Embracing Human Connection After Covid

May 03, 2021

I felt a strange jolt shoot down my spine the first time in over a year that I stepped into a room with a hundred people in it, and not a single one was wearing a mask. It was a mixture of anxiety and excitement. The crowd sat shoulder-to-shoulder in their seats waiting for me to take the stage, and their conversations with each other created a noise that has been absent from my ears since March of 2020. Everyone’s voices were competing with each other, and so the volume in the room made the hairs on my arms rise. Or maybe it was the sight of people only feet apart from each other exchanging smiles as well as air and vapor that made my skin crawl.

None of this felt normal, and yet all of this felt normal.

Last week, I got to present in front of live people, without masks and social distancing. Because of vaccines and CDC guidance, this presentation was not in front of a bunch of muted Zoom squares or 50 people spread out in a 10,000 square-foot conference room. It was in an auditorium and it looked exactly like a pre-pandemic scene for me.

Except it didn’t feel like times before the pandemic.

First and obviously, the reason why it felt so different was because it’s been a while since we’ve been able to gather like this, and that in and of itself carries a degree of apprehension. I immediately started asking questions like:

Do the vaccines actually work?
Is the virus in this room right now?
Will I remember how to function in groups like this?
Is there something in my teeth?

We’ve adjusted to a new set of rules and a ‘new-normal’, and adjusting to a new way requires another round of relearning. Conforming to the pandemic way of life took a little while for me, and now it’s time to readjust again.

However, it also felt different from gathering before Covid because of my newfound appreciation of being together. We’ve grown used to having isolation in almost everything we do. Virtual meetings, while an amazing tool this past year, can feel isolating. They lack that connection one can only get in a physical setting. Being behind a mask and not seeing facial expressions or only hearing muffled laughter can feel isolating. Being separated from the ones we care about and love is isolating.

This past year has been largely isolating.

As we emerge from this isolating time, it’s almost like seeing color for the first time. Or hearing songbirds after a long winter. Of course it may feel weird, that’s to be expected, but it also brings joy and energy. The energy in that room I was in was palpable. It was as if a hundred people collectively agreed to not take human connection for granted anymore.

This pandemic has helped me realize how desperately we need human connection.

We need to see smiles and frowns. We need to laugh at each other’s jokes, give each other high fives, lean in when we are listening, hear voices and inflection- we need to be with each other. In this past year, we did what we needed to do and made necessary sacrifices. Along the way, we discovered new ways to connect with others, and some of the ways will serve us long after the pandemic is over. However, hopefully this experience has also taught us how precious our time together really is.

We cannot disregard this lesson of the pandemic.

Realizing this, how does this epiphany affect how you approach your work? If you’re a teacher, does it change your posture towards your time in class with students? Might it cause you to pause and look at the faces of your students more and realize the gift it is to see them? Would you consider greeting them at the door each day because you’re reminded how powerful that physical connection is? Could you plan more collaborative work because collaboration means connection?

The presence of community is a gift, and this gift has largely been withheld this past year.

If you’re a school leader, does this insight transform how you interact with your staff? Could you schedule more 1-on-1 check-in meetings with your team? Can we rethink staff meetings and ensure that they are always opportunities for everyone to connect and grow together? Could you take more steps to grow the community-feel of your school?

And if you’re a person (which I’m assuming you all are), how can you embrace human connection more? Can we share smiles more freely at the grocery store? Care for our neighbors beyond the surface level? Turn off our phones and be more present when we are in the presence of community?

Because the presence of community is a gift, and this gift has largely been withheld this past year. Hopefully its absence has made you grow more fond of it.

I know it has for me. And so while sharing stories, jokes, and ideas with a hundred maskless people felt strange, it also brought me joy I haven’t felt in far too long.

Missing the NOISE of School

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