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Human Connection at an Online School

Written by: Liam Lavery, Director of Operations

“Good Morning, Mr. Lavery,” the students chant in chorus as I enter the classroom, elongating the phrase into a song in the way that children do. Crisp shirt, tight tie, and stiff shoes, I lay a stack of files on the oversized desk and take my place. A student calls out a question from one of the tidy, uniform rows, and I remind them of the school policy to raise their hand and wait for permission to speak. I remind another that hoodies aren’t permitted in the classroom…

This is probably a familiar scene to not a few of our readers. Traditional education has evolved with myriad policies designed to place obstacles between staff and students, in order to imbue staff with a sense of status, to enforce respect.  These obstacles are small, but many: addressing staff by their last name, the unnecessarily large teacher’s desk, strict dress-codes, permission to speak… the list goes on.

Those who are unfamiliar with online education sometimes wonder how we can possibly foster a human connection with our students in a digital environment, to which I counter that in-person doesn’t necessarily result in an authentic connection. When we study education, we are taught about the obstacles described above, their purpose, psychological and behavioral effects, all designed to control in some way. We’re also taught that if we have a student in distress, we should remove these obstacles to make a real connection with them to help them through the situation, come out from behind the desk, lay down the stack of files, get down on their level. Why wait for a student to be in distress to make to try to make a genuine, human connection?

At USPA we are human, our students and parents are human, we’re all wonderfully, authentically, fallibly human. In our digital world there are no obstacles, no false status symbols and we don’t waste time on stuffy dress-codes or arbitrary rules. We make connections, build relationships, we support and we learn, together, from day one. We remove the noise and the ego and focus on what really matters: our students, their learning, their wellbeing, their individuality, and their success.

At USPA, we go by first names. To outside observers it may not seem important but to our community it is. We go by first names because we’re human.

My name’s Liam. What’s yours?