Episode 105: Engaging the Whole Person Virtually

Guests Jeanette Romkema and Andrea Van Liew share how the 3C Model – Connecting to Content, Connecting to Self and Connecting to Others – is crucial to engaging the whole person in a virtual setting. They share their recent revelations with clients about the surprising benefits of shifting to remote meetings and trainings – including increased connections and equalized power among those in the virtual room.

Learn more about the 3C Model. For more tips and resources on connecting virtually, check out our toolkit.

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This show is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton JR. You can learn more about GLP at our website, as well as check out Greg’s work and services!

Theme music: ‘Pretty Face’ by Una Walkenhorst. You can hear more of Una’s music on her website!

Read more about connection and heart learning in these blog posts:

Read transcripts for the episode below.


Meg (1s): Hello and Welcome to Shift the Power: A Learning-Centered Podcast – where we talk about the revolutionary power of a learning-centered approach. Through this podcast we hope to inspire creative thinking and provide practical tools and techniques to deepen learning through dialogue. We’re your hosts, Meg Logue, and Peter Noteboom. In this episode, we’ll continue talking about online learning and specifically look at how to make sure that we are engaging learners. We’re joined by two of our Global Learning Partners colleagues today, Jeanette Romkema and Andrea Van Liew to share their knowledge with us.

Meg (45s): Welcome.

Jeanette (46s): Thank you.

Andrea (47s): Hello

Meg (48s): So I’ll, I’ll give you two, a moment if you’d like to just introduce yourselves and then we’ll dive into our first question for today.

Jeanette (55s): Great, I’m Jeanette Romkema. I’m based here in Toronto Ontario, Canada. I am the strategic director for Global Learning Partners and have been a senior partner for about 20 years. And I’m excited to be here with you today.

Andrea (1m 9s): And my name is Andrea Van Liew. I am a relatively new member to the team, I’ve been with GLP in spirit for many years, but have just joined the consulting team within the last year and a half. So I’m considered a partner and I am the current lead of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion team at Global Learning Partners and I’m from Vermont.

Meg (1m 34s): Thank you so much for joining us. We’re really excited to have two amazing members of the GLP team with us to talk about online learning. And as we all know, the world of learning is undergoing a transformation as technology evolves, and we develop new ways to fold that into our learning designs. And many people associate virtual learning with the drawbacks, the different things that we’re missing, that we might get in an in-person setting that we don’t get when we’re online. But I’m curious to hear from you two, what you see as the advantages of online or blended learning, and I’ll, I’ll kick it to whoever has a thought first.

Jeanette (2m 11s): I can start. And I love the question because indeed, most people, especially when COVID hit, who are focused on what we lost, but there are many opportunities and many gains. So the advantages- I think for me, fall into distinct areas, the first is it’s interesting how it has equalized groups when they gather. So there’s been a very noted change, I think, and Shift as everyone meets as one person on one screen with many screens together in a virtual gathering and suddenly we’re all just a head and shoulders on a screen. And so there’s this interesting change that there’s no longer a room where it’s leadership or the executive director is sitting in the same place at the head of the table.

Jeanette (3m 2s): And there is no longer groups that gather in person with some gathering on screen. And there’s a bit of an insider outsider feeling. And there is no longer people feeling far away from each other that some people seem to have a voice more than others, just because of where one is sitting in a room. And so I have heard from clients and individuals increasingly so, that there is a more equality in these virtual gatherings, people, especially those who have not felt like insiders or included, feel more included, more, seen, more equal, more present among peers. And I think this is very, very powerful and very important to reflect on.

Jeanette (3m 46s): And the second thing for me is you used to be that my thinking was always well, there is always the preferred way to gather, and that is in person. Certainly these times have pushed my thinking and I don’t think I’ll ever say that again, that there is not one preferred way that it really should always be about the learners and the participants and what will work best for them at this time. And often that is a virtual, a virtual gathering will include more people or the right people at the right time. And this is a definitely a big shift in my thinking, but also at Global Learning Partners.

Andrea (4m 32s): So to that, I’ll just piggyback a little bit on what you said. If we look at these types of engagements to the lens of folks who might identify themselves as introverts or extroverts, oftentimes in, in person meeting the extroverts are the ones to speak first. Maybe they speak more and their voices end up really taking up more of your time. And if, if we’re using a chat feature or discussion feature in a particular learning platform, then folks who maybe are less likely to verbalize their thoughts may also contribute more in a virtual setting. So I think that’s an advantage again, to reiterate when you said, which was about sort of leveling the playing field for folks.

