Engaging Community…Literally Virtually
Language is powerful. Really powerful. And in this pandemic, we are beginning to use some terms that will have a significant effect on us in the short term as well as beyond.
“I’ve got a Zoom meeting today.”
“Do you want to Google Meet later this week?”
“I couldn’t do another Zoom. Just call me.”
For many, Zoom, Google Meet and other platforms have become the places we gather in the virtual world. They’ve become our go to when we do almost any collective work. And while these platforms allow us expeditious and even focused time, they take the same, if not more, facilitative mastery to bring them to life. Simply put, if you are merely Zooming, then you ain’t truly collaborating.
The virtual platforms are both space and time. Just like a board room, a staff room, library or coffee shop, they are where and when you go. But they are not what you do or how you do it.
At PEBC, we have been flexing our facilitative backgrounds to build community, leverage collaborative structures and manipulate small groups to assure that what we continue to do in the virtual world aligns with our deep beliefs about learning and our empathy for learners. In the last several months we have hosted learning engagements from one hour up to a full day.
Here’s what we are doing to assure collaboration and community:
- We begin each engagement with a gathering or grounding. This is a structure that ensures ALL voices enter the space in the first few moments. In small groups, we will do this as whole group. In larger groups we either use the chat bar to bring all voices in or do a quick 2-person breakout for just a few minutes to allow participants a chance to talk and connect. It sets a tone of value and consideration for every member of the group, regardless of the size.
- We are converting face to face structures like text-based discussion, jigsaw reading and gallery walks into the virtual world to manipulate the space and small group engagement. A favorite recent engagement was by using Jamboard, a virtual poster on which you may place sticky notes and write comments. Rather than using poster paper or a whiteboard to gather the ideas from every member, in real time, we had all members write to a prompt and post their thinking on the Jamboard. They were able to make comments, ask questions, draw lines of connections, arrange ideas and build collective understanding of the topic of “collective efficacy.”
- Because community is bound in relationship, power and voice, we have even gone to some old school structures to balance greater health combined with learning. Once in breakout pairs, we encourage the pair to actually exchange phone numbers to go on a “walk and talk.” No screen, no chair, not even indoors if you choose. They are able to then process, plan and engage in ways that break an online cycle in support of our human selves. It assures movement without sacrificing time or content.
- We are committed to closing each engagement in ways that model quality learning and reflection that we’d expect in every classroom, virtual or otherwise. Our closure or reflection returns to the engagement of every voice to share an idea, ask a question, provide a word or make a commitment. This can be done with chat bar, journal or in voice to the group. It allows individuals to close as part of a community whose collaboration develops each and every person in it.
Community and relationships are built upon human experiences. Therefore, in this virtual world, we don’t do Zoom and we don’t do Google Meet.
We create authentic human experiences bound in voice and power, purpose and structure, empathy and engagement. We flex our skillfulness of facilitation and our beliefs around human learning to assure that we do not give way to the platform as the driver of a group’s experience. We continue to honor and grow community as a foundation to the challenging, rigorous learning we must navigate in this dynamic time.
We maximize humanity in the face of change such that we continue to grow, innovate, adapt and excel, now and always.