"Connection Above Content" in Back to School

Since March, we have been in a whirlwind of system-wide disruptions. Schools and workspaces shut down suddenly, causing our daily lives to transition in many ways to live “stream” and our imaginations to kick into overdrive to reinvent the way we do our jobs. The COVID-19 pandemic spread not just its deadly virus but also contagious fear throughout our communities and the world at large. Later in the spring, the video of George Floyd’s brutal murder by police went viral causing a unprecedented awakening around racial injustice and subsequent sense of urgency to fight systemic racism. 

We are living through an era of increased human vulnerability which must be met with increased human connection and support. This presents quite a should we go about increasing human connection and support when we also need to maintain social distance, to work and learn remotely, to cover our faces and thus our smiles? 

We thought a lot about this conundrum as we prepared for our annual LINC team summit. Our summit is usually a time we spend together in a uniquely close and collaborative environment, a time we use for team-building and culture-strengthening, a time for laughing, cooking, bowling, or adventuring together. With several new “LINCredibles” joining our team this July, we knew we would have to figure out how to do this in a remote manner, so we set out to try. We also realized that if we could tinker to figure out how to connect amidst disconnection, we could help teachers and school leaders do the same as many take on a remote or hybrid launch to the new school year. We learned some important lessons that can be valuable to teachers in this challenging moment. 

To begin, we surveyed our team to see if a fully remote or hybrid summit was preferable. While many liked the idea of hybrid, it was clear that allowing for fully remote access and a predominantly remote agenda was important. But the logistics were only a small part. More importantly we knew we needed to put connection before content. One thing we did to have some virtual fun was to print our mascot “Lia the LINCspring Llama” cutouts to put around our houses or go with us on adventures for a daily llama party. We also incorporated team-building activities such as virtual scavenger hunts and happy hours. 

However, to move connection out of the supplemental realm to the core curriculum, we took a very different approach than previous years in organizing the week. In the past, we had operational objectives which organized each day, things like new team member onboarding and product feature exploration. This year, we put connection first by making it the central theme and objective of each day. We decided to use our company T.R.A.C.E. values to go deeper into each area. 

LINC Values Tree

This is how it transformed our agenda and put connection forward:

  Previous Objectives Connection-Forward Objectives
Day 1 New Team Members & Orientation Trust: We focused on building connections and hearing from all team members. We also shared transparently some reflections from our teammates about LINC’s direction, culture, and leadership. We generated ideas on how to cultivate trust and ended the day with a team happy hour.
Day 2 Operations Reflections Collaboration: We collaborated on topics in both small group and whole group discussion. We focused much of the day on defining well-being and balance within LINC and setting shared goals for wellness. We also collaboratively reflected within our teams and set new goals together. And, we did a team virtual scavenger hunt on Zoom!
Day 3 LINCspring Product Design Agency: Team members worked asynchronously on passion projects. We provided a brainstorming playlist to help team members identify areas of focus. Some worked independently on things like writing books while others collaborated on projects like professional goal-setting or antiracism. 
Day 4 New Workshops & Services Equity: We engaged in discussions defining what we mean by creating equitable pathways within and beyond LINC. We got real about whether we are talking about equity in the broader sense or taking on racial equity (we decided on the latter to start). We dove into learning from experts on racial equity and made commitments to do personal work and to make LINC a leader in racial equity work.
Day 5 Sales & Marketing Risk-Taking: We discussed how we can do to better support risk-taking within LINC. We also provided time for team members to make progress on their passion projects with risk-taking in mind. 

Putting "connection before content" was the first order of business. Next was ensuring that the experience felt balanced, equitable, and accessible. We used a combination of the following structures to accomplish this:

  • Surveys for Team Input 
  • Shared Documents for Agenda Planning
  • Full Team Synchronous Meetings
  • Small Group Break-Out Meetings
  • Flexible “Playlist” Time
  • Breaks for lunch, water, self-care, walking outside, refueling
  • Flexible Groupings for Collaboration
  • Choice and Voice
  • Language Translator for Full Accessibility
  • Rotating Team Leaders for Breakouts

We invite you to put connection as your primary goal as you head back to school.  We need to recognize that now more than ever, teachers need to feel connected with each other, and students need to feel connected with each other and their teachers. We also need to recognize the increased need for taking care of our team and our students. Whether planning a remote PD week or a back-to-school week for students, we invite you to revise your learning objectives to put connection at the heart of learning. By doing so, we are sending a strong and much needed message to our teachers and students…We know this is hard. And we’ve got you.


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