Andrea (5m 20s): I think the other thing that can be viewed as an advantage is that the software designers, whoever they are, are really thinking carefully and in very interesting and cool ways about how to add features to the online platforms, that in some ways to mimic that some of the things that we’re able to do in person, so the polling feature, or being able to stamp a particular thing, to give it a priority, or going into a breakout room and collectively writing on a Google Doc, those are all ways that people can collaborate in real time through the platform, depending on what features of each platform offers it. And so I, that, to be really interesting to see how it, in some ways mimics what we are, what we often do in in-person training.

Peter (6m 4s): And you know, that’s interesting what you’re saying, you know, it seems like the screen has become the great equalizer. We’re all on the same screen together. And as you said, we’re all of the same head and shoulders, and there are some unique opportunities there that you’ve also pointed to the screen is also a flat two dimensional. Maybe we don’t see the whole person and everything that’s going on with them in a way that we might do in an in person way. So I wonder if you could share with us some of what you learned about the challenges to engaging the whole person via the screen and how have you overcome some of those challenges?

Peter (6m 48s): Andrea, I wonder if you could begin for us.

Andrea (6m 51s): Sure. Thank you, Peter. I mean, I think the, the first one that comes to mind, which perhaps is obvious is that it means where it’s spending a lot more time on the screen. And for some of us that means we’re either sitting in a similar place or standing, and we’re just spending a lot of minutes, which turn into hours in front of a computer screen. I think that there can be some disadvantages to that, for sure. I also think that when we are engaged in a virtual space where people are in their own little rectangular boxes that as a facilitator or someone who’s either preparing to offer a learning task or trying to facilitate a meeting, is that it’s much harder to read the room so we can see facial expressions to a certain degree.

Andrea (7m 39s): We can listen to people’s tone of voice, maybe see where they put an exclamation point in to their chat post, but there’s a little bit harder to read the body language and to sort of read the room so to speak. So I think that’s something that poses a challenge. I also have noticed that aside from the, what I would consider a more sort of humorous distractions, kids, pets, you know, one more is those sorts of things. Sometimes folks have real difficulty with connectivity, and I know that here in Vermont, we don’t have a universal broadband access. And so there is a, a limit to who can participate and to what degree they can participate depending on where they live and what their service area is like and what their connectivity is.

Andrea (8m 28s): So I think that’s something to be really mindful of. So even though some of the virtual platforms do allow us to level the playing field, there’s also this other aspect of just a, a lack of access for other folks. And so we want to be mindful of who’s voices might not be feeling heard in a particular context or setting based on connectivity.

Peter (8m 52s): Thank you so much, Andrea, for drawing our to that equity question. And just for all of us to learn these new skills as learning facilitators in a new environment, what about you, Jeanette? What are some of the challenges that you’ve noticed that are about engaging the whole person through the screen and how have you overcome them?

Jeanette (9m 16s): Yeah, thank you, Peter. You know, for me, the, the big challenges is very much the same as Andrea’s first that she named that, you know, in this time when we are just head and shoulders on a screen, we forget that we have a body that needs to move and actually needs to learn skills. So we see a, a, a very little skill learning and movement, and that is a problem for sure. But the second one is we forget that we have a heart and that it needs to be fed as well. And that means to sit quietly from time to time and reflect on what I think about what’s happening right now and this gathering.

Jeanette (9m 56s): And so the body absolutely is being forgotten and the end, the heart, and this is leading to a many people increasingly, so experiencing what is called by many as a zoom fatigue. Zoom fatigue is real, it is a concerning, and it absolutely needs to be addressed because it will not get better unless we intentionally look at, I guess, human beings in a more holistic way that we are not just head and shoulders, although that’s what we see on the screen, but that we need to invite people to take a break while we’re together, to turn away from the screen and take five minutes or 10 minutes to reflect through journaling, through drawing or sit somewhere else in the room while still in the zoom room but physically sit somewhere just to take a break to consider what was just offered by a presenter.

Jeanette (10m 52s): What was just offered by my colleagues who are here in this gathering, but just time to be by myself, turned away from the screen to be more able to re-engage in the conversation to be a refreshed and maybe more focused on to do the work that we need to do in these two hours we have together. And so there are many ways to invite connecting with self and connecting with the heart that I believe is of great need right now in this time where a zoom fatigue is his only on the increase.

