Empathy and flexibility in client interactions

One of the lessons we have gleaned from the pandemic is the need for flexibility and empathy when speaking with prospects and clients. This article on education helps drive home that point.

It’s no secret that one of the more difficult and disconcerting aspects of the pandemic has been the impact on education.  Parents and grandparents across the world have had to find ways to help their children and grandchildren learn remotely, to help the family adjust to a hybrid mix of remote learning and in-class learning, and now to help students readjust to in-person learning in most areas of the nation.  No doubt there will be studies on the impact of all of these changes on today’s students, both how the changes have affected them now and how they will affect them in the long term.

One such study, released in March by the Horace Mann Educators Corporation, the largest financial services company focused on providing America’s educators and school employees with insurance and retirement solutions, says that more than one half of public K-12 educators say that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant loss of both academic and social-emotional learning for students. The report is called Closing the Learning Gap, and it shares insights from the March 2021 Horace Mann Voice of the Educator Study, which surveyed nearly 1,000 United States K-12 educators with the aim to explore and understand the educational challenges caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the key findings, the report highlights the following takeaways:

  • More than 97% of educators reported loss of learning by their students over the past year when they compare those students with children in previous years.
  • Most educators (57%) estimated that their students are behind by more than three months in social-emotional learning.
  • When asked about the biggest obstacle to a return to a “normal” educational environment, almost one half of educators (47%) cited a wider gap between academically struggling and high-performing students.

“For 75 years, Horace Mann has been dedicated to helping educators achieve lifelong financial success, driven by our desire to help those who are taking care of our children,” said Horace Mann president and CEO Marita Zuraitis. “That appreciation and respect has only deepened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Educators are working harder than ever to meet the needs of their students through an environment of constant change, and we are inspired by their enduring commitment to help each student reach their full potential.”

In a media release that Horace Mann used to announce the study and its somewhat sobering findings, the company also noted some good news.  The company highlighted that the 2021-2022 school year has strong potential to look more like a pre-pandemic learning environment. Teachers are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in all states. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has lessened social distancing requirements to three feet from six feet for students in most classroom settings.  And several vaccine manufacturers are testing their vaccines on children and expect to release clinical trial results over the summer.

Educators in the study also provided some ideas on how to best support students’ academic and social-emotional progress moving forward:

  • 53% report a need for a narrower focus on grade-level standards to ensure students learn the most important concepts for their grade level, with many also recommending less focus on standardized test preparation.
  • 34% want more paraprofessionals to provide targeted support to struggling students.
  • 30% requested access to more social-emotional learning resources to help students process the events of this past year.

A broader theme noted in the study is that teachers stressed the need for transparency and involvement in workplace decisions as administrators weigh how to adjust academic practices and curriculum. Many educators emphasized the importance of flexibility and patience − the need for flexibility in adapting to the ever-changing challenges of the pandemic, and the need for patience as teachers, administrators, students and parents navigate a world none of them have ever faced before.

“In the midst of the upheaval of the 2020-2021 school year, 93% of educators said they were proud of how they adapted their teaching to meet the needs of students, whether in a remote, hybrid, or socially distanced in-person learning environment,” said Horace Mann national business solutions executive Kelly Ruwe. “Teachers’ experience on the front lines will be invaluable in charting the way forward: surfacing new issues that need to be addressed, sharing successful approaches, and advising how our communities can band together to help our children succeed.”

Clearly, we’re at an early stage of judging the pandemic’s impact on education, and finding ways to mitigate the gap that’s been created.  Toward that end, it’s good to see Horace Mann using its relationship with educators to help provide some guidance.  The full report, Closing the Learning Gap: How frontline educators want to address lost learning due to COVID-19, is available HERE.

Charles K. Hirsch, CLU, is the president of Hirsch Communications Consulting, LLC, a communications consulting operation in Florissant, MO. For many years, Chuck was the editor and publisher of Life Insurance Selling magazine, and has published several of the leading life insurance industry magazines. Chuck continues to contribute articles on a regular basis to industry publications, in addition to providing a wide range of writing, editing, content development, and marketing services through his firm. He is a regular contributor to NAILBA Now e-Newsletter as well as to Perspectives magazine.