To prevent the spread of coronavirus, schools across the country are rushing to go online and to assemble and deliver academic content. This is all happening at a moment of crisis, when young people and adults alike are feeling anxious and dislocated – at best. To get through this crisis, and for learning to happen, we need to address these feelings and needs. Ignoring them won’t make them go away. (See these general guidelines talking with students about the coronavirus.)
Fortunately, it is possible to create a supportive space online that allows us (both staff and students) to reconnect, share, and get support from one another. Here, our senior trainer Marieke van Woerkom offers a way to begin this process, drawing on online gatherings facilitated by Morningside Center’s Daniel Coles.
The online gathering below is intended for students, using whatever online meeting platform (ideally with audio and visual) you have selected. If your platform allows it, you can share your screen so all members of the gathering can watch the video together.
Note to the teacher/facilitator
Prepare yourself to facilitate the virtual gathering described below in the following ways.
Make sure you are as familiar as you can be with the online platform you’re using, or work collaboratively with someone who is.
You are likely to have students joining the meeting who have technical issues. Talking them through in a calm and friendly fashion is important. You don't want to add to the anxiety that will inevitably be brought into the space. Be aware that, even in the face of technical adversity, you can model the steadiness, patience, and warmth we hope to offer our students.
As students convene in the virtual space, welcome them warmly. When you’ve assembled, welcome everyone again. You might acknowledge that it has been a stressful time, and we are all carrying worries and anxieties. Today, we’ll slow things down a bit.
Invite students to take a few deep breaths before you begin. You might guide them in three deep breaths: in for four seconds; hold for four seconds; and out for four seconds.
Next, share your screen and this activity. Bring up the poem below for participants to read. If you like, you can also play the video of the poem being read by Morningside Center’s Daniel Coles.
Turning to One Another
by Margaret Wheatley
There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
Ask: “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.
Notice what you care about.
Assume that many others share your dreams.
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.
Be intrigued by the differences you hear.
Expect to be surprised.
Treasure curiosity more than certainty.
Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.
Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.
Know that creative solutions come from new connections.
Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.
Real listening always brings people closer together.
Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.
Rely on human goodness. Stay together.
Morningside Center's Daniel Coles recites Margaret Wheatley's Turning to Each Other. Used with permission.
Sharing our Reflections
Give students some time to reflect on the poem, in silence.
Invite them next, to pick a line that resonates with them in some way as they think about how they’re doing, how they’re feeling and what they might be thinking at this time. Allow another moment of silence before giving students a chance to share out their thoughts and feelings.
Acknowledge the thoughts and feelings in the virtual space, as you invite any “additions, reflections and connections” on what students just heard from peers (if time allows).
Wrap up the meeting by reading out loud a powerful proverb from different cultures across the globe:
“Shared joy is double joy, while shared sorrow is half sorrow.”
It is why coming together at times like this, even in a virtual space, is important.
Let students know that you’re looking to provide such a space again as we enter this challenging time and space together.
Before signing off, ask students if they have any needs that might be met by colleagues or others in their extended community.
Remind students that the goal of "social distancing" is to distance ourselves physically to prevent the virus from spreading. There is nothing to stop us, though, from reaching out to one another, to support one another, and even widen our circles of concern.