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Mind Your P’s and Q’s

Since school closures began in Pennsylvania in March 2020, school leaders have had to focus on almost nothing other than Covid-related decisions. And oh how the opinions and responses to those decisions vary.

It’s no surprise. Our school communities, often described as microcosms of society at large, reflect the same unrest and polarization that we’ve seen nationally. So at a time that is challenging us unlike ever before, how do we, as adults, model good behaviors for our students? How do we “mind our p’s and q’s”?

P is for Prepare.

  • Improve the quality of the time that you do meet with students, whether in person, synchronously or asynchronously, or on the phone. Smile more, especially at the start and end of class or recordings for class. Make a conscious effort to smile while you speak, too. This is not as easy as it sounds, but watch yourself in a mirror and notice the difference in how you feel and sound when you smile. Smiling will not only affect your mood, but it will also impact the mood of those around you. Learn how at “Why you need to smile more.”

  • It’s easy to become overwhelmed with so many options and tools for virtual learning, especially when it’s all new to you. It’s okay to keep it simple. For quick but effective virtual learning experiences, remember the norms and procedures that we rely on for effective in-person instruction. Communicate your expectations. Remind participants to log in early to be able to begin on time. If scheduling a live virtual class or meeting, let students and parents know in advance if you expect their cameras to be on so that they can be prepared. Clarify your expectation for participating, providing options such as using the chat feature to ask questions. Create and share a few slides to guide the instruction and keep yourself on track. Read more at 9 Tips for Creating an Engaging Virtual Learning Experience.

Q is for Question.

  • Before looking for the best tool or trick to help students engage, ask yourself a question: have you yet connected with them on a meaningful, human level first? With good intentions, organizations and school leaders have bombarded teachers with recommended resources to help provide support for their continuity of education. With the allure of all these bells and whistles, we may neglect the most significant way that teachers, and any mentor for that matter, impacts a young person’s life—building relationships. We’ve all heard the saying, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Conversations more so than the latest tool will help you achieve this.

  • To improve relationships with students and parents, focus on caring questions more than caring statements. Questions help to show a genuine interest in seeking to understand. As Stephen Covey explains, be careful, though, not to listen to their responses with the intent to reply rather than listen with the intent to understand. For more insight on Stephen Covey’s 5th habit on effective listening, check out Joanne Lang’s “Seek First to Understand.”

  • Questions also release the feel-good chemicals in the brain of the receiver, helping them to relax and engage in a solution-finding activity. Want effective communications with administrators, colleagues, parents, and students? Turn to brain science: ask questions, laugh, smile, and be positive. “Building Positive Relationships with Students: What Brain Science Says

  • Before defaulting to email, ask yourself if this is the most efficient means of communication for the need. When possible, choose to call rather than email. Yes, the use of technology can sometimes save time, but it can also lead to wasted time. Most of us can recall instances when an email led to a string of follow up emails that could have been resolved in a short phone call instead. Further, email can be an unconscious way of avoiding the more direct interaction that a phone call provides. This goes for communications with administrators, colleagues, and families. Jimmy Casas, author and leader in the field of education, offers more ideas about the power of phone calls in strengthening school communities in his blog “Phone Calls Home...I’m not going to lie, they scare me.”

During this unique time for our society, for education, and for our own well being, it can be challenging to separate our emotions and disagreements from the job at hand, engaging effectively with those around us, especially our students and their families. Minding your p’s and q’s has always been the best place to start.


Cooper, N. (2018, March 16). What Effect Do Questions Have On Our Brain? Retrieved January 17, 2021, from


Tracey King has been a PA English teacher for 20 years, striving to help students build their confidence, find their voice, and lead the change that contributes to building stronger relationships and better communities at all levels: school, local, national, and global.

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