A new year always brings a kind of awe that we are looking at another 365 day calendar span in the rear view mirror. This year, it is the amazement that we are (still) in what has become a rollercoaster of a global pandemic and operating on what feels like a crisis mode merry-go-round. I cannot change the facts – we are all weary of the myriad of “due diligence” responsibilities we continue to abide by (albeit with some grumbling). I am hopeful that by sharing some of our program’s experiences and insights, it may help shift everyone’s kaleidoscope lens to hone in on the positive moments and outcomes of what we have learned and how we have grown in the last two years under the Covid shadow.

To set a positive tone for this article, I want to start by giving a shout out to the EI/ECSE program as a whole. Every challenge, shift and pivot along the way has been met with a “can do” approach. This agency’s staff (and I mean everyone – Assistants, Specialists, SLPs, Administrators, our colleagues from Cascade Regional and Community Preschools) have maintained an amazing capacity to collectively take a deep breath, roll up their sleeves and figure out how to make things work. Educators truly have an innate sensibility for looking at a glass half full.

Our primary motivation, of course, is the outcome of our students and the connection with their families. It is for them that we all strive to comply with the mask wearing (haven’t we become SO much more expressive with our eyes!), social distancing and following the ever-shifting Covid guidelines to maintain as healthy an environment as possible. The exposure/illness guidelines can feel pretty restrictive, but it seems to be a general consensus across our program that some in-person class time is better than returning to an all virtual learning experience. Again, safety does come first and many of our Early Intervention – birth to 3 home visitors – are continuing services primarily on the Zoom platform.

Ah yes….Zoom! My goodness. What would we have done without this and other platforms like it? It has been the mainstay component allowing us to keep the care and connection with our families flowing. One of the “Aha’s” we discovered providing online classroom services was the increase in parent involvement. By having to facilitate their child’s engagement with classes, they themselves were learning the strategies being modeled by the teachers. Also, for a variety of teaching opportunities, like providing non-verbal cues and encouraging imitation, virtual platforms have proven to be a fantastic tool. And you know what we don’t have to do on Zoom…wear masks!

Key reminder – nothing replaces in-person connections. Logistically, however, Zoom will continue to serve us well for a variety of efficiency purposes. It has made coordinating meetings more doable, allowing parents to meet from their home, negating the challenges of arranging for transportation or childcare. For agency staff, not having to drive across town to a meeting is a significant time saver. It also must have an impact on mileage expenses for the agency!

Speaking of logistics, LBL ESD spans 3 counties. As a program, we were lucky to meet for an all staff event 3 times per year. Now, we meet monthly! I feel like I have a better connection with “names to faces” of the colleagues that I don’t have regular contact with. It is really very nice. A huge benefit for the itinerant teachers serving community preschool’s is the ability to schedule and complete collaborative staff meetings on a regular basis! Coordinating multiple agency meetings in support of our students can be a very narrow window of overlapping availability. To have that sliver of availability dedicated to the meeting instead of travel time is awesome. Zoom cannot replace building rapport with a teacher in the classroom, but it has been an extremely useful tool to share ideas, discuss challenges, shuffle through that toolbox of strategies and discuss appropriate supports for positive student outcomes.

Interwoven throughout this article is the foundational element of what has maintained our positive outlook and allowed us to continue our agency work – teaming and collaboration. Early Intervention as a program and as a profession has always been guided by best practice collaboration of a student’s team – family, teachers and other professionals involved to meet a child’s recognized needs and support their best possible educational outcomes. But teaming and collaboration during the ongoing pandemic has proven to be a truly treasured resource. We have all had to lean in and dig deep collectively to get through this novel experience as educators. We have held on to our sense of purpose and continued the dance because we stay connected in support of each other. A colleague summed it up eloquently, “Through all the struggles and missteps, I have constantly been amazed at the grace that is felt when a group comes together to solve a problem or create a new/better way to serve our kids and families.” It is absolutely true – and the pandemic has made it ever more clear – life is better together.

By Mary Bento