Five Ways to Fight Isolation and Loneliness

When I work with districts in virtual learning and setting up virtual environments, one of the areas that is often overlooked is the potential for loneliness in the isolation that comes along with being at home. Even if there are people there, there is a loneliness that can set in as we are more cut off from being around other people besides our families. Two weeks may seem like a nice add-on to spring break. But, in the latest CDC recommendation, eight weeks could begin to feel like an eternity especially when, as professionals, we are not able to do some of the things we would normally do to stay in touch because of the potential of getting sick. EdCamps? Nope. Book clubs? You shouldn’t. Sitting in a coffee shop? Well, it’s at your own risk. There’s a difference between having time off and being isolated at home. We will be feeling it. Our students will be feeling it.

There is no perfect way to substitute for human interaction. Whether your district has decided to implement online learning or you just simply have school cancelled, below are some ways to combat the isolation and loneliness that can accompany these situations:

Marco Polo and Voxer
Marco Polo is an app that allows you to leave video messages for people. It’s a fantastic way to pop in and have a conversation, either in semi-real-time (it will play as they record) or to be able to check it later. I love to be able to see facial expressions and hear the inflection in people’s voices as we chat. It also allows me the freedom to walk away from my phone and get the message later.

Similarly to Marco Polo, Voxer allows the user to leave voice-only messages for up to 15 minutes. It also allows for photos and regular chats. You may listen in real-time or get the messages when it’s convenient.

Both apps can allow for personal connection, but I’ve also seen them used for book studies, as options for online EdCamps, and to collaborate on professional projects. I personally use them for all of these, but also to connect with my peers who are in other states or countries.

SnapChat Singoff
The SnapChat Singoff is something that myself, Rodney Turner, and Tisha Richmond began years ago. In a quest to learn how to use SnapChat, we began playing music and doing our own version of karaoke. We started a group, record ourselves singing, and send it to the group. The group now is a larger version of some of our best friends. A requirement for our group? You must be a terrible singer. It’s a silly way to connect and laugh during a time when we really need it. Also, it’s crazy how this little activity will challenge you and make you uncomfortable, but after awhile give you confidence to try other activities that may be doing the same. Tara Martin recently mentioned it on Twitter here.

Video Conferencing
Video conferencing via Zoom, Google Hangouts, or your conferencing platform of choice could be a go-to way to connect. Have the desire to get coffee with a friend but don’t want to take the chance of catching a virus? Fire up the video conferencing software, brew yourself a cup, and have a chat. This is also a way to connect for online educational conferences who may have decided to go virtual as well as those book studies where Marco Polo or Voxer are an option except you’d like them done in real-time.

Take a Course
There are so many options for courses online now that can fulfill either a personal interest or professional one. One of my favorite sites is Udemy where I recently took courses on neuroscience and other passion areas of mine, but there are multiple other options like Thinkific or the educator focused Grassroots Workshops. For example, my friend, Tisha Richmond, released the sign-up for her course on Making Learning Magical yesterday, and you can find my free course on Educator Self-Care here. The communication and collaboration that can happen in an online course should help keep the isolation away and the ability to follow a passion areas when otherwise you might not have the time can keep spirits high.

Read
Again, for both professional knowledge and personal enjoyment. There is something about getting lost in a story that should make you feel not alone. And when you can connect with professional readings that help you grow it will help with the part of all educators that need to learn and solidify their professional identity. Look for Twitter chats on books you read to find even more of a connection. Can’t find one? Make one. Get a group together to read any book, create a hashtag, and start a book study Twitter chat.

Isolation in the typical online learning environment is a very real thing for both teachers and students. Without a true virtual learning background, it might be easy to forget that our focus with students is relationships first and content second because the content is so much easier to push out and leave online. The same goes for us as adults, however. Being at home can lead to feelings of loneliness and sometimes it can hit when we least expect it. Try to be proactive in conversations and connections. Reach out to others – especially those who may be dealing with depression and have now had their routines interrupted and more alone and thinking time. During times of uncertainty, humans feel the need to come together and right now that’s exactly what we cannot do. But, there are ways to combat loneliness and isolation and keep the relationships and conversations going.

Change is an Opportunity to Do Something Amazing…All Around #IMMOOC

I have taught and read the Innovator’s Mindset several times. I read it the first time for me, the second time for a book study for my school district’s Innovation Teams, a third time through the lens of a pre-service teacher when I assigned it to my University of WI – Oshkosh students, and now again for the #IMMOOC book study. I have reflected on it repeatedly, blogged about it quite a few times, and have had/participated in multiple book studies on it, recommended it to hundreds of people. In all these discussions, the quote that seems to resonate with the most people is always:
Image result for change is an opportunity to do something amazing
It’s easy to apply this quote to education. Our world in EDU is constantly changing. New roles are created, new curriculum is adopted, new technologies are being introduced all the time. Our world is practically fluid, rarely do things stay the same. For some, these changes in education are expected and while not always embraced, they are at least accepted. For others, change is a difficult and stressful time. The quote resonates with people because it takes the constantly fluidity of education and puts a positive spin on it. We are perpetually changing, and with that change, you can either fight it or take it as an opportunity and run with it. In that case, it’s hard to imagine anyone not choosing to be amazing.
As another semester of my UWO students started and we were discussing the beginning of the book, and one student said, “I like this quote because I think it doesn’t only apply to education and our jobs, but applies to our whole lives. We are in college. We’ve experienced big changes in our lives when we came here, and we can choose to do something amazing with our experience.” I have been reflecting on what she said since that class, and it’s true. Students in college are expected to make big decisions that will affect their lives forever. I remember George telling a story in one of his keynotes about a student who said she was expected to go out and change the world when she left for college, but shortly before that she had to raise her hand to go to the bathroom when she was in high school. It’s a big change when you go from the constraints of high school to the openness of college, and the change is definitely a choice and an opportunity to do something amazing.
I’ve experienced this myself recently with taking my new position as Director of Innovation & Technology. And as much as I love my new position, there have absolutely been moments when I’ve felt like the amazing part of the change might not come, or “Who am I to think that I can do something amazing at all?”. Change in any form is hard, and to convince yourself to do something amazing with that change can be even harder. I think about friends who are going through tough times personally: job changes, divorce, financial trouble, and it’s possible that this quote might be able to be applied to all of that. In any of these cases, including in the classroom, the work related changes, the college student, the job change, the personal issues…the amazing part of the change is going to take some work.  It’s probably not going to be a lightbulb moment or some epiphany where you think, “Ahhhh…there’s the amazing!” but rather something that takes diligence and commitment, hard work and motivation, which can be the hardest to muster during difficult times. I think that remembering great quotes like these help us work through those changes in order to find the amazing, which brings me back to another one of my favorite quotes, and I think these two go hand-in-hand:
Image result for not telling you easy worth it