How to Stay Connected When We Are Apart

By Danielle Sullivan, National Director, Content and Implementation, Curriculum Associates


First things first, I want you to take a deep breath. Second, I want you to read this next part out loud: We’re all doing the very best we can.

That last sentence is the mantra of the moment and something that resonated with the educators who attended my presentation, “How to Stay Connected When We Are Apart,” which was part of a recent Curriculum Associates “iReady At-Home Virtual Summit” webinar. Recordings from the entire virtual summit are available on the Curriculum Associates website, and I’m sharing key information from my presentation below.

Be Kind to Yourself

When I asked webinar participants how they were feeling, one percent said angry, 15 percent were worried, five percent felt lonely, 36 percent said hopeful, and 43 percent, unsurprisingly, said overwhelmed. I imagine that most of us are a jumble of emotions. It’s okay to feel what you feel.

Educators are givers. It’s the nature of the job. But “giving, giving, giving” has side effects, one of which is that you stop giving to yourself.

Giving to yourself means having self-compassion. It means extending the same empathy, patience, and, yes, compassion you have for others to yourself.

Self-compassion isn’t woo-hoo stuff. In fact, Dr. Kristin Neff, the expert on self-compassion, has conducted numerous studies that show that self-compassion reduces anxiety and depression and improves well-being.

If we can focus on self-care today, we’re able to handle what could happen tomorrow. What do you need to let go of in this moment so you can continue to help your family, students, colleagues, and community? What acts of self-compassion, big and small, can you practice right now? Maybe you can take a coffee break after a meeting, go for a walk, or complete a meditative exercise. Maybe you can decide to just go ahead and be grumpy. Whatever it is, give yourself permission.

Embrace Vulnerability (and Mistakes)

Now that we’ve talked about filling your own bucket, let’s shift to embracing vulnerability.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” which is what teachers are being asked to feel and deal with daily.

Vulnerability is an interesting concept: It’s the last thing you want anyone to see in you, but it’s the first thing you look for in others. It can be very scary, but it’s also the place where you can create your deepest connections with others. If you are being your authentic self and you allow others in, amazing things can happen.

If ever there was a time to be brave, to show up and be vulnerable, it’s during a global pandemic. You need to have the hard conversations to really be in this. This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon, and in order to survive and thrive, you need to lean in, not stuff down!

Choose Progress over Perfection

We’re messing up, and that’s okay. Be patient with yourself and with others. None of us has done this before. Nobody is going to get an A in All-of-a-Sudden At-Home Learning.

If you reached out to families this week but you didn’t hear back from most of them, you’re still doing a great job. If only eight of your 35 students came to your meeting, you’re still making progress.

We don’t know for sure when schools will reopen, and changes are happening every minute. Right now, moving forward is more important than getting everything 100 percent. This is not the time to retool your lesson plans or beat yourself up about a typo in the parent email you sent late last night. Now is the time to just get it out there—whatever “it” may be. Parents will appreciate hearing from you.

The best gift you can give yourself is to love challenges. When you enjoy effort and are intrigued by mistakes, you are practicing the growth mindset we want students to cultivate. If we model vulnerability, we also model strength, resilience, curiosity, and a whole host of other ideals. Your mistakes give students permission to make their own.

Cultivate a Creative Mindset

School closings have required us all to be creative problem solvers. And even though it’s been forced on us, we still get to choose whether or not we embrace creativity. The fact that state assessments are not happening this year has presented educators with a rare opportunity: You do not have to focus on test preparation this spring.

I know that the lack of assessment data will cause problems down the road and that we’ll need to develop new systems to measure student proficiency and growth, but at this moment—when we are navigating the Wild West that is at-home learning—educators should see the canceling of assessments as a gift.

What can your teaching look like now that you don’t have the pressure of state testing or state accountability? I challenge you to take five minutes and really think about the activities you’ve always wanted to try or the different topics you’ve wished you could cover.

Have Fun

The last thing I want to emphasize is to try to have fun. This might seem like a strange thing to say, because I know that folks feel pulled in different directions right now. But many of us have been working like crazy for the past few weeks. We are on the precipice of burnout. If you don’t step away from the edge, if you don’t take breaks and grab opportunities for laughter and joy, you won’t be able to show up for your students, loved ones, or yourself.

Here are just a few ideas for fun you can have with students while schools are closed:

  • Have themed digital get-togethers: Tie-Dye Tuesdays, Crazy-Hair Wednesdays, Pajama Fridays, etc.
  • Give students a virtual tour of your office, introduce them to your pets, and have a family member or friend be a guest speaker.
  • Host virtual dance parties that get kids moving.
  • Utilize the amazing resources companies, nonprofits, and individuals have made available. When else will you have the time to take your students on a virtual tour of the national parks, have Viola Davis read to them, or watch otters play via a live feed from the Monterey Bay Aquarium? Sites such as District Administration and The 74 have great lists of free resources.

Carve out time to have fun in your personal life, too. Make a dent in your to-read list, take a free online exercise class, attend a virtual concert, create a folder of funny memes and videos, or simply connect with friends over FaceTime® or Zoom™.

FaceTime® is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc. Zoom™ is a trademark of Zoom Video Communications, Inc.

Danielle Sullivan is the National Director of Content and Implementation at Curriculum Associates. Before her current role, she worked as an education consultant and special education teacher.

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