Connecting During COVID: How-To Foster Interaction During Isolation, Part II

Black Belt

Aleksandra Knepper: 3rd Degree Black Belt, Sensei

As you read in Part I of this series, it's important to double down on weekly virtual interaction with your student base to foster engagement and to stay top of mind. Our material and 'bonus' videos were important but providing consistent communication with a black belt a student respects and admires is equally as impactful, if not more so.

With an active black belt staff roster over 60 long, we were able to tap into our staff to serve in a new volunteer capacity as "Accountability Black Belts" (ABB's) to offer consistent, personalized student attention in place of face-to-face interaction. Each student who signed up for the online platform was assigned their own ABB. Our ABBs conducted weekly check-in video calls with our Patrons, serving as a mini-private lesson to work through any child-specific questions or issues with the material— and to keep them excited and motivated to continue their training.

Students who signed up for the online platform had the opportunity to advance in rank—conducted virtually by their ABB. Once we were clear to reopen, all belts, stripes, and certificates earned during the virtual program were awarded at a private (socially distanced) ceremony for our Patrons: the "Patreon Presentation Celebration" complete with photo booths and their favorite black belts.

I provided ABB's weekly guidance and scripting on what to cover with their students based on what they learned that week in video classes. They were required to check in with me weekly to recap how each of their students was doing, highlighting any students who needed additional attention or motivation.

You may be wondering, "But what about those who didn't sign up for the online program?" Great question. Being a non-contract studio where students can join or leave at any time, we had no guarantee our students returning following the mandated closure. While we had a high conversion rate to the online platform, we certainly didn't capture all our students.

Board Breaking

Maintaining interaction with students you haven't seen in three months is difficult, but not impossible. Facebook content and engagement on the KMK page were at an all-time high. We publicly released some of the 'bonus' content offered to higher Patreon tiers like cardio videos or bedtime stories for the younger age students to deliver to our non-Patron members.

Regardless of the content released on social media, our aim was, and is, to cultivate meaningful relationships with our students and their families, regardless of Patreon participation. We made it a priority for dedicated family outreach to connect on a more human and personal level. Studio-owner Master Rick Rando personally called each family enrolled in our program, virtual or not, to express the value we feel for them and our opportunity to shape their child's life. Handmade 3D cards were made and sent to all our families, regardless of enrollment in the online program.

Look, this is a lot. We're all trying to navigate these restrictions in different, creative ways—and now that we're physically open again, we face other, newer challenges. The biggest takeaway from our experiences during these unique several months is that personal connection and interaction are essential. Right now, providing normalcy, consistency, and motivation may the best way we can create the 'safe space' our students need, even outside the dojo.

While I'm not prescribing our playbook as the perfect remedy for your situation, the Patreon + ABB program did wonders for our students during the three months we were physically closed—and provided a unique growth opportunity for our staff alike.

The start of this decade hasn't involved the excitement any of us were hoping for, but it certainly has challenged us to grow. If you have yet to reopen or are required to 'close' again, I hope our playbook will spark creative thoughts of growth that will allow you, your students, and your dojo to continue to do what you do best.
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