Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. Hansen, Department Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education
Marking the end of the year, school year, or even a major project can be an important step in helping faculty members and students acknowledge their hard work and the transition to something else. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares tips about holding meaningful celebrations in the online environment.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And today, we’re going to talk about online celebrations and transitions. First, we’ll explore: What are online celebrations? How are they valuable? And what can they do for us? Then, we’ll talk about this three-step model that includes celebrations at the beginning and also the end. I think you’re going to find it valuable and useful at whatever time of the year you’re hearing this podcast, but especially as you’re wrapping up the year or the school year. Let’s begin with a little discussion about what online celebrations are.
What Are Online Celebrations?
When you celebrate something online, it can take any form. It could be a live video call, where everyone gets together to celebrate. Maybe there are some party games. You can use an application like Mentimeter and insert it into your screen sharing to have live polling, live word-sharing. You can have individuals contribute their ideas for the celebration during the party, or you can have them sent in advance. There really is a lot you can do to engage in real-time.
There are also some different kinds of apps where you can have a spinning dial, have names drawn, and have prizes of some kind. One idea, if you’re going to have a live video celebration, is to include some element like wearing holiday apparel, or festive clothing. Or, you could have individuals change their screen backgrounds to something that goes with the event you’re celebrating. This could be easily done in Zoom and many other video platforms.
An online celebration can also be done asynchronously. This could be on a Google document, sharing comments, sharing things together. There are a lot of different kinds of apps where you can all add comments to a card and then send it to everyone. You could have everyone send in photos ahead of time. You can make that into a slide show or a PowerPoint presentation, and put some music behind it, record it, and send it out to everyone. So even if not everyone is assembled in real-time, they can all see the celebration and celebrate whatever was achieved together.
And, of course, the simplest way to have a brief online celebration that is asynchronous would be through an announcement or an email. Again, you can include the topic that you’re celebrating, something about what was great—memories, images, whatever you’d like to include there—and then send it to everyone.
How Are Celebrations Valuable Online?
Celebrations can relieve stress. Throughout the year, we do a lot as online educators. And there are all kinds of reasons for stress in our online work. Stress can come from having a high workload. Or, from sitting for long periods during the day. Stress can come from the conflict between what we’re trying to do in our personal lives and what we’re doing at work. Or stress can come from our perception of the way people are treating us or the way the situation seems to be.
Online celebrations can also create milestones to help us know we’re making progress. On a daily basis, this is difficult to see. But when we look back over the past year, or the past class, or semester, or session, or whatever span of time we’re celebrating, maybe it’s a big project that has taken several months to finish like curriculum, a celebration can help us look at where we started, what the work was that got us to where we are now, and where we are finishing.
There are many things to celebrate when we put something out there with other people and growth happens. Celebrations can mark the end of something and give space before what comes next. There are fewer and fewer traditions in the world that stand out, so it’s critical to have some kind of ritual or some kind of pattern of celebrating on purpose.
Celebrations can bring in the positive element to what can otherwise be a very challenging situation. And your students and your colleagues that you celebrate with appreciate it as well. Think about what the celebration can do for those people that you’re including. If you’re a faculty member and you’re sending it out to students, it can help them feel the joy of completing something. If you’re sending it out to your team members and your colleagues, it can also help you and the team feel connected. When you send it to your direct reports, if you’re a manager, you’re also celebrating the effort and the investment those other people have put in, and it’s a great way to acknowledge people.
Online celebrations have a lot of benefits. And they are valuable for a lot of different reasons.
How Can We Create an Online Celebration?
Of course, there are many different kinds of online celebrations as I mentioned before. The easiest and simplest is the email and the announcement. And you can create it simply through text with a few graphics or images. And then, send it out to the entire team.
If you’re going to create a live, synchronous meeting online, tell participants in advance that there will be a celebration and what is involved. If your participants know what to expect when they come to the celebration, they are much more likely to attend, bringing more enjoyment to everyone there.
I was at an online celebration last year that I felt was so creative and insightful. The people that planned it charged each of the attendees a $15 fee for what they called the “party pack.” And then they mailed out these boxes to everyone that had a few treats, some confetti to throw, a little party hat that was inexpensive, and a tumbler to drink something out of. Then there was also a little outline of the activities and events that would occur.
This online celebration featured some “break out” rooms, where at a certain time during the party participants could choose the breakout room, and each of the rooms had a different theme for discussion. Like some were about your favorite Christmas cookies, some were holiday traditions, and those kinds of things.
Whatever holidays, or situations, or events you’re celebrating, you might have some kind of theme and make it fun and come up with ways to break people into smaller groups and then bring them back together during the party. There was also a little voting that happened in Mentimeter.
There was voting on the costumes people wore, the backdrop they chose for their Zoom background, and there were also some trivia games and quizzes that happened, and a large group discussion as well. You can pretty much get creative with a live celebration virtually just like you would a gathering or party live, face-to-face. Some of those same ideas are transferrable, you just have to plan ahead and use an app and tell everybody how to access it.
