by Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath –

At this point, the COVID-19 pandemic has lasted for nearly ten months. While there are signs that we’re nearing the beginning of the end now that vaccines are being administered, it seems like the reliance on socially distant engagement will be around for a bit longer. Some of the tactics that educators leaned into at the start of the pandemic may feel stale, and the ubiquity of screens as the lenses through which we see one another has worn many of us out (hi, #ZoomFatigue). So as winter stretches ahead of many of us, the combo of Zoom/pandemic/weather blahs is real. To help counter that, I’m excited to share some of my top tips for how to improve your virtual teen time if you find yourself in this same rut.

Embrace hybrid options

If you’re in a space where you’re not able to do anything offline due to pandemic guidelines, weather, etc., it doesn’t mean you’re bound by pixels alone! Anything that you can do to engage in a more hands-on way is a win. We know that paying attention often involves activating multiple senses, so don’t limit yourself to the tools of the internet. It might be dropping off materials in advance so everyone can have the same snacks, or supplies, or other learning mechanisms, because moving the shared experience off the screen is sorely needed. It might be a group hands-on experience where you’re connecting with screens, but doing something on your own – a cook-along session, an interactive art activity, or self-paced scavenger hunts – bringing together shared learning and action. In our pre-pandemic pedagogic practices, we were all about multiple modalities of learning, so let’s use this season to re-integrate that ethos into our virtual work.

Turn off the screens

At the beginning of COVID-19, I, like many of us, came up with my own Zoom best practices for engagement and keeping things on track. Part of what that meant for me was ensuring that, whenever possible, screens were turned on so I knew people were at least physically present. Most of the time, I still abide by that as much as is appropriate, with exceptions made as needed. But for certain activities, particularly those that are more out of the box, I’m now encouraging people to turn off the screen. If I want learners to sing, or meditate, or do any kind of physical movement, rather than putting them in a position to not want to let loose because they’re afraid of looking awkward in front of others, I’m proactively telling them to turn off their screens. This way, they know that they’re free – free to lean into things they might not have done with others looking on, free to have more fun than they allow themselves to when they’re worried about being cool, and free to try.

Create a sacred space

Just as the spaces that we spend time in when we’re in person are sacred, so are our virtual spaces, and we need to respect them in the same way. Whether that’s not having other tabs open, taking steps to ensure that we minimize the distractions around us, or going a step further – lighting candles if you’re having a reflection session (yay, ambience), having the same books around you that you would have had otherwise, or doing whatever else you can to put yourself in the mood for a full-body educational experience, if you set the scene, you’ll set yourself up for success.

Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath is a Jewish educator passionate about connecting with Jewish teens and emerging adults, talking about Israel, history, philanthropy, and food, and sharing meaningful icebreakers. Learn more about Samantha and read past articles at: