One of the perks of working with and at Disney World is being able to experience it in the evening as a guest. Last night, my family and I were waiting for the rest of our party by the large Christmas tree in Magic Kingdom's Town Square, near the place where they take the photos. If you have been there you can typically see Cinderella's Castle in the background with all of Main Street in front of you, but now the Christmas tree blocks that view.
As we were waiting we watched this young Disney photographer do more than take pictures of the guests. She, like Paul earlier in the week, understood the difference between her job description and her role. She was engaging with the guests, delightful, animated, fun, and added to the show for each guest (whose ages seemed to range from 7 to 95) -- and, by the way, this was around 10:00 p.m., after a long day at work for her I am sure. But, you couldn't tell by the way she performed.
In my blog post earlier this week about Paul, I spoke of the difference between job description and roles and how he epitomized this difference. This young photographer, who could not have been more than 25 years old (if that much), was another shining example of this difference. However, that is not my purpose for this post.
What watching her did do for me was to remind me what matters most in virtual schools. The setting last night at Magic Kingdom was, well, magical. Main Street glistened with Christmas decorations, the tree was tall and beautiful, and the music was playing the familiar Christmas tunes we could all hum. The process of taking photos, standing in line, waiting for your turn, was a simple one, an easy one to follow, and a quick one to work through.
But, what created the magic was not a setting or a process, it was a Cast Member. The setting and the process crafted the environment for this young photographer to perform. But, she could have broken the magic by simply taking the photos and ignoring the opportunity she had by being on stage. Instead, the engagement and interaction between her and her guests will be their lasting memory as the exited for home.
So, what matters most in virtual schools? Is it the curriculum? Or, is it the interactive design? Is it the speed of the technology? Is it the course offerings -- how many AP courses? Is it the web site? Is it the online school?
No. It's none of that.
What matters most in virtual schools is the teacher. More precisely it is the teacher and student relationship that is formed on a day-by-day, single interaction basis. Each interaction between teacher and student either adds to the show, or the experience, or takes away from it. It is either a positive one or a negative one, and if it is not positive then it is negative. It is never just an interaction. Each one, in essence, is a freeze frame that when put together tells a story and becomes a motion film. Teachers have the ability to build the story one frame at a time.
When students and families talk about how great their school is, they are thinking of a teacher or teachers. When they share their experience with others, they are thinking about their teachers. When they think about their school, they are. in reality, thinking about their teachers.
The setting and processes of virtual schools should be set up to allow for, encourage, and simplify the teacher-student interactions. Put that first, put that in the middle, and then wrap everything else around it.