The emergence of relationship gaps during COVID and how to close them for stronger school communities
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on student learning, and now, the delta variant threatens a potential return to normalcy. With record outbreaks already occurring in schools across the country, the year suddenly looks like it could be more challenging than anticipated.
Although it’s understandable to fear what might happen, we have the potential opportunity to improve our systems—not just for this year or to “make it through” COVID, but for the entire educational ecosystem moving forward. Right now, the opportunity exists to change our approach to communication between teachers, students, and families.
With the right tools in place, we can forge stronger connections and relationships to help close the gaps that have emerged since the pandemic began, and embark on a new phase of what it means to be a community.
Relationship gaps and why they matter
It should go without saying that teachers and school staff have a tremendous impact on student success. A study conducted by Rand showed that “teachers are estimated to have two to three times the effect of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership.” Teachers serve as early role models and mentors, and the connections they form with students can shape a child’s future.
But over the course of the pandemic, such foundational relationships have suffered: Attendance rates and enrollment numbers have plummeted, while schools across the country worry about a surge in dropouts. And with these new relationship gaps have come not only academic setbacks but an alarming increase in youth suicides and episodes of self-harm—with the groups already most at risk for mental health concerns, including Black and LGBTQ students, more likely to be affected.
Students rely on connections to support their well-being, and social-emotional support is necessary for learning. From this perspective, it’s imperative to address these new relationship gaps in order to start closing the learning gaps that the pandemic has widened. The two are inextricably linked.
The role of technology
Video instruction and email newsletters may open a line of communication, but it’s time to reassess how we use technology in the mission to keep students engaged in school. When it comes to communication, simple is better—and something as seemingly basic as SMS text messaging can provide an immediate and effective way to reach kids and families at risk of falling away from their school communities.
Despite income inequalities, 97% of Americans own a cell phone, which means they can send and receive texts even if they don’t have internet access or a data plan. Services can even automatically translate texts so English learners can communicate with teachers in their home language.
At the same time, the technology now exists to give school administrators oversight over text communication without requiring them to continually monitor messages. Texts can also be exchanged while maintaining the privacy of user information to protect teachers, students, and parents while still providing the means to connect in a meaningful way.
And then there’s the immediacy required to keep students and families informed and engaged in a rapidly changing environment. The average open rate for a text message is 98%, significantly higher than email, and most texts are opened within three minutes of receipt—a game-changer for communicating not only COVID-related updates but emergencies like dangerous weather conditions and school closures.
The road ahead
The situation we face today is daunting, but we have a real opportunity to narrow the relationship gaps that have emerged during the pandemic. If we recognize the importance of fostering the connections that students need to succeed—and the potential of simple, powerful communication technologies that are often overlooked—we can continue to address COVID’s impact and set our communities on a course for future success.
Brian Grey is the Executive Chairman of Remind.com, the largest network of teachers, students, parents, and administrators in the U.S. With nearly 30 million monthly active users, Remind’s communication platform is rapidly emerging as a vital service that supports 2-way communication, family engagement, and personalized learning for all stakeholders who share Remind’s vision to give every student an opportunity to succeed. Prior to joining Remind, Brian held several leadership roles in the technology and sports media sectors, including serving as CEO of Bleacher Report, SVP/GM of Fox Sports Interactive, and VP/GM of Yahoo! Sports.
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