This morning I am cautiously excited because it has just been announced that social distancing is slowly being lifted in VN. This hopefully means that teachers at least will be able to meet together sometime soon. We still have a way to go before we are likely to be in the same classroom, so rules of virtual engagement still apply for now...as is still the case for many across the world. This separation has illuminated just how huge our school communities are in our lives. In our international school context this is certainly the case; many of us find our first friends in our host country at school, join sports teams and clubs that use the facilities and are comprised of school-people, and more. Whilst we have many ways to connect virtually, maintaining a sense of the collective is a challenge, but one that is vital in so many ways.
So how, during this time of social distancing, can we dig deep to fortify our community? What do people value, and where do we focus our efforts?
I asked some of my colleagues to share their thoughts about community right now:
Personally, I've been drawn to Elena Aguilar's definition in her book Onward - Cultivating Resilience in Educators. It situates itself as a definition for a healthy community that fosters resilience in its members:
Key values seem to be safety, trust, relationships, connection, collective purpose and action, support, reciprocity, recognition, and a belief that our individual differences make us stronger as a whole.
Depending on how coaching is structured in your context, fostering these qualities might be easier said than done while social distancing. But all of us have a responsibility to work hard for our community, perhaps now more than ever. What simple moves can we all make to foster these qualities? Or maybe the more pertinent question is, what can we do, better?
Listen harder than ever.
This has never felt so important.
Pause. Actually, pause for a lot longer than you are comfortable. That space you are hearing might be a lag, not the silence that signals everyone is 'done'. Honestly, I mute my microphone to help me do this (after alerting my colleagues that it will happen!) to create more space in a chat.
Who hasn't spoken in a while? Check-in on them. What are they thinking about?
Invite people to continue on a document after online meetings have closed. A whole host of things might have prevented a thoughtful contribution from one of your team members during virtual conversation that you couldn't see through their camera. Keeping the floor open a little longer might allow cognitive space for your best ideas to flourish.
Communicate with transparency, purpose, and care.
I have always had the privilege of talking with my children's teachers as a colleague and as a mum - which, whilst difficult at times, is a privilege. As a parent, I am their right-hand-woman at our kitchen table during this time. We are keenly focused on the same prize: getting through this strong, together, with our kids thriving. Whilst few are teachers, what might we share (within reason) so that caregivers might feel more confident supporting their children? How might we leverage what caregivers are seeing in their children's struggles and successes to enhance our instruction?
With our faculty
Michelle used the analogy of a puzzle to describe a community - individuals as pieces of a whole. It made me think about what it is like to assemble the pieces of a puzzle when you don't have the box as a reference of the bigger picture:
It's practically impossible, especially when there are many pieces
It's hugely frustrating
The likelihood of losing interest is high
If you are making the puzzle with a friend, you're likely to end up in a fight because you might have different visions of what the bigger picture might look like
We all need to see the box. What are we building together right now? How does this picture illustrate our educational values, and reinforce our purpose as a community? What is my role and how do we fit together?
Be a cheerleader
When we are in school walls, it is much easier to see the successes of others or champion them at faculty meetings, on notices, or in PD shares. How do you celebrate others in ways that are authentic and foster connection from a distance? In some ways, coaches, curriculum coordinators and principals are uniquely positioned for this right now. Faculty may be unable to see what in happening beyond their own 'classroom' or team for a myriad reasons - drawing connections between their work and others and maintaining a strengths-based approach in our interactions builds morale and collective efficacy. And it feels good when you do it, too.
In a conversation with Libby a few days ago, we mused about a return to school. She offered these parting words:
"I can't wait to be back with my team. They make my ideas so much better."
This is why we need to make that extra effort to fortify our community while social distancing: together, we are more amazing than we are, alone.
(I can't wait, either.)