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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Is Dialogue Making a Triumphant Return to Social Media?

By Peter DeWitt — April 08, 2020 5 min read
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The other day I went for a run in my hometown in the Foothills of the Adirondacks. The streets were empty, I could hear birds chirping, and even heard the water in a roaring brook. It was all peaceful besides my heavy breathing from trying to run. I would have thought it was a Sunday because it was so quiet, but in reality, it was a Tuesday. Social distancing was easy to practice, because there was no one else in sight.

We are a few weeks into self-quarantines and social distancing, and it still feels surreal. I spend so much time on the road facilitating workshops where I’m around so many people, that I normally love social distancing at night, because I’m really an introvert who needs to re-energize after the day. Now, I miss the groups of people.

So, I turn to social media, and for the first time in a long time, I feel as though social media is being used for it’s original purpose. It’s being used to bring people together. Whether it’s Twitter where people are Tweeting out resources to one another, or Instagram where we connect with friends or followers, I find that we are sharing insight into our worlds at the same time we try to calm people down in their world because they are feeling anxious.

Sometimes that means getting in touch with our inner youth.

When I was a teenager, I loved the band KISS. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. I know I do not seem like a KISS fan these days, but I follow Paul Stanley on Instagram, and he offers mini-concerts from his studio that take me back to when I’m 13. Additionally, I follow the actor Sam Neill, and he begins his mornings with short, silly videos encouraging everyone to stay home during this pandemic. Whether it’s Paul Stanley, Sam Neill, the N.Y.C. Ballet, or the Museum d’Orsay (I wanted to balance out that image you now have of me as a heavy metal headbanger), everyone seems to be coming together in very touching ways, in a time when we are not supposed to touch.

Many Teachers Aren’t Just Sitting at Home
One group where touching connections are evident is a group that only started a few weeks ago. The Facebook page called Teaching Through the 2020 Pandemic has over 54,000 members and is symbolic of the reality of many, many teachers these days.

As we all know, a few weeks ago our world seemed to stop. For the first time in our lives, we saw schools around the world close down, and not just for one snow day but for weeks or the rest of the year. UNESCO estimates that nearly 1.7 billion students are out of school, and this means school leaders and teachers had to go from working in a brick and mortar structure to becoming virtual teachers overnight.

Some schools waited a week to “prepare.” They sent the students home, came together as a staff to create a plan, and then started online learning the next week. Other schools were already prepared to go virtual, and there was a fairly flawless transition. Unfortunately, most were not prepared at all.

What compounds this pandemic is the fact that infectious-disease experts predict that up to 240,000 people are estimated to lose their lives from this in the U.S. alone. So, at the same time that we are dealing with the social-emotional fallout from people who are struggling with getting the disease, or struggling with what happens if they do get it, teachers are at home, many with their own families, trying to teach other people’s children from afar.

As you can imagine, this is not easy, especially when you think of elementary school teachers who are used to being self-contained with their students all day long and plan for 15 minute lessons. As a former 1st grade teacher, I used to plan 90-minute literacy blocks, but within those literacy blocks were 15-minute lessons. When I was a young teacher working just outside of N.Y.C., we went through the 9/11 attacks, but our students still came back to school every day. Yes, we had to deal with the social-emotional issues that stemmed from the attacks but we did not have to do it from afar. Most of the students came back every day.

In the pandemic Facebook page, the comments and questions show the raw emotions from teachers who are going hour by hour and feeling the struggle, as well as the major sharing of resources. Questions they are exploring are:

  • What’s better: Zoom or Google Meet?
  • Any good ideas for book club books in my grade level?
  • How can we tape mini-lessons for students?
  • What do we do when the rate of students handing in assignments is dropping each time?
  • What do we do when we are trying to find ways to feed students who get free/reduced-price lunch and do not have the resources for learning at home?

One of the issues taking place on the page, that I am hoping we can learn as we move forward when this is all behind us, is that teachers, instructional coaches, and leaders are challenging each other’s thinking on resources and politics (where it pertains to school). They are trying to offer real-life learning experiences and not just busy work. They are trying to maintain relationships with their students, at the same time they are trying to provide them with learning opportunities from afar. So many teachers are stepping up to the plate during this time, but more importantly, they are using social media to come together and engage in deep dialogue.

In the End
In a time when we need to practice social distancing, people are finding extraordinary ways to come together and learn from one another through social media. It makes me wonder whether the dialogue we are seeing has always been there? Or is it making a return because people have extra time on their hands, or they are trying to foster the best learning opportunities for students from afar and are desperate for resources and connection?

Within my own social-media circles, I find that my friends are taking more time to engage in dialogue, and I’m finding I am taking more time to leave comments or offer support. As much as this is a very difficult time for all of us, we are very fortunate to have these tools to use to connect with one another. It may not be perfect, but as each day comes upon us, we wake up and try to figure out how to have more of an impact than we did the day before. It’s not the time to give up but the time to keep reflecting on what seems to be working and dump what is not. This is the same behavior we should have when we all get back into our schools and finally have our students in front of us again.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D., is the author of several books including his newest release Instructional Leadership: Creating Practice Out Of Theory (Corwin Press. 2020). Connect with him on Twitter or through his YouTube channel.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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