Meg (11m 33s): Thank you. Jeanette. I just want to tease that out a little bit, cause I know that in our in-person learning, you’ve used a, Model called the three C’s, the three types of connections that we need for deep learning. And one of those is connecting with the self. There’s also connecting with content and connecting with others. So I wonder Jeanette, if you could just describe that Three C Model for us and tell us a little bit about each type of connection and why it’s so important.

Jeanette (12m 5s): Thank you. It’s a very powerful model for me personally, and I’ve definitely hold it close because it is part of the approach that’s I live and I work and we teach a Global Learning Partners, but it is a powerful model and how we see human beings and our walk together on this earth, I would suggest. And so it is a, a Model that is three concentric circles. So there is a sweet spot, you know, where all three circles overlap and the middle. And of course that is what we believe is our goal is when we connect in these three ways, connect to the content that people have come for, they desperately need, they have asked for.

Jeanette (12m 48s): And when we, when we invite folks to connect with each other, and when we connect with self that in all these three very different connections and invitations, and I would suggest spaces within a learning program or within the time we have together, even in a meeting that that’s where deep dialogue can happen. That’s where the personalization of what is being offered can happen. And so just a couple of words on each of those three C’s and the first the connecting with content is probably the most attended to, and I guess thought about when one is or a gathering people together, but it is very much around how can I offer this content in a way that these people can best receive it.

Jeanette (13m 38s): So there are many, many ways to present a content- that’s the first step, but the second is then how do we invite interaction between, so there is meaning-making happening between people. So my own personal meaning is one thing, but something else happens. And I suggest it’s almost a magical or sacred even when we come together and meaning is made between us because of the stories we all share because of the experience and the questions and the, and the work and the journey we have together with the content and with each other, that can be profound.

Jeanette (14m 19s): The one that I think is most in jeopardy right now in these virtual times, but also in in-person, this is the one that I often see least is the connecting with self. I think there’s a lot of fear attached- making space for silence, making space for reflection, and you don’t know what people are thinking about and what they’re, what they’re actually working out in their journal or in there, or if they’re doing what you would just ask them to do. But it’s a feeling we need to feel comfortable in that silence and know that the deep value of a learning event in a meeting taking five minutes, 10 minutes, 15, maybe even a half an hour to sit somewhere else and journal or go for a walk and reflect on one specific thing, a presentation has just been offered.

Jeanette (15m 14s): We turn away and we just take a few notes for our selves. What did I just receive here? How is this important and how will this work in my life, in my situation, because it is mine and unique to yours.

Peter (15m 27s): It’s such a rich conversation and such an interesting story are telling you know, from the, the experience of working on screens on a regular way to get way too many of us are to lots of tips and suggestions about how to help that come alive. And now the theory is that, you know, really helps us think about it relationally. And in terms of relevance, those are long held and people learning principles. It’s interesting to see how they, you know, are even more relevant now than ever before. I wonder if you can now take us just one more step further and by those things to a particular experience or an example of some work that you’ve found recently where all these things have come together, where you’ve experienced really something new about how to engage the whole person to virtually and maybe even in how that engagement has shifted the power of religions between you and the learners, or even among the learners.

Peter (16m 31s): I wonder if both of you can just take a moment and think of an example that an illustration, something that we’re really helpless to see a concrete, specific example of what that looks like.

Andrea (16m 44s): I can begin by sharing some examples. In my experience recently, I’ve been in a couple of meetings where I’ve seen people who I’ve been close to and because of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to interact with those people. And I, you know, I wanted to say hello, and I wanted to ask how they were doing and to give a warm, heartfelt welcome to that person. And yet the, the context of the meeting or the gathering was a little bit more business-like. And there were certain things that had to get accomplished within a certain timeframe.

Andrea (17m 24s): And part of me wished that there had been a little bit of time built in to just have a little bit of informal time. That’s one of the great values of in-person meetings and trainings is that people learn about each other. They learn about what roles each plays in their organization and community, and then they are able to use those as resources going forward. So I hate to see that informal connecting is a little bit lost. And so I would love to see that built in a little more. The other thing that I would offer, if you wouldn’t mind, there’s a number of ways which we can connect you with self in the context of virtual learning.

Andrea (18m 11s): And some of these are done through mindful breathing exercises or stretching activities. And there’s one I’m just going to share right now, which comes from Reverend Lauren Smith. And she identifies as a Black Unitarian Universalist, and this is called the five senses meditation. And so in setting this up, what I might invite learners to do or meeting participants is to turn off their screens, to mute their mics, to briefly just get up and go get themselves a glass of water, and then come back to the space. And then I would just offer this as a gift. So I might say, settle yourself in a quiet way and take a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Andrea (19m 5s): You do that several times this to listen to yourself and then notice five things that you can hear in the name, those things to yourself. What do you hear? For things that you can see, look around you, what do you see wow, ask yourself.

