This Fall, Education Elements hosted our first ever virtual Distance Learning Road Race. The rationale was simple - we wanted to create a space to promote mental and physical wellness, model best practices for virtual community building, and give back to our partners and community. Admittedly, the ‘race’ was more of a running challenge, encouraging participants to commit to running a final distance of their choosing and engage with us over six weeks of challenges between September to November.
We have so much to celebrate! Throughout the series, we had 54 registered participants across 17 states and raised more than $1,700 for two equity-focused education organizations, the Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (ALAS) and the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE). Along the way, participants shared photos and videos of running through snowstorms, deserts, cities, and mountains. Participants reported on goals set and achieved, shared about time spent running with family members and friends, and modeled some really stylish new Education Elements swag!
As we continue to support schools and districts across the country in navigating how they support their staff in a time of social distancing, we wanted to share a few universal lessons we learned about distance engagement from our road race this fall.
Clarify your purpose for virtual engagements
It is easy to stagnate (emotionally, physically, and mentally) when working from home and/or in isolation. The road race was the medium, but the purpose was to create a space for our team and clients to form a shared sense of connectedness, belonging, and mission. Knowing this purpose helped set the tone for our communication, influenced the types of challenges we promoted, and informed decisions to keep the event as open and accessible as possible.
Leverage virtual opportunities to increase flexibility and inclusivity
Going ‘virtual’ opens up entirely new possibilities for participation. Runners engaged any time of day, sharing updates through photo, video, and text through shared communication channels. Even the standard ‘race day’ became a full ‘race week,’ with runners crossing the finish line on different days.
Consistent communication is even more important
Without in-person reminders and water cooler conversations, it’s easy to lose track of commitments to physical fitness or community-building. To make up for this in a virtual setting, we found that sending weekly updates, challenges, and prize announcements helped to keep the conversation and energy alive (and minimally at the top people’s notifications and inboxes!).
Sportswriter Dagny Barrios once said that, “Every run is a work of art, a drawing on each day’s canvas. Some runs are shouts and some runs are whispers. Some runs are eulogies and others celebrations.” In a time of social distance and isolation, our virtual road race allowed us to draw on a piece of that canvas together.
About Daniel Johnson - Guest Author
Daniel Johnson is a former Associate Partner at Education Elements and works with district and school teams to develop responsive, stakeholder-driven practices that improve student outcomes. In his seven years at Education Elements, Daniel has led projects in mid- to large-sized school districts across six states, and worked with state-level departments of education to lead instructional initiatives across Georgia and Kansas. He specializes in instructional readiness, strategic planning, and teacher recruitment. Daniel is a former science teacher, having taught in school systems in Mississippi and Brooklyn, NY. During his time in Mississippi, Daniel served on the school’s leadership team working with state consultants on school improvement efforts. In New York, Daniel worked for the charter network, Achievement First, working with a team of science teachers to build the network’s inquiry-based science curriculum. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science, a B.S. degree in Journalism, and a Master's degree in Teaching. Daniel is originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan and currently lives in Washington, D.C.