Reflecting on Connection – My Top 10 Virtual Collaborations in 2020

A year ago today, I made a commitment to prioritize roots and relationships in 2020.

Of course, the events of the infamous year challenged and changed my plans. But one thing is clear as I look back: I made roots and relationships a priority. Connecting in person with my family at home and with friends and colleagues internationally via Zoom are at the center of my most meaningful memories of the year.

Our Lives as Study

We educators who value student connection and collaboration often focus on the K-12 teaching context to get clarity on what powerful student conversations should look like. Conversation standards, strategies, and scaffolds often drive our work.

In this blog post, I invite readers to back up from the K-12 context and reflect on how we connect and collaborate in our own lives. And in a pandemic, how we build virtual connections that matter when we are miles apart and limited to digital tools.


  • What virtual collaborations and conversations were most meaningful to you in 2020? Why?
  • What are the conditions that made those conversation and collaborations possible?
  • Which of these conditions can you bring into how you lead and teach in K-12 schools?

My Top 10  Virtual Collaborations in 2020

These examples are different from traditional school learning in that they are not done for a teacher, or a grade. They are learner-centered, human-centered collaborations the participants work together to make happen, and they share the qualities of purpose-driven collaboration that we can also foster in K-12 schools.

  1. Collaborating to Create. In writing books and developing curricula, we have been using Google apps, email, and Zoom to collaborate from a distance for decades. This year it was powerful to keep the distance collaborations going to write new articles with Ivannia Soto and Diane Staer Fenner in Language Magazine; and co-design and co-facilitate webinars with the same authors together with Margarita Calderón, Margo Gottlieb, Maria Dove, Andrea Honigsfeld, Debbie Zacarian, and Shawn Slakk. In another powerful collaboration with the Leading Equity Center, I’ve collaborated to create a Podcast Episode: The Essentials for Supporting English Learners, and designed a video for a 3-day Art of Advocacy event you can access free January 11 -13, 2021 by registering now at this link.
  2. Facilitating Collaborative Learning. I love facilitating collaborative professional learning online. The digital approach allows me to break up full-day workshops into shorter, serial, job-embedded chunks that support action, reflection, and adaptation. I miss the large conference halls and mingling with folks along the break island of coffee and snacks, but Zoom facilitation has some added benefits. I love the added virtual connection possibilities of instant chat responses, shared screens, and Google app collaborations, all at our fingertips. I facilitate my virtual workshops just like I do my in-person workshops — in highly interactive, collaborative ways.
  3. Coming to the Table. Committed to taking America beyond the legacy of slavery, Coming to the Table hosts dialogues that have been deeply important to me over the past several years. Since March, I’ve helped our local SF/Oakland chapter make the transition to virtual. Indeed, there are many things we miss about meeting in person, and yet we continue deep dialogues focused on truth, justice and racial healing in the virtual space.  The digital format allowed our “table” (locally and nationally) to more than double in 2020 – and also sparked new cross-state collaborations.
  4. Co-Facilitate Inside-Out Work. One highlight of my year was working with Bonnie Wills, an elder in our Coming to the Table community who has deep expertise in restorative justice, to co-facilitate a series of virtual gatherings focused on inside-out work and dialogue to heal internalized racism and historical trauma. We are excited about our collaboration and interested in bringing similar opportunities into the education space.
  5. Collaborating to Transform Community Spaces. The uprooting of my planned events during the pandemic provided me with a unique opportunity to participate in the Summer Peacebuilding Institute. From May through June 2020, I joined an international cohort of collaborators focused on transforming community spaces — spaces with deep trauma including sites of slavery and massacres — through a restorative, community-centered approach. Connecting weekly with this community of courageous change leaders, before and beyond the murder of George Floyd, was transformative. The digital space was not a limitation. On the contrary, it enhanced the experience by making it possible to have guest speakers from multiple regions every week, and an international cohort of learners. The student-to-student dialogue led to new relationships and collaborations for me that continue to this day.
  6. Bringing Family to the Table. Inspired by the prior three experiences on this list, and my multi-year journey unpacking my family’s roots in American racism, I took a leap this summer. I collaborated with the New Hampshire historic home where my ancestors lived to invite extended family “to the table” (virtually) to talk about the slavery in our family history, the bequeathing of blindness, and to build community in search of truth and healing. The first meeting inspired the next, and the next. I’m so grateful we will continue to connect and collaborate in this way.
  7. Cultivating Courageous Writing. Two new, ongoing collaborations with anti-racist writers have become deeply important to me. Across nations, cultures, and language, we connect virtually to fuel one another’s courage to stay in the work and keep writing. It is powerful! It is similar to what I cultivated in my middle school creative writing workshop – a community of writers not focused on grades, but connecting in risk-taking to value the voice inside each of us.
  8. Playing Together. Not all my virtual collaborations are serious. One of my joyful memories for 2020 came during a virtual game of charades, when I watched my nephew drop to the ground and act like a frog, and then jump up and act out “umbrella.” Silly. Fun. Spontaneous laugher. Is there a better antidote to pandemic isolation?
  9. Deepening Friendships. In March, a core group of friends I’ve known since elementary school started meeting weekly in video calls. These calls, and the deep sense of belonging we cultivate in community, are at the very top of my joys for 2020. As an educator looking back on my own K-8 experience, I realize the lifelong gift of our teachers gave us when they prioritized OUR student-to-student relationships. The time we students spent talking, playing, collaborating, and co-problem-solving really paid off in ways that go so far beyond impact measured in schools.
  10. Saying Goodbye. We have all lost important people this year. It was especially hard to lose a friend from childhood, Emile Bruneau, whose light our world needs right now. Emile was a passionate researcher who studied the neuroscience of human conflict. The last times I visited with him were on Zoom, and are among the highlights of my year. Have you ever seen a social neuroscientist get excited about how the brain can change, thrill at discovering ways we humans can see and unlearn biases? That was Emile. More giddy even than my little cousin and me playing charades. Emile was truly a light of hope and joy to all who knew him.

For all the ways the pandemic disrupted in our lives, the challenges of 2020 did not stop me from digging deeply into roots and cultivating relationships. If anything, they made me double down on these priorities.

Connecting, creating, facilitating, and playing via video calls have been a huge part of this!

Let’s Collaborate!

Want to strengthen connection and collaboration in your classroom and school? There is a powerful cohort of educators already registered for the Collaborative Language and Literacy Summit 2021. Click here to learn more and join us! Or here to watch the free webinar. Group registration closes January 8, 2021.

I am a keynote speaker, author and educational leader helping educators teach and lead for equitable schools. My books include EL Excellence Every Day, Breaking Down the Wall & Opening Doors to Equity. I'm a descendant of colonizers and enslavers deeply committed to transforming my family legacy for healing.


  • deb

    December 31, 2020, 2:37 pm

    Lovely reflections! There certainly were some gems in a very challenging year.

  • Tonya Singer

    January 2, 2021, 10:44 am

    Today I found a draft of a new years blog I did not publish last new year. On December 14th, 2019, before any of us knew what was coming in 2020, I wrote . . . “2020 is a year where I’m shifting focus in very important ways. I’m shifting to prioritize roots and relationships, two aspects that honestly challenge my own cultural upbringing, my own cultural assumptions, because it is my inherited way of being, to just go, go, go, go, go. Build, build, build, build, build.
    To surrender, to acknowledge, to work collectively across cultures and differences, to heal, this is the work.”
    This really has been a rough year. In retrospect, I’m deeply grateful that the challenges actually pushed me deeper into my priority to surrender, and to nourish roots and relationships.

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