Who’s Got Your Back?

Covid-19 typically has resulted in many working flat out to respond to new challenges. Some are managing, some not so much.  Separate conversations with two teachers provided me with a better understanding of why that might be.

The tale of two teachers began with a conversation with one woman who was totally overwhelmed.  In addition to being responsible for homeschooling her own two young children,  she was now teaching her own grade 7 students online – totally new turf for her.

Typically a confident teacher, she was definitely not comfortable with her lack of expertise online. However she wasn’t one to walk away from a challenge, - nor admit she needed help - so she hunkered down with a vengeance, working late every night in order to master the fundamentals of teaching online.

Unfortunately, she’s paid a price, as she is now clearly stressed and exhausted. That, in turn, is impacting both her students and her family.

The second conversation was with another woman who was pretty much in the same situation - family responsibilities, including 3 kids and an elderly mother, who was also new to online teaching. To my surprise, she was remarkably cheerful, albeit a bit weary.  Working hard, for sure, but okay.

She went on to explain that while it was tough, her salvation was her network of support. As she put it, I have others I can lean on who have my back. She went on to say, “Yes it’s tough, but we’re supporting one another, sharing our respective strengths and learning together”.

The key for her, she explained, was accepting she couldn’t and didn’t have to have all of the answers. Secondly, she knew she could typically find the answers within her networks of trusted relationships. Not only her teaching colleagues, but her friends and cohorts from among other professional and personal networks. 

These days it does seem that if something falls into the nice-but-not-essential category, it is dropped from everyone’s to-do lists. That, in additional to the need for social isolation, has meant that networking, and the conversations and support that come with it, aren’t typically accepted as a priority.

However, given what I’m hearing, I’m thinking networking needs to be moved up on everyone’s list of priorities and be considered somewhat essential, albeit in a new way.

The simplest definition of a network is that it is a set of nodes and links of things that are connected to each other. While it is a social organization, it is not one that relies on top-down delegation to get things done. Instead its leadership is more widely distributed and sometimes challenging to access as there’s no clear organization chart. Typically there isn’t a board of directors, president, or CEO.

A network can focus on working together to (1) address a specific need i.e. reducing poverty, strengthening leadership, (2) advocate for change or justice, (3) innovate to solve social problems, (4) share promising practices, or (5) build organizational or community capacity.

The first teacher had little if any involvement with networks whereas the second teacher had networks that addressed innovative approaches for working online, sharing promising practices, being a sounding board for one another, and strategizing to determine prioriities and reduce stress.

Still not sure networks are important? Think about it this way. We know there is a lot that needs to be changed in a post Covid world. Each of us is bombarded every single day with information and practices about change that we choose to either ignore or implement.

Technology has meant it’s no longer about getting information. What is however of increasing importance is who we get that information from. We don’t always pay attention to information when it comes from a stranger. We do pay attention when it comes from a trusted source. Networks are about building trusting relationships. When trusting relationships are in place, there’s a greater chance that we will be more receptive to implementing the kind of change that will result in innovative and meaningful outcomes.  It’s a critical formula for change….networks + trust =  innovation.

Posted on 06-02-20

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