A year and a half into this pandemic and after countless hours at my desk at home, at the office, in the car, at the beach, wherever and whenever work called during the endless days, I couldn’t help but notice the growing interpersonal atrophy due to the adaptation of remote anything and everything that involved human interaction.
Being the principal of a high school, I was accustomed to interacting with nearly every staff member and many students and parents, daily, as my office was connected to the main office, where staff checked in each morning and students and parents dropped by to seek help. I had no less than 200-300 or more emails daily, and nearly as many conversations and interactions with live people. There was an energy and excitement that accompanied these moments, as I knew very well how important the human element of socialization was in the workplace, and worked hard to maintain a friendly, sociable, family-natured, but ultra productive and motivating dynamic atmosphere.
On March 16, 2020, the most basic and complex elements of the nuances that encompass one another’s company in a physical workspace came to a pause. We had little to no warning (although that’s debatable) and no transition or time to process what was about to happen to all of us. It kind of felt initially like a snow day. For one short week, we prepared as educators to get ready to go home, and work remotely until the COVID phenomenon was under control. In days, maybe weeks, we’d be back and everything would go back to normal. COVID would fade away from the news headlines and familiarity would resume. That snow day, never seemed to end.
Two weeks prior to the pause, seeing more and more students come to school with masks, and watching the local, national and world news carefully, I felt strongly that it was going to be a matter of time before something would give and we’d be closed. We as a school community had unknowingly at the time, just completed our 7 year dress-rehearsal for remote learning after becoming a 1-to-1 school, going all digital in 2013, with students using mobile computers in school and at home. During the week of March 2nd, 2020 our faculty engaged in intense professional development with Zoom, Meet, and Google Classroom. Nobody told us to do this, we simply just felt that we needed to prepare in case we actually had to close down. Colleagues and friends could sense an intensity and dread in me at meetings and events, as my mind and every action forward was obsessed with figuring out how we were going to deliver our nine-period instructional day to students across fiber-optic lines and WiFi through a glowing screen and headphones.
In the end, which was really the beginning, we did it, seamlessly. By the time the city closed schools and scheduled a week off for the students so teachers could prepare for remote learning, we were already prepared and ready. During the transition week, we still permitted teachers and staff come into the building and then quickly realized how complex and ingrained our habits were despite social distancing mandates. We quickly adapted to communicating through Zoom and Meet as we were sequestered to our individual school building work spaces, and then eventually home. At first, in fact, there was an excitement to this new experience, as even with remote learning we nearly had a 100% contact rate with our students, families, faculty and staff on a daily basis. We thrived, succeeded, proved our plan to be a resilient and successful one albeit, but then eventually, the loss of human contact, the social void created by the pause, the familiar noise of our workplace setting, were now replaced with the sounds of home, our car, the outdoors, wherever one chose to do work. Mobile technologies made that possible, keeping us together seemingly, but in reality, further apart than we’d soon realize.
I personally underestimated how important human contact was in my daily routine and how over time the inter-muscular striations that were my connections to people were slowly losing their tone and definition. While the actual connectivity, functionality and goal of remote learning was a successful alternative in dire times, the social-emotional void was devastating; even while woking in the creature comforts of home. One would think that being home would be met by a level of familiarity and productivity that could provide a suitable alternate to the mission control that was one’s normal workspace. For the months and part of the upcoming school year we were all 100% remote, it was a championship moment and served to be a successful second to what we all grew fonder of and missed in our once live and tactile experiences. While mechanically, we thrived and kept the educational machine and remote community moving forward, for me, my social-emotional and mental health were suffering greatly, and soon manifested itself in physical ailments as well.
We often refer to anything that resembles what is lifelike and within the realm of reality as 3D, but isn’t it ironic how we pay stacks of money at theme parks to sit on a 4D ride that takes reality to its ultimate level of mockery. Human interaction, albeit broken down to its rudiments are the conversations we have, the interpersonal connections we make with people through body language, gestures, as well as the sound and inflection of our voice, smell of our body, breath, and movement of our being within various environments and life scenarios, invoking feelings. A traditional work day, pre-COVID included spending hours selling points of our most passionate convictions to a backdrop of PowerPoint slides on a massive interactive screen, which conveyed setting and theme, as our face and words contorted exclamation and meaning towards our message. For me, personally, in-person human interactive experiences became the most cherished and truly missed aspect of “life” and “work” during COVID.
During the Spring of 2021, as life and work gradually reassumed positions and familiar spaces, places and people whom encompassed life before COVID, an affirmation of the things most important to me needed an outlet and voice of it’s own, which is where “The Power of People Podcast” was born. Since 2014, when I first met Bob Wolf, a College and Career coach, our friendship grew out of a passion for appreciating the importance of teaching others what Bob refers to as Human Interaction Knowledge Applied (HIKA) Skills TM. These skills are referred to some as “soft skills,” albeit a description which is so far from what these skills are in reality. At the time in 2014, I was in the process of developing a course with a colleague for our ninth graders, which is now known as our “Introduction to Talk-nology” class which focuses on Bob Wolf’s 5 HIKA TM Skills: First Impression, Interpersonal, Communication, Presentation and Selling skillsTM. Along with these skills, we adopted School 21’s Voice 21 “Oracy” curriculum, which develops a students’ articulacy and capacity to learn, by focusing on the verbal communication skills students need to succeed in work and life. Together, the focus on HIKATM Skills and Oracy aims to hone students ability to harness and master the art and power of human interaction. Having delved in this work personally for years, and working closely with Bob as a thought partner and friend, through COVID, an even deeper appreciation for teaching these skills emerged, as our longing for the return back to something familiar grew with each passing sunset.
After years of discussing and thinking of ways to collaborate together and bring both of our worlds into the same space, Bob and I realized that the creation of The Power Of People Podcast would be the perfect joint venture that could help share our collective message, which focuses on helping others from all backgrounds realize that the #1 resource in every individuals life are people. Our primary focus is on discussing our own personal stories, along with special guests, with a goal of helping listeners master the skills required to meet, earn support from and work effectively with people, using Bob’s 5 HIKA SkillsTM.
I hope you enjoy our efforts and passion project that emerged through the pain and growth during COVID. The podcast can be listened directly from the website, www.ThePowerOfPeoplePodcast.com. A video version of the podcast, featuring myself and Bob Wolf during our live recordings of the podcast can be viewed via our YouTube channel. The podcast can also be listened and subscribed to via the Apple Podcast App via this link.
One thought on “Interpersonally Atrophic(ly) Yours – A Covid Tale”
Add great writer to your seemingly endless skill set. As Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” I’m sure the PoP podcast won’t be your only innovation to come from the times of COVID. Keep the good stuff coming!