How Are You Doing?
By Abner Oakes
ISA's National Director of Outreach and Engagement
How are you doing? Yes, really, how are you doing?
During the week of August 17, three ISA coaches conducted virtual professional development for one of our partner districts, Charles County Public Schools in Maryland. I sat in on several of these sessions, which covered topics from the effective use of online tools with special education students to online literacy engagement strategies to supporting the social and emotional well-being of online English learners. The Charles County educators that attended were attentive and engaged. “We want to make sure our school-level staff are well-prepared for their virtual work this school year,” said Kim Hairston, the district’s Director of Equity and Diversity.
There was a moment during one of virtual sessions that made me sit up. The ISA coach, a veteran of both face-to-face and virtual professional learning, asked the small group of teachers he was training that afternoon, “How are you doing?” In short, he was wondering about the social and emotional well-being of these teachers, before they dove into the content. I was surprised at their willingness to share what was happening in their lives and how they were feeling about school’s start.
It was a powerful moment that signaled three things for me:
- First, it told those participants that their social and emotional well-being matters. Even though the training was not about that well-being, for those few minutes after the question, their well-being was at the forefront of discussion.
- Second, participants talked early—interacting within the first few minutes of the afternoon—which laid the groundwork for further talk and interaction throughout the morning. This is something that we want to happen in any effective professional learning setting.
- Lastly, there was trust built, as the ISA coach and the participants shared about themselves, their current state of mind, and their readiness for this new school year. That’s what normally happens when we walk around a room before a face-to-face professional development session; we smile and make small talk and start to gain trust. Online, it needs to be more intentional, more explicit. When it comes to working with educators, that issue of trust is paramount
Our work with educators this summer has been filled with the potential for risk and also, with that risk, potential to build trust. The pandemic has thrown all kinds of curveballs at schools and districts, and teachers and their leaders have a new playbook. This summer’s violence and unrest around racial inequality and the cry for substantive change have put the discussion of race and equity at the center of the workplace, the neighborhood, the family, and the schoolhouse: a discussion that is not always easy. For educators to face these tough topics, there needs to be trust. This gives all the more reason to create settings, virtual or face-to-face, that are full of trust, love, patience, and belief in order to enact true change. And if a simple “How are you doing?” can begin that process, then let’s make sure we ask.