Purpose, Connection, and Service: Creating Community in Virtual Spaces

I was supposed to spend this weekend in St. Louis chairing the spring meeting of the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education’s (CSEE) Board. We meet twice a year and this meeting, the last of the 2019-20 school year, would have also been my last as a board member and board chair. We also had five other members rolling off and, as we have in previous years, we planned to say goodbye to each one and thank them for their service to CSEE. We still had our board meeting but it was online. Instead of St. Louis, we sat in our home offices and logged into Zoom on Saturday at 9am EDT. World events transpired, out of everyone’s control, and we went, as so many schools and workplaces are doing too right now, to our contingency plan.

There’s another page of board members who also participated in the meeting but cannot be seen in this image screenshot.

At the start of every meeting, the CSEE Board spends an hour checking in with each other. The check-in, usually a question, prompt or reading, is an opportunity for reflection to bring us together physically and emotionally. The check-in is a presencing activity so we can bring our full selves to the group and to our purpose of being there. As the chair, I was responsible for this check-in. Less than 24 hours before, all of us had closed down our institutions for the foreseeable future. We had sent out communications to our teachers and administrators, students and families explaining the uncharted territory we had just entered, a twilight zone of sorts, for which we had no historical example to reference. We had prepared for the reality and, yet, we all knew this was not a reality we still understood. It hadn’t bent to our will so far, it wasn’t moving with any predictability and it was unlikely it would for at least some time. In this context, I thought about my check-in question and how I’d bring together this group of educational leaders representing schools, universities, regional and national associations, current and retired heads and senior administrators. In the midst of uncertainty, I wonder what brings us joy. In the midst of an anxious and unknown future, I wonder about our capacity for goodness. So I asked the question I asked earlier on this blog, “What Does a Good Day Look Like?” What’s a good day for you right now?

The responses started to come in. They were varied and particular to each individual. They made us smile, laugh and curious. We leaned in, literally, as I could see from Zoom’s Gallery View at everyone’s body language. And, there was a common arc to all of them. Each of us talked about purpose, connection, and community. We spoke of how each of those brought meaning to our lives, to our days, and how we took care of ourselves by taking care of others. Our collective responses spoke of the profound loss of contact and community the world over right now. As we adjust to this alternate universe, one that is unfamiliar to all of us, we cannot forget what makes us human. Social connection and community, not social distancing, makes us human, yet the irony of our current circumstances requires social distance so we can care for each other; we impact our greater community most when we step back from each other. Here is a raw summary of our conversation and responses to the question, “What’s a good day for you right now?”

  • The academics will take care of themselves if we remember to care for the social-emotional well-being of our community.
  • A sense of purpose. Autonomy, relationship, and competence.
  • A sense of accomplishment. Being helpful to someone else. People are better but dogs have to be in there.
  • What do I want my epitaph to read? I used to work in corporate before joining schools. I didn’t want my epitaph to read: “R made a lot of money for a lot of people.” Now, every day, I feel like I make a difference in the lives of others, including children. We are not alone right now.
  • Frederick Buechner, a theologian said, “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide.”
  • Music, connection, and service to others. I’m learning to play the harp.
  • A sense of purpose for myself through giving a sense of purpose to others. Moments of joy are connected to my relationships to my community.
  • I’d love to be an architect if I could start my life all over again, but maybe I’ve been an architect of children. I’ve helped them build and rebuild as some of them now turn fifty.
  • I’m prioritizing comfort over joy and happiness right now. It’s at least more sustaining, I think. I’m exploring in various communities of practice what connection looks like in virtual spaces, and I’m curious about what a good day looks like in a changed world right now.
  • Yesterday was a good day. It was the first day in over a week where I felt I was being proactive. This has not been a fire or medical emergency, but it required so many quick decisions, even changes to decisions made just hours before. That’s not my MO. It wasn’t comfortable.
  • I saw a parrot outside my window the other morning and I wondered about the peace he has right now, what he doesn’t know.
  • Level 1 = Plan and prepare. How do we get back to Level 1? What has settled us before is not going to settle us now. So what will be the new psyche of our educational institutions when we emerge from this crisis? Is there a Level 0?
  • There’s an absence of the kind of resilience in our culture that people who have lived in turmoil have developed over the years. We will have to learn to live differently for a longer period of time.
  • We need to acknowledge the uncertainty we are feeling right now. This isn’t normal.
  • TOUCH YOUR COMPUTER SCREEN. It’s warm. It’s the computer’s CPU that is generating that heat, but the heat helps with connection.
  • Responsive Classroom begin each day in a circle, so how can we be circly? How do we make community?

It was an enriching conversation. More importantly, it was a connecting conversation. We created community from afar; we joked around; we debated important questions, the state of the association and its future; we applauded each other; and we said goodbye to those rolling off the board this year. There were lots of things on our agenda that we tweaked or cancelled to make room for this virtual reality. But we didn’t forget our purpose and we cared for each other and our association. When we adjourned the meeting at 3pm that afternoon, we all agreed, it had been a good day.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.