Guidelines for communicating with students

Communicating in Times of Uncertainty

In Response to COVID-19

Background image: Blue flowers blooming on a bush.

The emergence of the novel coronavirus as a world-wide pandemic and public health emergency has already impacted higher education in unprecedented ways and will continue to alter the ways that we teach, serve, and support our students in the days, weeks, and months ahead. 

As instructors, you also are coping every day with the concerns and needs of your students; this can be challenging. To help, UC Berkeley's Center for Teaching and Learning(link is external) has created this set of practical suggestions, inspired by a document produced by the College Transition Collaborative(link is external).

Below you will find example language and talking points to assist you in communicating with compassion and consistency. Some of the suggestions assume a two-way conversation with a concerned student. However, most can be adapted for mass communication in emails, on course management websites, and in welcoming or closing remarks in zoom class sessions.

You know your students. This resource is not an exhaustive list of all of the challenges our students are facing at this time, nor is it a perfect roadmap for navigating the difficult conversations we know many of you are having. But we hope it provides a base that you can usefully adapt.

Guiding Principles for Communicating in Times of Uncertainty 

The suggestions that follow are guided by the following principles for communication, which take into account students' psychological experiences and family and community circumstances:

  • Normalize the experience of finding the current situation difficult and upsetting
  • At the same time, recognize that different students are experiencing these times in different ways based on individual, family and community experiences
  • Recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all way to approach the issues in this guidance; be open to listening and customizing solutions to the diverse needs of your students
  • Convey compassion, understanding, and respect for students' individual concerns and challenges
  • Reassure them that these are highly unusual times and that university administration, staff, instructors, and students are learning how to handle it, together
  • Validate and address their concerns or questions as well as you are able given the information available to you, and your own capacity
  • Acknowledge that the situation is changing quickly and that solutions are changing as circumstances change
  • Connect them to places where they can get updated information as plans continue to unfold
  • Prioritize communication that helps create and maintain a sense of belonging for all students