conducted on Monday about my book, Every Student, Every Day. The chat throughout the webinar remained busy with folks noting how they missed their students, their classrooms, and their routines; however, it was compelling to see how the chat blew up with educators acknowledging that they hadn’t thought a lot about the role social distancing and isolation will play for their students – in the long and short term. As an organization focused on supporting youth and educators, CT3 is also thinking about additional ways we and fellow educators might best support students during this unique time in our history.

Many of the students we serve everyday rely on us as a constant, caring, and consistent adult in their life. Not seeing teachers for an unplanned, extended period of time will take a toll on each of our students, and in many different ways. Remember, teachers are some of the most important adults in their lives, so it is important that we reach out on a regular basis to check in on our students. This will help to alleviate the emotional toll and create hope for our students during this time of uncertainty. Relationships are more important now than ever before.

Some ideas on how to stay connected:

  • If you are conducting remote learning because all of your students have devices, create a ritual with each virtual classroom experience to connect and check in with students. Begin class with an open-ended free write. Or, have students post in the chat, privately or publicly, how they are doing. Have them share a funny story or two before you begin instruction for the day, all with the intention to make a personal connection.
  • If you don’t have a virtual classroom set up, no worries, you too can stay connected with your students with the good old fashion telephone. For middle and high school teachers, commit to calling every student for 10-15 minutes each week. Split up your classes and take time each day to connect for the purpose of relationship building. For elementary and self-contained classrooms, call your students every other day. Some question ideas for these relationship-building phone calls:
    • How are you doing? How have you been feeling over the past few days?
    • What excites or makes you nervous about having to stay at home?
    • What is the thing you miss most about not having school every day?
    • How is your family doing?
    • How much time are you spending watching the news/checking social media? Are these healthy behaviors for you?
    • What are you grateful for today?
    • Do you feel safe? Do you have everything you need?
    • You can also share funny stories from your house, have a joke of the day ready, or share how your schedule at home is working/not working.
  • Consider starting a letter writing campaign. The USPS is still delivering mail. Writing letters will exercise your students’ reading and writing skills while making connections. Include stamps and envelopes in your first letters to students so they can write back to you! These will likely become some of your most cherished possessions. You can have stamps and supplies delivered to your home from the USPS.
  • Start a text group with your students. Many students have phones – or at least access to a phone – so start a text group to stay connected. Text a question of the day for student responses, post a favorite song and have a virtual dance party, or have students post “funny face pictures” or an emoji that best represents how they are feeling. Have them share photos of the place they are studying every day. Keep the text stream lively and be sure everyone feels included and is engaged. This will keep you connected and will enable students to share some powerful emotions and ideas with one another. Remember…a picture is worth a thousand words and doesn’t take long to compose!


In the end, we need to stay connected and carve out time to build relationships with the youngsters we care so deeply about. It will make this experience far less traumatic for them (and each of us) and we can build on the relationships that are so important in a new and essential way. These relationship-building activities will also help to support the transition back to school…whenever that happens!

Stay safe and healthy, teaching warriors! You are in my thoughts as we collectively take on the challenge of supporting our students from afar.

Call to Action: Please share your ideas!

You all have much better ideas than I do. In the comment section below, please post your ideas to share with your peers! I am happy to update this blog and our social streams with your fabulous ideas. Thank you for your continued dedication!

We’ll be sending along more tips to help us all through these challenging times.

Yours in this (unexpected) work,

By Kristyn Klei Borrero, Co-Founder, CT3

Our suites of pedagogical strategies provide the strategic framework, and Real Time Teacher Coaching supports school leaders and teachers at every step. Click here to find out how.

  • Chris Cantu
    Posted at 16:25h, 25 March Reply

    Set up a class page on Instagram or Facebook to share updates with your kids. Share pertinent videos like how to wash your hands & the importance of following social distance rules. Keep it light & share the latest TikTok trends.

  • Meaghan Loftus
    Posted at 16:28h, 25 March Reply

    As a supplement to a virtual learning platform for lessons, use a social media platform like Instagram or Twitter to create two-way, consistent communication with your kids and families. Use said platform to share links to your virtual learning, share resources, and gather information and data from your kids and families. Launch fun campaigns to get students sharing and collaborating, like picture submissions (with permission) of them working from home or doing a fun and creative indoor activity they want to share with the class. Social media serves a different purpose from the virtual platform itself, and offers a quick and easy way to connect, build community, and gain needed information for learning.

  • Leah Pearson
    Posted at 16:53h, 25 March Reply

    My sister-in-law is a middle school teacher in Washington Heights, NY and she gave the following ideas to do on Zoom:

    – Hold office hours for kids to drop in and chat with the teacher alone/introduce siblings and pets
    – Have Friday Wacky Hair Day on zoom
    – Shout out students 2X per week who earned 80% or higher on an assignment

  • Kirsten Burke
    Posted at 18:21h, 25 March Reply

    My 5th grade son starts his virtual school day in a Zoom room and is given a few minutes to chit-chat with his peers. Then a student is asked to come up with the Question of the Day. What is your favorite cereal? Name your top 2 favorite movies. The teacher calls on each student to share their answer. Its a fun way for everyone to make connections.

