It’s been a year. A year of closed schools and limited travel, a year of face masks and social distancing, a year of distance learning and friendship pods. It’s been a tough year. A year of loved ones battling illness and some even passing away. A year of job losses and tight budgets.

And yet… we have soldiered on, fighting our daily battles to show up for our students, our families, our colleagues, and ourselves as best we can. 

As much as we would like to believe that the end will come when schools re-open or when vaccines are widely available, we really don’t know when the end will be or what it will look like. We are living in a time of greater uncertainty than ever before. 

And yet… we know we need each other, and we have proven that we are here for each other… even during the hardest of times.

This year has highlighted our authenticity and resilience.

Authenticity requires the courage to be myself. It demands vulnerability.  You see my kitchen and hear my dog barking when I’m on zoom without any make-up. This is real life. I’m human, and so are you.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back despite adversity. It means first acknowledging the pain and mess in order to learn and grow. It’s okay not to be okay, but we are not going to stay there. We will carry on.

And yet… the longer we live in isolation connected mainly through screens, the more I see us laying on the veneer, pretending that all is well. From virtual backgrounds to Instagram posts, we portray the idea that everything is fine. 

Stop. Just stop! 

Let us not use our devices as weapons, shielding us from true connection. Instead, let us use them as windows into one another’s lives, especially during this time apart.

Here are suggested points of conversation with your students, especially upper elementary through high school age. These discussions can take place in the classroom or remotely. Be sure to establish the norms for confidentiality and safety before digging in.

  •  Instead of insisting that students turn on their videos, ask “Why do you keep your video off during remote learning?” Then listen. Some students may feel embarrassed about their home environment. Others may have several family members at home which makes it noisy. Whatever their reasons, listen for understanding then make an invitation for them to turn on their video so you can see their beautiful faces. 
  • If you are using multiple choice or True/False tests, chances are that students are either googling the answers or texting a friend. Instead of making snap judgments, ask “Are you doing your own work or ‘using your resources?” (Using my resources is student code for cheating) Encourage students to be responsible – own what they do & say and be honest – speak & act truthfully. Also, consider creative assignments, such as writing a poem or compiling a specific literary character’s music playlist, or group projects, such as a formal business proposal for solving a problem posed in Science or Social Studies or conducting an experiment and analyzing the data for math.  Such assignments demonstrate higher level thinking skills and cannot be easily copied.
  • Schedule one-on-one sessions with the students in your homeroom and ask with gentleness and genuineness, “How does what you’re sharing on Instagram, Snap Chat, or TikTok compare with what is really going in your life?” then listen. Prompt further dialogue with statements like, “Tell me more” or questions like “What do you mean by that?” Provide a space where students can be real.
  • Set the stage for a group discussion. Frame the conversation around current events, such as what happened at The Capitol on January 6th?  Ask, “How does what you’re viewing on social media impact you?” Be open to the dialogue shifting from national news to personal issues. Providing an opportunity for students to hear from one another about the positives and negatives of social media can encourage them to be mindful of what they post and how much time they spend scrolling.
  • Share with students that you want to provide an opportunity for them to connect with a buddy. Randomly assign buddies, in the same way you may assign Secret Santa. The pairs can choose to connect for a phone call, video chat, or walk & talk. Their one question for each other is: “How are you…really?” The rule is they must spend at least 5 minutes listening without interrupting to the other person answer that one question.  Then they switch. Encourage them to dive deeper with follow-up questions for each other after the first 10 minutes.


About the author

Tamara Fyke is an educator and social entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator and author of Love In A Big World, which provides mental health, SEL, and wellness curriculum and content. During quarantine, Tamara created MusiCity Kids, an online educational show for kids ages 6-12 that addresses health, movement, character development, STEAM, and more.