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Partnerships and Building Relationships

Connection: The Intangible Quality of OST

2 hands connect puzzle pieces

The first entry in Webster’s Dictionary under the word “Intangible” is “not tangible”. That isn’t really very helpful, is it? The definition under the second entry is in two parts. The first part is “an asset (such as goodwill) that is not corporeal.” (You’re going to have to look up “corporeal” on your own, I’m not going to do all the work for you!) The second part of the second entry is where we’ll focus. Here is our working definition of the word intangible: “an abstract quality or attribute.”

In a world where measurable outcomes and hard data mostly rule the world, our current situation seems to be highlighting an intangible feature that is often a foundation of OST programs across the country. That foundational attribute is connection.

Connection is such an important part of what we provide for students, but it’s difficult to measure so it isn’t usually at the top of the list when we’re talking with funders or influencers. Often, we highlight how many we’re serving, what our impact is in terms of grades and behaviors, or numbers that reflect the quality of our program. But connection is really at the heart of what we do in OST programs.

kids play in field Without connection, we don’t fully understand what might be happening in a child’s life. Without connection, it’s difficult to establish an emotional and mental safe space for our kids. Without connection, we don’t have a platform to speak into the lives of our students.

In our state of physical distancing due to the coronavirus, I have been hearing from OST program directors and staff about how they’re trying to stay connected to their students and families. They’re connecting via social media and Zoom. Some are going old school and making phone calls and sending post cards to students. They’re doing all they can to maintain a connection to those who are part of their programs.

Connection is important for us as OST professionals as well. With many of us confined to home, we need to be intentional about connecting with others. At the conclusion of one of the approximately four billion Zoom calls I was on this week, I heard one person say she didn’t want to get off of the call because it was so nice to be able to connect with people. We need each other.

Don’t underestimate the power of a phone call to check on one of your students. Don’t downplay the impact of a postcard sent to a child through the mail. Don’t talk yourself out of sending a text to a coworker to check in on them.

There are definitely practical, tangible things we can be doing, but as we walk through this exceptional time in our history, don’t forget that it’s often the intangible quality of connection that will help us, and our students, remain strong and resilient.

For breakfast, I had two fried eggs, a banana, and a glass of chocolate milk.

Author: @bradfrommissouri

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