I was on the phone with a friend the other night, lamenting 2020 as a whole, but specifically things school-related. When we ended mid-March, I couldn’t wrap my head around what would surely be the oddest beginning to a school year in the history of ever–starting school virtually when we are not a traditionally virtual school.
One of the parts I have always loved about the beginning of the year, aside from the smell of freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils and brand new boxes of Crayola crayons, has always been making connections with families and kids. Seeing the excitement in the eyes of the kids as they walk into what would be their new classroom, seeing old friends in the hallway and new ones coming to the door. Chatting with kids-who-were-mine during quick breaks between conferences, and hugging siblings of graduates and kids returning to us from elsewhere were the highlights of those first days. My Facebook feed the last few days as been all about how much I love family conference days and how much I’d missed our kids and their families.
Connection is such a big component of the relationships we create with our gifted kids, their families, and one another in our building. For a gifted child and their family to see that there’s someone who will advocate for them, who understands them, and who will truly SEE them for who they are matters so much, and I have worried endlessly since mid-March about how we could make that happen for this batch of kids, those who are new to us especially, but also those we have known a long time and who we know have struggled since we had to leave each other so suddenly.
When I think about friends who teach virtually, they have such a small snippet of time to make a connection with a child that it has to be incredibly intentional–there’s no time for stories, explanations, or those conversations that take everyone down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland. Right now though, kids will need that–many may not have visited many rabbit holes or Wonderlands lately. They will need time to really show teachers about who they are, tell about what they’ve been doing and enjoying and hating about the time since March. They’ll need time to share about what they want to learn, who they need in their world, and who we will need to be for them. Parents will always have goals for their kids and all have an idea of what they think virtual or online school ought to look like, but the piece that we need them to not forget is that their kids need to feel connected to their teachers, school staff, and all the kids in the “meet” with them. Building relationships is hard enough in person for some (kids AND adults) but virtual is even more challenging.
Before anything else, as we begin this very odd school year, we need to think about how to create those connections with intention, giving kids and their families the space and time to build relationships that eventually will move from the screen to in person, where hopefully we’ll be able to hug and fist-bump and high-five and laugh together and HEAR the laughter of one another instead of just seeing “Lol” in a chat or silent laughter behind a muted screen.