Sept. 13, 2020: Connecting Virtually
So much of my work as both a teacher and a writer has to do with making personal connections with others. Building relationships with my students. Openly communicating with the parents of my younger students. Establishing collaborative relationships with my colleagues as we plan. As an author, the work of writing might be done alone, but connecting with readers is mainly done in person at book signings, presentations, and author visits.
This year, with everything going digital and all of our interactions moving on-line, I wondered if it was possible to build the same types of connections as we could in the pre-Covid19 world.
I worried that without my students and me in a classroom together, we would not be able to develop that sense of trust and comradery that blossoms so naturally when we are all sharing the same physical space. Would my students realize how proud I was of them when I could no longer give them a high five or a fist pump? Would they feel the same support from me when I could no longer pat them on the back as they struggled with new material? Would I be able to read their expressions and body language as clearly through a digital platform as I could in the classroom?
I worried that starting a new college class on-line, and having to get to know the students through posts and on-line discussions, instead of together in a classroom, would result in more superficial connections. Would we be able to really connect? Would I be able to appreciate their differences and talents when they were a postage-stamp sized picture and words on a screen? How would we create a class culture when there would be no inside jokes, no shared smiles, and no spontaneous moments to cement us?
I worried that when doing school author visits virtually, I would have a hard time sharing my passion through a screen. Would I be able to coax them into participating if I was not right there with them? Would it be difficult to solicit the giggle or smile if I could not walk around in front of them and they could not hear the nuances of my presentation?
With over five months since we first moved life to digital platforms, and over a month of this school year now behind us, I am happy to report that things are not a dire as I worried they would be.
Yes, it is entirely possible to build a relationship virtually. You can totally make a connection with someone even if you are not in the same physical space. You can absolutely convey your support, concern, and interest in a person through digital tools and platforms. And it is entirely possible for passion and joy to be felt through virtual gatherings.
Yes, there are definitely differences. It is not nearly as natural feeling at this point. It requires more deliberate effort and planning. It is much more purposeful and much more work. This is most likely due to the fact that these are new mediums and formats and we are less skilled in their use. Perhaps with time, these virtual ways of connecting will feel as natural and rewarding as our face-to-face connections.
Personally, I doubt that will happen. I hope that regardless of how proficient we become in the use of virtual platforms for connecting, that they are always our back-up plan when the real-thing becomes impossible.
Yes- while these virtual and on-line classes, visits, and events will always be my second choice, at this most unprecedented time, it is a blessing to even have a second-choice.