By Caitlin Krause
Students feel our sense of presence, connection and care as teachers, and this greatly impacts their learning, whether it’s in an online space or in a physical classroom. When moving classes online, we might naturally get so caught up in the technology (Is the platform stable? Is there latency? Can everyone hear and see each other?) that we’re a bit frazzled and frantic in our energy instead of present, calm and receptive.
What should be a joyful coming together feels stressful, and our impulse might be to jump straight to the expected topic at hand or content. We might forget that connection trumps content—and, in fact, connection is what will give that content context and meaning. So, it’s a necessary base. As online community hosts, our role now involves inviting everyone to our virtual home. What is our greeting at the threshold? How are we sending messages, implicit and explicit, that “All Are Welcome”?
When we overlook the priority of grounding and welcoming, it creates a rushed feeling instead of establishing connection. It can overwhelm and alienate our community, as they are taking time to arrive and settle in. After about a decade of hosting online group sessions and learning, I’m estimating that it takes about 5-10 minutes for a group to arrive and connect as a whole. Why? Because transitioning to a virtual setting is similar to traveling to a new physical location, only it’s jarringly instantaneous. As our bodies takes time to acclimate, here are three ways that you, as the host, can help ease the transition, and give some love to yourself in the process!
1. Pay Attention to How You Greet People and Manage Arrivals
Arrive early, open the space, and aim to greet everyone by name as they join you. Try having a visual image or piece of art on display (either physically behind you, or on a slide that you share after greeting the group) that represents the mood or theme of the space you want to create. It can be something concrete, like a scene from nature, or abstract, with colors and shapes that are symbolic. Try to keep it simple rather than busy. Use this “welcome image” as a way to anchor the senses in this arrival time. Remember, the chance to get grounded gives everyone a much-needed sense of stability. There is no rush about these roots.
2. Begin with a Quote or a Piece of Poetry
I like to think of quotes and poetry as seeds of intention. They are a way of sharing something inspiring that can change the dynamic of a space in a short span of time. Poetry is efficient because it points to emotion and meaning without over-explaining itself. In this way, you’re honoring the chance for each person to practice listening and appreciating something. This type of sharing can also involve you inviting everyone to share something back. Keep it open, keep it light. Make it an invitation over a mandate. Remember, these beginning minutes are a precious time for connection, so it’s a good opportunity for you to establish the warmth. This way, you let each person show up and get ready to share in an authentic way.
3. Guide everyone in a “Feel Your Feet” Exercise to Get Grounded
Just as I like to establish presence and connection through breathing practices like this one called “Just 3 Breaths”, I also enjoy beginning group sessions by inviting everyone to connect with their feet. Why? Because feet are often neglected when sitting at a desk, and starting with the feet is literally a way to establish and encourage connection from the floor up. When we each begin to pay attention to the way our feet are placed, we can focus our attention on how we’re carrying our physical selves. Are our legs crossed? Has one foot fallen asleep? How do we want to show up to this experience? This can lead into a longer mindfulness exercise or simply a quick few minutes to wiggle our toes, feel our feet, and ground ourselves before we move into more cerebral exercises.
There are many more “grounding” ideas and techniques to share. These three are ways to get started and have fun in the process. After all, we’re a part of each experience, and making it meaningful reflects our own self-care and compassion. Grounded energy inspires balance and expansion, which is good for us all in these challenging times.
Caitlin Krause’s mission is to empower humanity through connection. In her book Mindful by Design and through her work as founder of the MindWise consultancy, she helps individuals and groups leverage wellbeing, storytelling, SEL, and design principles to connect more deeply with their communities. She is a keynote speaker who has served as a curriculum designer and teacher for two decades, and she works with leadership and mindfulness in XR environments. Caitlin will be leading an online session May 12 about “Online Learning Collaboration, SEL and Wellbeing” for educators, parents and staff. Find her online at caitlinkrause.com and on Twitter @MindWise_CK.