The Power of Collective Spaces

By Coryn Nadeau

Love in The Classroom Has Never Been More Important

We are at a time that challenges the very biological nature of us as human beings. We are not able to be physically next to our peers or loved ones and we long for connection as a social species.  Connection is a word that Fusion prides itself on. Our philosophical framework is love, motivate, teach; it starts with first building relationships (love) then finding what motivates our students, before teaching can begin. I am thankful for this because everyone needs to lean into building relationships through this time. It parallels “Maslow’s Hierarchy of School Needs. We cannot address learning if everything underneath it is not met. Emotional safety needs to exist first. This looks like being able to take a risk of being your authentic self, being able to connect with peers, and having a positive school culture experience.

Virtual Homework Café

We are most known for our 1:1 model. However, one of my favorite parts of Fusion is our Homework Café. It is a community space that is our “brick and mortar” campus’ cultural heart. You walk into the space and you feel the vibrant energy of a family. It is a place where the Directors of Homework Café (like a Student Dean/Student Life Program Director at other schools) facilitates programming like: clubs, field trips, spirited events, social campaigns, community discussions, and games. We personalize, not just in the classroom, but in our social spaces as well. We ask our students for their opinions, giving all an opportunity to be seen and heard. We know that our students’ choice and voice will drive the richness and bounty of our programming. Studies have also shown that providing choice and voice builds empowerment, motivation, resiliency, and grit in students.

When I was returning from maternity leave, just as Covid-19 distance learning was starting to occur, I thought to myself… “Gee, Fusion has already started virtual instruction a while ago. We are ahead of the game when it comes to instruction, but what about our social space? I wonder how that will translate?” I came back and our Directors of Homework Café built “Virtual Rome” in a day. Our Homework Cafés, now coined “Virtual Homework Cafés” were up and running with different virtual tools and ideas to hold a collective space for our students and staff!

We at Fusion believe, especially in this time, that we could not abandon our student or staff social experience. When traumatic circumstances happen, the human condition makes us yearn for connection. We want to discuss, make sense of, laugh, cry, and find normalcy in these circumstances.  This is why there is a power in collective spaces. The Homework Café is our Piazza, community center, park gathering – our Café. These are spaces where you catch up with friends or lose yourself in the community fun.

Virtual Social Emotional Learning

Social Emotional Learning can be described as building skills like social awareness, relationship skills, self-management, responsible decision making, and self-awareness. Social Emotional Learning does not just happen in a classroom. It happens in the social infrastructure of one’s campus. To quote Eric Klinenberg:

Social infrastructure is the physical places and organizations that shape the way we interact. And when it’s robust, we are much more likely to engage one another and build relationships. When it’s degraded and neglected, we’re much more likely to hunker down and be on our own.”

The Homework Café is an environment that develops, encourages, and promotes students’ social emotional competence to thrive. We have kept this alive through our diverse virtual collective opportunities. We have seen virtual spirit weeks (crazy hat day, pajama day, pet shares), virtual clubs like D&D or Student Government, wellness challenges, trivia nights, community service projects, community cooking, virtual prom, music, and art shows, scavenger hunts, viral videos with messages of peer support, virtual student meetings and discussions, students mentoring students, virtual field trips to museums, karaoke nights, and platforms like Kahoot and Jackbox being used for community games.

As I reflect on what I have seen so far, not much has really changed at Fusion beyond the physical setting. We have incredible leaders maintaining the importance of connection, relationships, community, and expression within our collective virtual walls.

About the Author

National Social & Emotional Programs Lead

Fusion Academy

Coryn Nadeau is a Licensed and Boards Certified Registered Creative Art Therapist by New York State standard.

Coryn is the National Social & Emotional Programs Lead at Fusion Academy and works in fostering the learning & development of our schools. In this role, she offers professional development to campuses and leadership coaching around campus SEL programs. She has worked with Fusion for 8 years in different roles including East Coast Learning & Development Coach, Assistant Director, Director of Homework Café, Teacher/Mentor, and specialty curriculum & program design. Coryn has a special passion for innovation, development, coaching, facilitation, and wellness.  Coryn is excited by facilitating colleague and student growth and is an advocate for shifting mindsets in regards to student support, encouraging a more creative and compassionate approach.

Coryn completed her Master’s degree in Clinical Art Therapy from Goldsmiths University of London and CW Post Long Island University. Before working at Fusion Academy, Coryn worked in various mental health settings as a therapist, specializing with the adolescent population. Coryn leans into a humanistic, positive, and person-centered approach.  Her history also includes building and designing a non-for-profit, movement therapy program for children in NYC District 75 schools. She has consulted with high profile branded companies to create “teen happiness” campaigns and events. Coryn has practiced Creative Arts Therapy in many different countries including Myanmar, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and South Africa.