Pay it Forward: Lean In

This is our most recent article of the Pay It Forward column published monthly by the Homer News.

Recently, health educators from the REC Room joined my remote 7th grade health class to teach sexual health and substance misuse prevention. Suddenly, I found myself on the other side of Zoom, no longer the teacher trying to perform miracles through the camera. Instead, I was sitting at my desk like a student, staring blurry-eyed  into the screen.

Honestly, I was rather skeptical about the whole thing. My recent experiences teaching on Zoom had required me to reexamine every practice developed over my 20-year teaching career. I certainly didn’t hold out much hope that the REC Room educators, who are at best half my age, could successfully negotiate the complexities of remote teaching and effectively engage 7th graders in frank discussions about puberty and addiction across Zoom.

I shouldn’t have worried, and what I witnessed was transformative. Rather than seeing Zoom as an obstacle wedged between themselves and the students, Liz, Tyler, and Sierra saw an opportunity. They designed new lessons and  innovated new techniques. These vivacious and engaging health educators instantly captivated and excited my students.

One of the first things I noticed was that the teachers got right up close to their cameras. They leaned in to Zoom. Literally. Their faces filled my screen, their eyes dancing, and their smiles wide. When they leaned in, it seemed as though they were sitting right across from me. They used facial expressions and laughter to connect with the kids. They took time to connect with each individual, and the kids responded.

I rearranged my desktop as soon as the first class was over. No more hiding in the shadows, I pulled my computer closer to my chair, and I balanced a camera six inches closer to my face. Recognizing the importance of facial expressions, when that’s really all the kids can see of me, I began to smile wider and laugh more often. Now, when I’m on Zoom, I lean in, and my students respond.

All of this has me thinking about the folks in our community who have leaned in throughout this pandemic. Folks like the volunteers at the Homer and Anchor Point Food Pantries who immediately found creative ways to meet the increasing needs of local families, the trustees at the Homer Foundation who raised funds to help charitable organizations maintain operations, and the real-life angels at Share the Spirit who are determined now more than ever to bring holiday joy to our friends and neighbors.

I am inspired by people who adapt, people who seek solutions and find ways to help others. Homer has always had more than its fair share of these folks, and they’re usually volunteers. Years ago, it was volunteers who brought a new library to Homer when we’d outgrown the old one, and when the need arose, it was volunteers who built our new playground and erected an indoor recreation facility.

I hope that throughout the holiday season and the long winter months ahead Homer’s volunteer army will recognize that it’s time to lean in again. It’s time to set aside our personal and political opinions, our past practices, and old routines. It’s time to adapt, to seek solutions, to support one another.

What might it look like to “lean in” during a global pandemic? I’m honestly not sure, but I do know that hidden inside of every problem is an opportunity. We have an opportunity this winter to build a stronger, more resilient community, and our kids are counting on us to do so. It’s time for each one of us to lean in. 

Bonnie Jason

Bonnie Jason is looking forward to the day when 7th graders return to her classroom at Homer Middle School. She is a former trustee of the Homer Foundation.