Andrea (19m 50s): What three things can you feel? These can be emotions or they can be sensations. Can you smell? And what one thing, can you taste perhaps a sip of the water you just retrieved for yourself.

Andrea (20m 34s): Okay and now I’ll take a few more deep breaths when you are ready, turn your mic back on and your camera and rejoin the group. Hopefully feeling a little more connected to yourself and your senses and rejuvenated by the possibility of some healing breath.

Jeanette (21m 2s): Thank you, Andrea. I love it. I love it. Every time that you have a mindfulness exercise or a centering exercise or a physical stretch, it’s just so helpful for someone like me who sits at my desk all day. Otherwise, I, I absolutely think these are courageous moments when we invite groups to, to do these. And there is so much gratitude afterwards. And that really the story that I’m thinking of is one that Andrea, you and I share, and that is the network gatherings. And we offered it to the public. We offered a one hour, well, maybe it was 90 minutes session on Engaging the Whole Person Virtually.

Jeanette (21m 42s): And in that time that we had with those who showed up, we talked about a lot of the same things that we talked about here today. And we tried them out. Like we just tried out the mindful next or a centering exercise with Andrea. At one point I was facilitating this part. I invited everyone to pause, take a minute first to jot down a challenge or a task that they had that day or the following day that was weighing on them. And they knew they needed to get it done. And everyone was invited to grab a sheet of paper and write down that challenge for themselves. And then they were invited to listen to different techniques and then to try one.

Jeanette (22m 28s): And the two techniques we offer at that time were drawing and journaling. And we talk too about different ways to do it and a, how people can be invited in. And when one might use these techniques and they were then invited to select one, and they took 10 minutes to draw, or a journal about the task were challenged that they had written down, they could doodle or draw or list or mind map in, in whatever way was helpful for them, which they did some turn their webcam off, most left it on when we took 10 minutes turned away from the screen, fully immersed in our own question, our own challenge and people came back and then obviously we had achieved different things as individuals, but the invitation to share with the group was how did it feel to do that, to take 10 minutes on your own, away from the screen while still being together in this virtual room to complete this task in this way.

Jeanette (23m 43s): And everyone was invited to share feelings or thoughts in the chat box and every person without exception wrote words like calm. I feel calm. I feel focused. I feel more clear minded. I feel more connected. I feel energized. Thank you for those those 10 minutes. It was moving to read- for all of us to read what came up from three people in a chat box around 10 minutes of solo time, as an example of how we can challenge ourselves to do things differently and how this, there are opportunities offered in these virtual times.

Jeanette (24m 29s): And this I think is a wonderful opportunity for us to really consider how can we make space for the heart in these virtual times and remember how to do it also when we’re back in person again.

Andrea (24m 44s): So I can share a couple of stories as well. If that’s, if we have time.

Meg (24m 49s): Please do.

Andrea (24m 50s): Great. So this is a, the example I’m going to share has to do with a community college here in Vermont, that I’ve often taught a course each semester. And I always always enjoy the in-person contact with students just to hear about their life experiences. They tend to be a mix of both traditional and non-traditional students in this particular class, it was a short semester in some ways, because we got halfway through the semester and COVID hit. And so we had to shift from being in-person to going online. And that was a quick learning curve for me to be able to continue to engage with the students in a way that they can complete their semester. But one of the things that we had established prior to that was a real connection amongst the learners and with myself in the classroom.

Andrea (25m 37s): And I knew that I didn’t want to just let that go. I didn’t want to just say well now we’re- we’re only going to be meeting each other in a, in a discussion box. And so I set up a series of zoom meetings and we met every week for the remainder of the semester. Granted not for the entire time that the course would have met, but for a much shorter time, primarily I would say to connect with one another, you know, how are you doing what’s happening in your world? You know, one of the students was a grocery store worker. So everyone was curious like how he was managing being in the grocery store with the mask on. And, you know, when people were a very fearful about COVID and another of the students was a childcare worker, kinda the same situation and in March and April, but what I remembered distinctly from that experience of being able to connect with them on zoom after we were no longer to meet in person, was that they really, really appreciated being able to see and hear each other, even for a short amount of time during the week.

