Communicating and Leading Online With Empathy

Instructors and campus leaders should be proud of themselves for the year they’ve endured. 2020 has provided opportunities to experience growth, compassion, and most important, empathy. In this post, we wanted to capture some of the lessons learned in 2020 that could guide us in 2021, especially in higher education for communicating and leading online with empathy.

Lesson One: Leverage Support Systems

More than ever this past year we’ve had to rely on others. We have found ways to connect and engage more with others even if it had to be virtual. It is helpful that we continue to rely on each other as professional resources and as companions that enjoy each other‘s personal qualities. Chatting with colleagues frequently about work related or not work related topics can serve as a strategy for building relationships that contribute to a strong support system. Instructors should engage in reading blogs, newsletters, reports, etc. in order to stay educated and gain a broader perspective on what is happening in higher education.

Lesson Two: Break Away at Times From Our Devices

In 2020, instructors had to learn to admit when they needed help or even needed a break away from their devices. This was not always easy to do and, typically, it is not a common practice in the workplace. Instructors have learned new ways to cope and adjust. Now they must take those new findings with them into the new year and beyond as they plan their strategy for their learning communities. It is important to understand that everyone is going through this year in their own way and that it’s important to give everyone their space to do what they need to do to navigate it.

Educators need to be patient with themselves as  they work through pandemic related frustrations. They should be patient with their family who is also struggling and working to overcome the present normal. They should be patient with their colleagues and peers who are also trying to figure their lives out and their jobs which have all changed on some fundamental levels.

Lesson Three: Understand Communication Challenges

When it comes to connecting with students and learning communities, this past year we’ve all had to change how we communicate another very fast pace. There is evidence that, when leveraged effectively, social media, digital communications, and virtual tools were valued in 2020. Instructors should continue to pivot quickly, to translate in person interactions into digital engagement, support their learning community, and provide the critically needed transparency, and communication with empathy, efficacy, and clarity. Communicating how to teach and learn in an online environment is difficult to do in a way that informs without overwhelming. The situation is complicated and presents new challenges every day. It is important that instructors keep messaging simple enough for their audience to grasp, but with enough detail that they know what to expect next. Also, different stakeholders prefer different approaches so it’s important to cast a wide net. Instructors should use email, social media, use video in both, use podcasts, use whatever they have at their disposal.

Lesson Four: Discuss the New Learning Experience

Although 2020 was a trying year, higher education leaders and faculty have been resilient. They’ve been resilient in their efforts through extremely tough times and have continued to work for their students. The student experience has been dramatically altered, but educators are making sure that students can experience as much as possible given the constraints they faced. In 2021, the spotlight will be placed on the importance of the student experience, not simply the delivery of academic content as a full college experience. Digital learning environments must create connections and provide engagement opportunities that help and welcome all students to class.

Lesson Five: Talk With Your Audience

2020 presented instructors with the need to share information at alarmingly fast rates, to understand it themselves, package it per platform, and ensure that it provided value to their students. Even though instructors continue to work hard getting information out, it is important that they keep in mind the person on the other end of the message and how it may affect them. Digital communication strategies will need to continue shifting in order to accommodate for an increase in comments, direct messages, emails, and other replies related to what is going on in the world. Keeping students engaged in general during a pandemic and finding ways to be creative will be exhausting, but it is important in order to keep students and stakeholders connected while they are physically apart.

Given all that we’ve been through in the year 2020, we cannot simply return to the way things were. As we cross the threshold into 2021, we’re here to help support you and your learning community.

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