“Only connect…” – in a global pandemic…

Today is the start of a week of #teacher5aday online slow chats, with today’s, hosted by @TeacherEmpower, focussing on #connect. To launch the chat, @KathrynGrice1 has written this powerful post which was shared on @MartynReah’s blog site. Reading Kathryn’s post, and the messages shared on Twitter today, has encouraged me to reflect on the subject of connection in the days of Covid, and what has happened to my capacity to #connect since March of this year.

I recognise that I am not in the same position as the serving teachers and leaders with whom I am in contact. I understand how challenging these times are, and hear how strange schools can feel at the moment. Friends are missing the opportunity to chat in the staffroom and have those informal conversations which form an important part of being in a strong school community. There are increased feelings of isolation, in some cases exacerbating anxiety. Everyone is busy, and focussed, moving more frequently around the school, adapting to new routines and constantly mindful of safety procedures and unfamiliar processes. My teacher and leader contacts are, in the main, exhausted – and some of them, now the half term break has arrived, are ill. Although so many were delighted to see the students, and their colleagues, again when schools reopened, this term has been demanding and draining – and it’s only half over. Uncertainty about the future compounds current anxiety.

The danger is that when we are busy and stressed, our connection with those who might bolster and support us can be squeezed out. When we most need human contact, we are pressured for time and may not prioritise it. Sometimes we are so intensely focussed on ‘coping’ and painting on a smile that, even when we do have interaction with others, it is less open and honest than it perhaps needs to be, and Kathryn deals with this adeptly in her post.

These are my reflections on what #connect has meant to me over the past eight months.

  1. Since March, as opportunities for face-to-face contact with those I care about has inevitably reduced, online contact has increased to compensate, and I have had had more phone calls, WhatsApp calls and messages, exchanges of texts and emails, Zoom conversations – and I have started to write more letters and send cards. In some cases, I have had MORE opportunities to communicate with friends because it has been so enjoyable and energising that we have been quick to schedule in future opportunities to talk. Weekly Zoom meetings, fortnightly phone calls, monthly WhatsApp video calls have become a regular feature in my diary, replacing all those commitments I erased in March. I’ve looked forward to the next one, checking in and catching up. I have especially enjoyed writing letters – something I did a lot of in my younger days. Writing (as with my blog posts) gives me time to think, to process, and sometimes to make sense of what is happening in my life. So in the absence of face-to-face meetings, I have focussed on other opportunities to #connect
  2. With respect to my professional commitments, supporting leaders at all levels, online coaching and, particularly, Zoom webinars (with occasional use of GoogleMeets and Microsoft Teams) have presented opportunities I could not necessarily have anticipated back in the spring. I’ve written about this here. I can see some real advantages of online professional learning and networking; this year’s #WomenEd unconference, for example, was a global online event, and gave us the opportunity to #connect with #WomenEd supporters across the world. Using breakout rooms, the chat facility, recording for replay later, can ensure that all the participants are actively engaged, able to share and interact, and process their learning successfully.
  3. The pace of my life has slowed to some extent, with postponed holidays, social engagements and work commitments that would have taken me away from home for several days at a stretch. I have used some of the time generated to write – experimenting with fiction, which I’ve written about here and here, and also to add to my education blog more frequently, which I have enjoyed. Tweeting about my blog posts has led to many chances to #connect with educators and to share debates and ideas. I have read more education books than I would normally have time for, and tweeting extracts and quotations has enabled me to share this reading with education professionals whose time is far more pressured than my own. My fiction writing has placed me securely outside my comfort zone! But I am learning all the time – I’m currently trying to expand ‘The Dresser’ to novel length, after which I will go back and review and revise ‘#oneword’ – in both cases, the feedback I have received from those who have read my efforts so far has been invaluable. This, for me, is connection at its most productive.
  4. I remember when the restrictions eased a little and I was able to meet family and friends again, even socially distanced, it was such a joy. To share a walk and a proper conversation, or sit outside over morning coffee, afternoon tea, a drink or a meal, was so pleasurable. And even now the weather has moved from warm summer to crisp autumn, and, in Tier 3, we are once more unable to meet indoors those outside our bubble, still wrapping up warmly and sitting outside to share a meal is a possibility, and walks in country parks and local woodland, round the nearby sailing lake or along the riverbank allow us to #connect and to enjoy fresh air and exercise at the same time.

So I hope that over half term, the serving teachers and leaders I know are finding time to #connect with those they care about, whose company they enjoy and whose conversation they find sustaining and energising. It may be online, a phone call, a letter, or an outdoor meeting in thermals. I hope it’s an open and honest, frank and authentic connection. And I hope it enables everyone to build the energy we need for the months ahead.

Only #connect.

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