The power of community (in times of crisis)

By now, we have all probably been exposed to and read a plethora of overwhelming information relating to COVID-19. The predictions, opinions, and news (is it even real?) about the consequences it poses to our society, our livelihoods, to the industries that we dedicate our work to – it is coming at us from all directions. Overwhelming! Then there is our own reality and experiences. The speed at which we have had to adapt, make decisions and just survive is frightening. New situations and change is coming at us faster than ever. The education landscape is not exempt. As educators, our world has been turned upside down. We are all facing the dawn of new realities, extreme uncertainty (how the heck are we going to teach our learners?), and left pondering.

Yes, it is daunting. Yes, it is intimidating. And yes it is understandably scary for all. 

Amidst the constant blast of social media, news and information cannons, we are left to grapple with the loss of  a fundamental component of human life, which many of us rely on – human connection and community itself. This may not account for all of us, but there is no denying the power of human connection and the role it plays in our opportunities for experiences and  learning. 

We are social beings after all – biologically and psycho-socially, we literally need human connections, both big and small. The feeling of a comforting hug from a friend; the brainwaves of creativity after an engaging session with colleagues; the satisfaction of achieving a team goal together in moments of celebration. Perspective. Have we taken all of it for granted? A moment of reflection. Community, human connection, a simple human smile not hidden behind a mask, these are definitely the things which feed our souls and minds in some way or another. Education and schools are built on connection, on community and human interaction; classrooms, staff bodies and staff rooms, sports teams – all of it gone within a flash. 

By definition, the word resilience refers to our capacity to recover from difficulties

The global community is currently having their resilience tested on many fronts as industries/economies have grinded to a screeching halt. Some have completely collapsed, leaving many jobless, under heightened pressure, and anxious about what is to come. 

On a local level here in South Africa, the world’s most unequal country heads into week 12 of lockdown, keeping us near the top of the list of nations who have experienced the longest lockdowns, South Africa and her people are having their resilience tested in a way that we all have never experienced before. Education, schools, teachers, learners and parents have never had their resilience tested to this extent. 

So how will the impacts of this pandemic be realised differently across the board in South African schools? While some schools manage to find ways to keep a grasp on their community, human interaction and learning virtually – the vast majority aren’t. 

One thing is for certain, our lived reality will be completely different from others. Sadly, the prospect of a delayed, or canceled school year, the lack of a school support network and community, and difficult home or family environments, make the reality for some learners and educators exceptionally harsh. It is vital that while we construct different solutions, we as an educational community embrace the philosophy of community during these testing times.
We are required to embrace the human aspect in education by ensuring that we continue to create valuable platforms for connection and learning. 

In his book, The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle elegantly breaks down 3 skills which he feels are central to successful teams and cultures. He engages you immensely throughout and runs through the following skills:

  • Skill 1 – Build Safety – explores how connection generates bonds of belonging and identity
  • Skill 2 – Share Vulnerability – explains how habits of risk drive trusting cooperation
  • Skill 3 – Establish Purpose – tells how narratives create shared goals and values. 

Although he is speaking from an organisational psychology narrative, I strongly feel that these skills can be applied to the strategies which will continue building resilience among our educational community. I feel this because these skills all encompass what it actually means to be a community. 

This lockdown has certainly emphasised the importance and power of social cohesion – the importance of community. Surely we should be strengthening the education community in South Africa. If we really want to do this, Coyle’s framework suggests we need to find answers to some powerful questions: 

  • Building Safety: How can we provide platforms for teachers from diverse backgrounds to form bonds, shared belonging and identity?  
  • Share Vulnerability: How can we provide platforms for teachers to share their real experiences, learn from each other and build cooperation?
  • Establish Purpose: How can we provide platforms that enable teachers to develop a cohesive narrative? 

Surely the challenges that we tackle together will be easier than the ones that we tackle alone.

Perhaps, this is the chance for our broad educational community to bind together more than we have ever before. We may not know the answers right now, but there is no denying that COVID 19 is setting the stage for new perspectives on the interventions and opportunities: 

  • to regain fair societal systems
  • to reinvent the notion of education and schooling. 
  • to rethink curriculum content and build stronger cases for sustainability education

The team behind Plant the Seed, believes in building a community between stakeholders in the school community, and through our PTY & NPO, we seek  to build education interventions, both big and small in low and high income schools,
This pandemic has sure rocked the boat of the educational community and there are still turbulent times ahead to digest and deal with, but within these crises, come many opportunities we previously could only have dreamed of.

We strive to be a supportive network for the valuable members of the educational community in South Africa. We are launching soon, keep an eye out for the next mai shot 

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