The idea of celebrating is all about looking at the positive, reflecting on the past, and celebrating what has been accomplished, and where we have been compared to where we are now. This can be especially meaningful in challenging times, and when the situation was a difficult time to get through. But even if it is just celebrating the end of a class, it can still take place. Maybe it’s going to be an email, or an announcement, or a short meeting, whatever you select for your group that is going to be meaningful for them and meaningful for you.
The second idea I’m sharing with you today is this idea of transitions, and it comes from Bridge’s transition model.
A Model of Transition and Change
Bridge’s transition model is an idea that helps people understand more effectively and manage change. And even if we are celebrating the end of something, the end of something is usually followed by a space. Some of us feel excitement about what’s coming next. And some of us feel disappointment, because what we were engaged in has ended, and now we are not looking forward to things. Whatever it is, I want to introduce these three phases of Bridge’s transition model to you as part of celebrating something that you have wrapped up or that has occurred.
Whatever we are doing has ended or is coming to an end. That could be wonderful, it could be bittersweet, it could be very difficult for us. And as we are ending, it’s very helpful to celebrate what we are letting go.
Perhaps we are celebrating what was learned. Or the strength and perseverance of simply getting through a challenging time. Whatever that is, there are many things involved in that ending. So, the first phase of a transition or a major change begins when people identify what they are losing and learn to manage the loss, which many times can be celebrated.
When we are ending a program, a relationship, or a class, a project, we are losing a lot because we might not see those same people every day. We won’t see those students again. We won’t see our colleagues again for a long time. There is a lot about involved and engaged in something that we miss when it’s over. Celebrating helps us to acknowledge the endings. Honestly noticing the loss and the role it plays in our lives, that helps us out too.
The second thing is the neutral zone. The neutral zone is an interesting thing about letting go. The neutral zone is that in-between space when the old thing has finished, the class is done, the project is done, the job is wrapped up, but the new thing hasn’t started yet. It hasn’t come along. Or maybe there is a waiting period before the next thing comes along. And in this space of the neutral zone, our old reality has concluded. Our new reality hasn’t started. And we have this space to reflect.
We can think about the learning that we have experienced or will hope to experience. We might have a little bit of curiosity about what comes next. There might be some tension there because it feels like emptiness, at times.
Experiencing the Neutral Zone
The neutral zone is a space where many people grow the most. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great.” That neutral zone can bring a lot of great ideas and a lot of great things. In fact, many people who have invented major things that have benefitted humanity created those things during a period of transition.
Susan Bridges said, “The essence of life takes place in the neutral zone phase of transition. It is in that interim spaciousness that all possibilities, creativity and innovative ideas can come to life and flourish.”
When you are in the neutral zone, after the celebration is over, it’s possible that something will come to mind that you would like to try out or learn more about. Or maybe you will be completely rejuvenated by resting and taking that time to live in the neutral space.
The third space of the stages of transition in the Bridge’s model is called new beginnings. And new beginnings involve some values, attitudes, and understandings that you might bring with you or adopt in the new beginning. It can be challenging, scary, or exciting. But new beginnings usually have a lot of energy pushing you in that new direction.
This experience can bring a sense of identity when you’re involved in something. And it can be playful, or it can be serious. There are a lot of different things we might see showing up in the new beginnings, but the action and the orientation to move forward can be highly invigorating.
When you’re in that neutral zone, after the celebration is over, this can be a good place to reflect and begin thinking about goals for the future. These don’t have to be massively big goals, but at the time of this recording, the year 2021 is coming to an end. And the year 2022 is approaching.
If you are an educator, for you that means there is probably a short break. Or a new class to start in January. If you listen to this later in the year, of course you can think about this in terms of any monthly start, or at the end of the school year moving into the next break or the summer, or into the next school year.
There are many times where you might consider the transition of endings, neutral zone, and beginnings. Some of these things come from the idea of letting go and accepting what has already occurred and learning from it if needed. And some of these things come from the idea of launching into the new direction.
Take One Small Action for the Future
As you think about where you are going to go this coming year, consider what kind of small mini-habits you would like to establish for your online teaching and for your work-life balance. Both of these areas can be worthy of some reflection and some thought. And it really only takes one or two mini-habits. Very small things.
For example, you might consider starting each day reading something that inspires you. You might reflect on online teaching itself. You might try a new strategy to get to know your students.
One small thing can make all the difference. There has been a lot said about being 1% more productive or 10% happier. If you try one new mini habit in your online teaching, that could be the difference to make you that one or 10% more satisfied with your work. And it can add a lot to your work-life balance.
As we wrap up the podcast today, I want you to think about how celebrations and transitions can be meaningful and valuable to you, to your students, and to your colleagues. What is one thing you might try this year to celebrate what has been? What has occurred? And what you’re letting go of?
And what is one small thing you will do when the new beginning comes along? As you take the time in the neutral zone, I hope you’ll enjoy reflecting on the past and anticipating the future. And letting some things unfold for you. I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week, and especially in celebrating what has been.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.