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Holiday Cheer - Supporting Colleagues from Afar

In what we now call the “Before Times” pre-pandemic, I used to look forward to the week before the holiday break because the building was full of laughter and positivity. Our library opened up a quiet workspace for teachers tricked out with hot chocolate and cookies, there were parties going on in every classroom, and everyone just seemed happier as they walked through the hallways in holiday-themed hats or sweaters. Now, as many of us teach from Zoom rooms, we are missing the time to celebrate not just with our students, but also with colleagues, some of whom have been with us year after year in our journey as educators. Taking time to appreciate one another this time of year is more important than ever, so here are just a few ways to express our gratitude!

Send a Note

Even before the pandemic, receiving a personal note from a colleague always made my day. We can still send personal greetings to our work friends either via snail mail or online, and if we can, we should make that special effort this year to recognize one another. After all, who better understands the complexities of our work than our fellow educators? Last week, I attended a meeting at a school and watched as teachers placed virtual sticky notes onto Jamboards for one another, sharing both personal and professional thoughts of appreciation. I enjoyed adding sticky notes to some of the boards myself, and was also touched to read the notes people wrote to me on my own board. Going one step further, some of the people I know are sending cards by mail, either with or without personal notes added. Whatever we have the ability to do without it adding to our stress level, we can brighten a day by just sending a note to someone we are thinking about.

Idea Exchange

Last week, a school leader shared a pretty cool idea with me about a virtual adjustment to the traditional idea of a holiday cookie exchange. Instead of swapping treats (which yes, we all love), the staff met to exchange their most useful ideas and strategies for surviving virtual teaching life. At the meeting, staff members joined breakout rooms and shared ideas, and then some of the more enthusiastically received tidbits were shared with the larger group once the breakout was over. Right now, anyone who teaches virtually each day is an online learning expert by necessity, and sharing useful tips with one another is the best way to build our distance teaching arsenal. What a valuable gift to receive this holiday season!

Laugh Together

Sometimes, we just need to lighten up. In a class I attended the other day, one of the participants kept freezing. Instead of treating it as a catastrophe, the teacher helped make light of the situation and shared a funny cartoon about freezing on Zoom. During meetings, some schools have been creating shared boards with memes, jokes, or other humorous items to give staff members something to pause and laugh at together before more serious topics of discussion begin. We all need to see the humor in life right now when everything is so challenging. Creating time and space to laugh sets a more productive tone for any meeting or class, and helps people build stronger relationships from afar.

Plan for the Future

Who says that we can’t have a holiday party in June? Sure, we likely cannot safely gather now in person, but that doesn’t mean that holiday celebrations are not able to be delayed until a more opportune time. When we all make it to the close of this school year, our collective sighs of relief might be even more enjoyable with the addition of a holiday theme for our end-of-year celebrations. We do not have to feel as deprived if we just put off some of our usual activities for a later date, and if we add that to our staff calendars now. It will give everyone something to look forward to. Start planning those Secret Snowflake gift exchanges, thinking about holiday themed t-shirts (sweaters might be a bit warm in the summer) and looking up new cookie recipes with June in mind!

Celebrating one another in a time of stress is not always easy, but if we can work to care for one another and support each other as much as possible, we will make it through this difficult holiday season. One day, we will gather again with hot cocoa and cookies, wearing our silly holiday swag and basking in the laughter of children and adults in school hallways. Until then, we can still enjoy the holidays with the knowledge that even in tough times, we truly could not make it through without one another.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam is a Learning and Achievement Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has worked for nearly 20 years as an English teacher, staff developer and department chair. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and recently earned her certification in Education Administration and Supervision. She can be followed on Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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