Andrea (26m 41s): And so that just reinforced for me that the learning opportunities can be both synchronous and asynchronous and that we can build those connections for both of those modalities. I would say the other example I’ll share also has to do with these, what I could call them as a mindful moments or self-care moments is that we were working with the state of North Carolina with a guardian ad litem program. And they were needing to train new volunteers to become guardians over the summer in a virtual way previously, they had done it primarily in person, and we added these self care moments, you know, stretching and breathing exercises to every meeting that they had through their platform.

Andrea (27m 26s): And at first, both the staff and the volunteers were like, what is that all about? And I’d want to do that. And like, do I have to, and that sort of thing, you can go a little bit uncomfortable about it because they were not used to doing it. And then after a few weeks, they started to say things like, wow, that was great. Or I really liked that, or I really needed that. And then it was pointed out to them that they can do that for themselves whenever they want to, they can do that with each other, if that’s helpful as volunteers or a staff people, and that they can also do those types of activities with the children and families that they work with.

Andrea (28m 7s): And that there could be some benefit, particularly in sort of calming the busy mind of a, a young person who maybe has experienced some trauma. So they, the group really came around after a while, after a bit of resistance, they moved into a place of appreciation. So that was appreciated by me. It was a, I was grateful for that.

Meg (28m 26s): Yeah, it’s, it’s such a good reminder that we really need to build that sort of thing into the learning design because otherwise people might not be inclined to take that sort of time for themselves, but if you add those reminders throughout the learning program and really build it in, it can become a part of the group culture. And I think a lot, I know a lot of groups certainly need that reminder to take time for the self, take time to, to refresh, to, to stretch, to kind of recenter yourself. So that’s very interesting to hear the different ways that you’ve thought to do that with your different clients.

Meg (29m 8s): Thank you for sharing those concrete examples. Both of you, it’s, it’s really powerful to have them illustrated. So clearly through concrete experiences, both of you had had,

Jeanette (29m 21s): If you don’t mind, I’d love to share just a final thought about the title of this podcast, which is Shift the Power.

Meg (29m 29s): Please do.

Jeanette (29m 30s): And, you know, I, I really believe that this time has for me personally and for Global Learning Partners as well. And, and for many, it has been a time to consider Power and I’ve seen as I started with the whole idea in our time together, the whole idea of it’s been an equalizer. There have been, there are many of us who like to stand at the front of the room, like to stand behind the podium, like to stand a little higher than the rest of the people in the room are at the end of the table. And in these times suddenly when we are all looking at each other as equals, and we’re wondering, okay, who is the facilitator here in this group?

Jeanette (30m 16s): And usually there is no way, no cues, the visual cues to let us know. And for some that has been uncomfortable and I’m grateful for it and grateful as an extrovert who does like to be seen. And I’m grateful for the humbling experience of, you know, everyone needs to be seen equally and feel equally heard and invited in, and yes, you need a facilitator or a chair, but of the time we have, so that there’s a process. And that leads us to where we need to go either to achieve things in a meeting or to learn in this training.

Jeanette (31m 0s): But what a wonderful thing, really, for us in a journey to Shift the Power to shift the focus and really consider each individual here in their uniqueness and all they have to bring. And I think these virtual times have, have helped. And I would encourage us all to consider how have these times helped us to Shift the Power, equalized and the fully inclusive for all who have come to gather here at a specific time for a specific reason.

Meg (31m 41s): Thank you so much, Jeanette for that, that closing reflection. I think that’s a perfect note to end on. And as you know, we, we like to close all of our podcast episodes with an invitation to the audience to reflect on a question or two. So I have one question prepared, and then I’ll just reiterate your question. Cause I think it’s so important to really, really reflect on for all of us. So to the audience, your away for today, how have these times helped us to Shift the Power in our learning events? How are you attending to the three C’s connect with content, connect with itself, and connect with others in your learning design?

Meg (32m 27s): Thank you so much, Andrea and Jeanette for joining us it has been such a pleasure to talk through these things with you to really get some concrete examples and to, to hear from you what you’ve, what you’ve been experimenting with in these recent times of online and blended learning. So thank you again for joining us.

Closing (32m 51s): Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Shift the Power: A Learning-Centered Podcast. This podcast is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton with music by Una Walkenhorst to find out more about Global Learning Partners, whether it be our course offerings, consulting services for free resources or blogs, go to www.GlobalLearningPartners.com. We invite you to sign up for our mailing list, subscribe to our podcast and find us on social media to continue the dialogue. If you enjoy the show, please consider leaving us a review on Apple podcasts or your preferred podcast player.

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