  • Karen Smith
    Posted at 20:36h, 25 March Reply

    Create small, authentic wins! For many students, this can be an opportunity to experience success and build confidence in ways that they may not have had before. Consider ways to keep the bar high but the content/work clear and simple. Spend time showing and reminding students that they can learn, improve, and excel.. (What a tremendous bright spot that can be, particularly in times like these.)

    Also, now you have the gift of TIME. Use it to find ways to address individual needs/learning styles (in ways that you might not have made time for before).

    Going deeper and supporting students differently communicates a tremendous amount of care and investment on your part. In turn, this can also be a time for students to let walls down (peer pressure, being one of many in the class, etc.) and be open to receiving the care and reciprocating it as well. This can be the experience that positively changes their educational lives and trajectories…forever. Seize it!

  • Vynesha Johnson
    Posted at 09:19h, 26 March Reply

    Continuing to deepen the relationship with families is just as important during this time. Consider holding office hours to answer questions about school work for families or tutorials to help parents understand how to better support their children at home during non-academic time.

  • Heidi Grove
    Posted at 12:58h, 26 March Reply

    If all students have access to technology, there are tons of great ways to deepen relationships virtually! Let students pick read alouds or vote as a class/group and read them over zoom and discuss (you could even do book clubs). Have students pick a news article or current event article that they read and were interested in to discuss and have other students respond either by chat or verbally! You could do virtual show and tell with a theme or without to keep it light to hear how students are doing either posting or discussing live on a video conference platform like Zoom. Ask students to set a personal short term goal for the time and have them come up with a plan and tracker (this could be around books read, staying active, getting outside to play, completing assignments, helping around the house, running/walking) . Facilitate art therapy activities/reflections and provide resources for students and families (yoga, meditating, mask making reflection, values card sort activities, coloring or drawing while listening to a calming therapeutic music/sounds in the background–>check out the Body Keeps the Score for more ideas). My biggest push would be whatever great strategy you pick, BE CONSISTENT! Right now my biggest challenge and the one I am hearing most often from other educators is how to help maintain a schedule/consistency.

  • Eyka Stephens
    Posted at 21:25h, 27 March Reply

    Keep the channels open for communication with students, especially now. I recommend connecting with students through the fine arts. Ask students to create art, poetry, song lyrics, or multi-media if available to share something about themselves or how they are feeling. This will give students the opportunity to activate a different part of their brain and a moment to breathe.

  • Karen B
    Posted at 22:11h, 27 March Reply

    As teachers all over this country are trying to figure out how to deliver successful virtual lessons for the next several weeks or maybe months, putting together content and trying to follow the curriculum can be stressful. It’s important that educators remember to include activities like art projects that relax the brain and spark creativity. The brain feels safest when it’s in a relaxed state; and art can be calming because it allows one to freely express their imagination.

  • Richard Frank
    Posted at 08:57h, 31 March Reply

    Consider how students can share about themselves and learn about one another. Providing those opportunities helps build positive build your classroom/virtual community and positive cultural connections and understanding. Heidi shared below about Show & Tell. This is something I remember from my youth that was the most exciting time of day. To make it successful it is important that you set clear expectations around what, how, when of sharing for not only the individual(s) sharing but for those who are not. What can be shared (i.e., books reading, family members, favorite toy, most cherished item…)? What about the listeners? Do they get to ask one question, make one comment and/or share a connection? Consider how can you set the stage for sharing that results in students learning and practicing clear, respectful, caring, and empathic communication, while building trusting relationships among peers.

  • Jackie Surratt
    Posted at 09:02h, 31 March Reply

    It’s rare that teachers have the opportunity to invite students’ into their personal lives and homes. Consider recording a video or hosting a Zoom to take your students on a tour of your home. If you have pets or other family members living with you, maybe introduce them briefly. Show students your new “desk” and fill them in on what you are doing to stay busy. Sharing a little bit of your self during this time helps students see that we are all in this together.

  • Nataki
    Posted at 09:18h, 31 March Reply

    If you have the opportunity to connect with students virtually, incorporate some fun into your interactions. Plan a scavenger hunt for students to do while on the call with a list of easy-to-find things — a pencil that needs sharpening, a favorite book, a Lego, etc. Assign different students to help create and share the list, so that no one knows to expect. Keep it low-stakes, of course — no drawback if you can’t find something on the list — and over time, link items to storytelling opportunities so students can connect more with their peers through these scavenger hunt objects, e.g., this is my favorite book because; this unsharpened pencil makes me laugh because, etc.

    The schoolwork is important but the relationship work is more important now, because students may not have opportunities to build them with this class of students again.

  • Rahman Branch
    Posted at 11:02h, 31 March Reply

    When thinking about scholars that have limited access to internet, I’ve worked with teachers to establish YouTube channels where they post their lessons. This allows scholars access to the lesson whenever they can get to them. Those teachers would then have office hours posted in their lessons so scholars can possibly meet with the teacher at a later time/day.

  • Joy Treadwell
    Posted at 18:25h, 02 April Reply

    In times like these, leaders are so busy making sure their teachers and scholars are well cared for that they forget to feed their own spirit. To stay grounded, connect directly with the students you serve. Host principal chats via zoom, call 2-3 families a day but don’t just talk about school. Conduct your morning announcements using Facebook or Instagram Live so that you can interact with them regularly.

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