The New Landscape of Communication: Embracing the Change
By Flip Alexander - B.A.A.S., Tarleton State University; M.Ed., Concordia University
Flip Alexander started her 20th year at Vanguard in January of 2020.
I was about to pull out of a Round Rock Donut parking space the morning of our family Spring Break trip. Before putting the car in reverse, a notification came across my phone that the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. For several weeks prior, our Vanguard School COVID-19 Response Team had already been actively investigating current health information and building scenarios as to how to support students should we be unable to return to school. My instincts, honed by working in the educational environment for twenty years, took this update as an obvious start to a chain reaction that would affect all of our children, teachers, and extended local community. Over the last several weeks, COVID-19 has certainly impacted all of our lives. How future memories of our current shelter-in-place are being imprinted on youth and teachers as I write is thought-provoking. Still, the desire to promote well-being has jolted the landscape of human connections and how we communicate with each other.
The sights of a favorite destination, the final moments with a loved one, the birth of a child, and graduation ceremonies are but a few of the life experiences that hold great significance. The sights, feelings, tastes, smells, and sounds of these experiences imprint themselves upon our minds influencing memories for years to come. I see it in the current stories from teachers of all age levels and platforms. Responding to COVID-19, education leaders and their students have shifted en masse to virtual learning without question; consequently, how we define learning has evolved. In the article, “Online Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Yoshiko Iwai writes, “The surprises and unexpected interactions fuel creativity—often a result of sitting in a room brushing shoulders with a classmate, running into professors in a bathroom line, or landing on ideas and insights that arise out of discomfort in the room. This unpredictability is often lost online.” Although Iwai here specifically references a college student experience, youth, teachers, and school administrators have also had to modify what skill sets are being developed as a result of continuing education online. Supporting creativity and learning how to navigate uncomfortable situations is vital now for students more than ever. Our understanding of learning has simply transformed, and it is on a more personal level. I see this as my nine-year-old son has transformed himself into an online student; self-reliance has been honed as he has planned out his school work weeks, turns in assignments on his own, and even when he missed a deadline. He has been propelled to be his own advocate as he gets information to plan for assignments, becomes more resourceful via a multi-step technology-driven process to communicate, and faces the disappointment of not making a deadline. The missed deadline was particularly enlightening; I watched the exact moment when he realized that he had missed the deadline and I watched his developing mind connect his own actions with the failure. This was definitely a moment he would not have experienced if in the classroom with his teacher there to remind him. Whether this instance is good or bad for his development can certainly be questioned, but I would argue that practice in resilience can only be good. Furthermore, what is important to note is that the increased self-reliance expected of him is also expected of others out in our community, regardless of age.
Students in my Speech class know that I can’t say enough about the importance of acknowledging audience consideration; indeed, it is paramount for relaying purposeful messages. Only when we know who our audience is can we ensure that we address them in the way that will find them most receptive. Who the audience is right now is so much more important because we are the audience and we are changing. Andrew Blotky is an expert in communications supporting both political and industry aspects of community. Blotky claims, “Empathy and connection are at the root of communications, and they have a significant impact on just about every aspect of our society today.” Scan any social media feed and you will see numerous enhanced options of live music, curb-side menus for restaurants, clever prom celebrations, and remembrances of those that have passed to the next life. In this time of self-isolation, we have adapted to maintaining connections to friends, loved ones, and even strangers. The certainty of our routine has indeed changed. We have been forced to take a moment and apply survival skills hunting to share our lives for an exchange with others. It’s an effort of maintaining our self-perceived place in the world. Just as significant moments in our lives shape who we are and how we communicate with others, so has the impact of communities sheltering-in-place. Why we do what we do, who we really are, and seeing how far we have come is worthy of evaluation.
Many right now are experiencing a different version of life’s milestones than they had expected - that favorite destination, the final moments with a loved one, the birth of a child, or a graduation ceremony. I have made memories that are not quite what I had expected as have many of you. Individuals in an unknowing manner potentially have a connection of heightened wellness actions when having experienced significant events in their life (Blakely, et al., 2020). We have warriors in our midst right now as their experiences connect them to others from afar. Their memories will imprint in an unapologetic and valid way, which will cause future interactions to be unlike anything we have known before. Our community has expanded its understanding of who we are, what our goals should be, and the impact our messages has on others. Oh yes, we have been jolted to adjust due to our current situation, and at the end of the day, we do not have to apologize for feelings of loss. Nevertheless, even as we grieve, we can simultaneously embrace the changes knowing that our connections, communications and community are stronger than ever.