Culture in the New Normal

Teach Better TeamBlog, Connect Better, Lead Better


  • Using your Professional Learning Network (PLN) to inspire positive culture in your classroom.
  • Reimagining your PLN through positivity, authenticity, and modeling appropriate norms.
  • Using the tools, skills, and ideas established with your PLN to maintain valuable relationships with your students.

“Learning is finding out what you already know” – Richard Bach.

With our new normal quickly approaching this fall, educator anxiety seems to be at an all-time high.  Educational leaders find themselves exploring various learning options, new procedures, and revamped systems as they determine the necessary path forward in this COVID culture. 

Many schools are opting for continued remote learning, a hybrid of partial virtual education, or a commitment to social distancing, masks, and decreased physical connection. Thus, teachers are becoming increasingly concerned about their abilities to establish and maintain effective relationships with students. These concerns make total sense!  Relationships are critical to culture.    

After all, how am we supposed to create real connections without the ability to be physically near our students?  

Providing specific feedback, kindness, and compliments through a positive lens allows students to bridge the virtual or distanced leap to ongoing school relationships. Click To Tweet

Educators are continually reminded that relationships are essential. Without them, we’re simply failing to serve our learners.  As the Director of Culture for the Teach Better Team and recent author of a popular book on a school-wide culture and climate (Award Winning Culture), I’ve been peppered with questions about how educators can intentionally connect with students in these spaced-out learning environments.

The Power of Culture with Your PLN

“So much in life depends on our attitude” – Thomas Monson.

I have reshaped my attitude about COVID-style relationships. I’ve realized that I already have the tools, skills, and ideas to establish and maintain valuable relationships with people, regardless of proximity.  And chances are…so do you! 

Connected educators recognize the power of their PLN (Professional Learning Network) as a resource, guide, and support to do their best work.  Social media, technology, and advanced cyber spaces have helped teachers learn, share, and interact with educators all over the world.  Indeed, I’d suspect that most everyone reading this blog—or even part of the Teach Better extended family—are already equipped to thrive in these distant times.  

Members of my PLN are in all parts of the world—from Edmonton, Canada to Cedar Crest, Pennsylvania.  We’ve formed meaningful networks in South Africa, Australia, and New York.  Many of the people in our PLN have either never or rarely met.  Despite that, we refuse to let physical proximity be a barrier to the obvious benefits of human connection.  

How did we do it? We reimagined our PLN (Positivity, Lean-in, Norms).

Reimagining Your PLN: Positivity

Your medium of choice for virtual contact may be any or all of the following: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Voxer, TikTok, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Zoom, text, phone, etc.  Regardless, you’ve cultivated your connections through a steady diet of positivity.  And leading with positivity is an excellent way to recalibrate your focus onto student relationships. 

Providing specific feedback, kindness, and compliments through a positive lens allows students to bridge the virtual or distanced leap to ongoing school relationships.  Additionally, by modeling positivity, we’re teaching our students a necessary soft skill of how to treat others.  Leading with positivity will serve ourselves and our students admirably in the eventual post-COVID existence.  

Reimagining Your PLN: Lean-In

It’s time to lean-into COVID (Curiosity, Openness, Vulnerability, Intentionality, and Diversity).  Being truly authentic with students and focusing all my energy in uncovering the realness in others has proved to be a winning strategy in connecting virtually.

Think about your own PLN for a moment. The folks to whom you feel closest are undoubtedly the ones who are transparent, actively engaged in what you’re doing, and are relentless in valuing all parts of you.  Students are no different.  They want educators who are committed to interacting with them on a human level, rather than a transactional level of instruction.  Leaning into COVID will help educators to focus on the most salient ideas in virtual connection.  

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Reimagining Your PLN: Norms

There’s a reason that following social and ethical norms continues to be a critical component in CASEL’s widely used framework for social-emotional learning.  A norm is a standard or pattern of social behavior that is typical or expected of a group.  Teaching and modeling appropriate norms is a powerful soft skill to help students thrive in an unknown future. 

For me, it’s been my founding norm to build my own PLN of uplifting and inspiring educators, authors, and thought leaders. I want to surround myself with people who challenge and support me. With people of high character, who are committed to reach for excellence while cultivating a community of sharing with others. 

Big ideas like listening, assuming best intentions, and spotlighting exceptional educators became cornerstones to my virtual norms.  It’s critical for educators to use a similar playbook with students to establish, maintain, or repair relationships during this pandemic.  

Realizing that I already have the PLN skills to foster healthy relationships with my students has freed me up to focus on doing what I do best: connecting, supporting, and inspiring young people to discover and develop their JOY.  

Generalizing our virtual network skills from our own PLN into our work with learners will massively transform our culture.

Culture Better.  Teach Better.

About Hans Appel

Hans Appel is an educator, speaker, and writer deeply committed to inspiring the whole child. He’s the author of, Award Winning Culture: Building School-Wide Intentionality and Action Through Character, Excellence, and Community. Additionally, he’s the Director of Culture for the Teach Better Team, co-host of the Award Winning Culture podcast, and the Co-Creator of Award Winning Culture.

Hans is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.