We have witnessed an unprecedented shift in the way we connect in organizations, particularly in schools. With the cancellation of physical classes, the reality of social distancing and self-isolation, and the move to online learning and connectedness, has presented a really steep learning curve for teachers, administrators and organizations. As a growing team of associates that work largely as individuals, our Jigsaw Learning organization has learned a little bit about how to ensure connectedness and productivity virtually and want to share some insights regarding what we’ve learned along the way. I think these lessons could apply for teachers trying to connect and instruct virtually, for school leaders trying to navigate a primarily online workforce and district leaders and teams trying to coordinate support at a systems level.
The key is found in a concept we refer to as intentional layering. Understanding that there are multiple ways we connect, but that each may have a different purpose, medium and participation. Having intentionality in the way we layer support, connectedness and accountability is incredibly important to establishing an effective and manageable plan for reaching the goals you wish to achieve.
Let’s take a moment to examine the layers we use, the purpose and what tools we utilize.
Overall Messaging - it is important that people can “see” the leaders (classroom teacher, principal, district team, etc.) on a regular basis. We schedule regular weekly video messages to our team from the co-founders Lorna and Kurtis through YouTube Live Stream. We prepare what we need to say and then come online to share the message. We save the video (usually 3-10 minutes), add to a playlist called “JL Team Updates” and make the video unlisted. We then send it out to all of our team. In the video, we can do a number of things:
- Celebrate work happening across our organization
- Provide an update on work happening or expectations for the week
- Discuss one of our values and its importance for the team
- Provide an expectation or task to attend to for the week
It is important that this is left quite informal (we jot some notes, but not a script) so that the team can “see” us for who we are and maintain the personal connection. It is also important that these are not messages that get replicated in other layers that I’ll discuss shortly. People will stop watching the video if they know it is info that will get repeated somewhere else.
The video is then sent out to the team via email, with any further reminders or links discussed in the video.
Whole Team Meeting - we used to bring our whole team together on a monthly basis with a standard agenda, typically in person. With the recent crisis, we now meet every Wednesday at 10 am. We have an agenda for each of these meetings, but the length of the meeting may change based on what needs to be discussed. Some meetings are 30 minutes, some are 2 hours (we commit to never going beyond noon). We do these via Google Meet for our organization, currently using a Chrome Extension Google Meet Grid View to display our whole team and record the team meeting (using the new record function), to retain for one week, in case a team member can’t attend or in case internet cuts out for anyone. We have a lead for the meeting, but always an alternate lead, should one of the leads have an internet interruption. These meetings focus on collaboration (reducing updating and informing), using collaborative Google Docs to capture notes and information that we collaborate on in real time.
We start the meetings with a “check in” activity (this week, it was share one thing that you’ve done to organize yourself at home and one thing you’ve done to maintain personal wellness). We ask a person to start and then that person chooses the next one to speak, until everyone has a chance to “check in”. We conclude the meeting in a similar fashion, asking everyone to share one comment, question or insight they’ve had during the meeting (with one person sharing then selecting the next person to go).
This meeting is very action-focused, asking people to commit to actions they intend to take throughout the conversations, which are documented with timelines.
When we do engage in monthly team meetings, we don’t want to lose valuable time going around to update each other on our work, due to the amount of time needed. However, it is important that we know what each other is doing and feel connected to each other. To reconcile this need, we send our team 2-3 questions that they need to respond to via Flipgrid (super easy video app) - we encourage our team not to script a response, just talk and be real. We then provide an organizer for our team that has all team member names on it and an area for questions/notes to jot down while watching. We ask that every team member come to the meeting having already viewed the update videos and have their organizer ready, based on the conversation we want to ask. It allows us to get immediately to the heart of our conversation, as everyone has completed “homework” prior to attending.
Small Group Meetings - we use a very similar structure to then collaborate on individual team projects, typically connected to a school/district several of us are supporting, or a particular support area that has multiple people involved. The structure is virtually the same as the whole team meeting, with small team agendas being developed (and often linked in the larger team documents) and the conversation being action focused. These meetings are held as needed, often with the next meeting date being determined before concluding the current meeting.
Our organizational leadership team also meets weekly (prior to the pandemic, it was typically for 1-2 hours on a Sunday - we have since shifted to Mondays), to determine team meeting agendas, upcoming projects or contracts, individual team support, key messages and align everything to our overall organizational strategic plan. These meetings are typically by phone or Google Meet, with us having an ongoing recording document established to record our notes and actions we intend to take.
One-to-one meetings - as Lead Learners, Lorna and I each have team members we are responsible for connecting with every week at an established day and time. These are phone, FaceTime or Google Meets and last anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the work being done or the time available. Each team member has an individual overview document that identifies key tasks as part of their individual work plan. The meeting is focused on connecting personally and then reviewing current elements of the work plan, collaborating on projects, and problem-solving issues being discovered. These meetings are critical, as they ensure we have individual relationships and investments with our team members, but also ensure overall alignment, awareness and accountability regarding what we are trying to accomplish as a greater organization.
Peer-to-Peer Connections - we typically try to ensure that people working on projects are placed into teams or partners for the work. Particularly, during the pandemic, we recognized connectedness would be critical, so one of the primary tasks we established early was to focus on areas of our website that needed addressing (when school cancellations initially happened, we experienced immediate cancellations for our work in schools. Needing a quick response for our team, knowing that schools needed time to figure out their new reality, we created this as an immediate focus). For each area, we assigned two people to attend to it together, so that they could connect and collaborate on a shared purpose, but so that interconnectedness could be further reinforced for team members who may not interact frequently together due to the reality of our work in schools and districts.
This layered approach with a focus on intentionality really helps to ensure connectedness and purpose, concepts which our team member Lana Nogue discussed in a recent blog posting What Leaders Can Do to Support the Emotional Well-Being of their Team Members During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
In the coming weeks, we're going to provide some further planning resources that take these ideas and apply them to the classroom, school and district context. We will share them as they are developed! Please reach out to me at if you have any questions or need any support thinking through this approach for your own classroom or organization. I would love to be able to support in any way I can! All the best and stay safe!