Networking. Connecting. Communicating. Collaborating. Learning. Close your eyes and create a image in your head for each of these words. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
If you have anything to do with education in 2016, I’m willing to bet that at least three or more of those mental images contained a glowing screen from a computer or mobile device. It’s okay. I’m not trying to make you feel guilty or anything. I love technology. I depend on it to help me stay connected with amazing educators across the globe. I regularly check Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, Google Plus, and several others to see what amazing things my teacher friends are doing and what they are learning. I use these tools to ask and answer questions, share what I’ve learned, and offer encouragement and support. Most importantly, I use them to maintain relationships.
In my office, I am fortunate to work beside Chris Carter. Chris is an amazing teacher and tech coach. Together we produce a weekly podcast in which we both have fun exploring various topics regarding teaching, learning, technology, and life in general. (http://21clradio.com/category/edtech-roundtable/) If you’ve ever listened to it, you know our one recurring theme: “Learning is all about relationships”. Students – and teachers – don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Or put another way, “You’ve got to take care of Maslow, before you can start working on Bloom.”**
Establishing relationships is first and foremost on our agenda at the start of every school year. Those eyes are watching are watching us. They are observing us and testing us.
“Does this person care about me?”
“Are they all talk and no follow through?”
“Is he/she real or fake?”
“Does he/she know my name?”
Making sure students and teachers feel safe and have a sense of acceptance and belonging – this is vital to the work we do. Whether we are in the classroom teaching students, or supporting teachers as an instructional coach, establishing and maintaining that relationship is key.
Online tools can be useful in supporting these relationships but they can only do so much. A tweet, a direct message, a Google Hangout; these cannot replace a handshake, a high-five, a hug. I can’t read your body language in an e-mail, or tell if your eyes betray you on a conference call. There’s a level of trust, belonging and acceptance that can only be reached face to face.
When I think about the strongest personal and professional relationships I have, they all have one thing in common. These are people I have met and spent time with face to face. We have shared the same physical space, shared thoughts and ideas, shared coffee and meals. These face to face interactions do more for establishing and strengthening a relationship than what can be achieved electronically. I feel much more a part of your life, when I know the real face behind the avatar. When I read your tweets I can hear your voice. It strips away the anonymity of online communication.
If you’re taking my online class, it’s very easy to not take it seriously if you’ve never met me in person. There’s just a level of accountability and responsibility that’s not present when I’m not present.
It’s true in coaching as well. Email exchanges can often get emotionally charged – especially when teachers are struggling with technology. If at all possible, in those situations I find it works so much better to diffuse the situation if I just stop by the room. Being physically present sends the message that I care and that you are important. (Remember Maslow?)
Consider your interactions with Facebook friends. Compare the updates and comments you share with those you have seen recently to those “friends” you haven’t seen for one, two, or more years. If electronic connection is all you have, my experience has taught me those relationships tend to fade and become more distant.
In June I finished my first year as a technology coach in China. This summer it was important to give my personal and professional learning network connections an energy boost by purposefully making time for face to face connections. I travelled to the ISTE conference in Denver with just this agenda in mind. For me, attending ISTE was not about the conference sessions as much as it was about re-connecting personally with colleagues, mentors, and friends.
Seeing those friends in person – even for just a few minutes – strengthened those relationships and added life and energy to our online communication. That energy boost will sustain those relationships for the coming year now that I’m back in China.
Online presence is important, but for building and establishing relationships, face to face…
- and learning
…have a power that cannot be matched – at least until we invent a working holodeck.
**By the way, if you happen to know who originally penned the Maslow before Bloom phrase please let me know. I’d love to give credit where credit is due.