The Importance of Relationships

September 28, 2020

Frank Hua discusses the importance of establishing and maintaining relationships with students during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Importance of Relationships

There is no denying the massive impact COVID has had on education in 2020. Anyone who has worked in education knows the excitement that comes with the start of a new year. This year, the excitement carried atypical undertones of uncertainty, nervousness, and anxiety. In Panama, the 2020 school year has started online, and quarantine is still a part of daily lives. Worldwide, Panama has had some of the strictest COVID regulations. In March, the country implemented a daily curfew, shut down businesses, set up roadblocks, and limited access to essentials. The assigned genders to specific days of the week where, depending on gender, individuals were permitted a one-hour time frame, based upon their ID number, to shop for groceries and pharmaceuticals. Some individuals, especially children, have been cooped up inside for nearly 200 days as the shopping restrictions did not include youth. Such social isolation can be quite traumatic and have a severe impact on mental health and well-being, which is why this article discusses the importance of relationships during such trying times. The world is living through a pandemic. No one is left untouched by the impact.

Though Panama has stated schools could potentially open campuses this year, no one knows when. Thus, the International School of Panama (ISP) knew that things would need to be run as smoothly as possible for teachers and students. The school administration introduced a new blended learning approach with five essential elements. The first element was to build and maintain relationships. Second, each department was directed to select priority curriculum standards for the year, knowing that online learning occurs slower than learning in the classroom. Third, teachers were to put extra emphasis and time into creating authentic assessments. The fourth and fifth elements were to design meaningful learning experiences and provide students with purposeful feedback.

Rather than spending orientation planning lessons and units, ISP spent considerable amounts of time completing virtual team-building exercises that could be adopted for our classrooms. The emphasis for the beginning of the school year was to create bonds with our students. Most educators are familiar with Buddha’s quote, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” This year, teachers will need to put an extra effort into showing students that teachers are still there for them. Having meaningful conversations where connections are made does not happen online in the organic fashion of a classroom. However, relationships are at the heart of the learning experience. Building relationships takes time, persistence, and consistency. In an online setting, the most critical aspect of these blended learning elements is to create and maintain relationships.

Once school began, there was a buzz. It was not the usual buzz of students in the hallways but the buzz of computers working on overdrive to run Zoom and Google meetings. The first task of the year was to build meaningful relationships with students and also colleagues. Getting to know the students is a priority every year, but this year more time is dedicated to maintaining relationships and connections. Despite school having been in session for less than two months, high school students have already expressed feeling burnt out. They need to feel heard. Though students are not on campus, they are still spending significant amounts of time with their teachers, and it is more crucial than ever teachers stay tuned into how their students are doing. Teachers are a vital aspect of a student’s support system.

When teachers are with their students from authenticity, students sense the teacher’s genuine nature. Educators need to remember to feel comfortable being themselves during this pandemic, whether online or on-campus, in a classroom setting. All teachers bring different spice to life, which adds depth to the student’s learning experience. Regardless of the teacher’s character’s strength, whether it is humor, empathy, or finding a way to bring out a new side in each student, a worthy goal for this bizarre 2020 is for educators to remember that when they are themselves, students are welcomed to do the same. Relationships may authentically thrive.

Going to school online is not normal and should not be treated like it is normal. Thus, classes this year are run a bit differently. When classes begin, check-ins are done regularly. Some days they are short, and some days they take up a significant portion of the class. The time set aside is entirely dependent on the students and their needs. This year, a priority needs to be placed on watching students’ mental well-being and reminding them of the support systems in place.

Students are likely to forget the content they learn, but they will remember their positive teachers helping them get through this pandemic. Maya Angelou stated, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 2020 is a year for educators to strive to make their students feel safe and cared for, and at the heart of doing so, educators must build relationships.