Distance Learning, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

COVID-19 & Education:

Guest post by Shelly Vohra: See the prior posts in the series.

The shift to “emergency online learning” in the last month or so has created some discussions and debates about what ‘school’ will look like once we do return. Depending on the structure and demographics of the school (e.g., K-5, middle school, high school etc), how will students and teachers return to ensure everyone is safe? Will there be a staggered schedule? In other words will we have students rotating through school for half days or full days to maintain physical distancing rules? Will each class be split in half and desks spaced out 2m/6ft with everyone wearing a mask and then sanitizing their space when the class/day is done? For example, in middle school, will we see half of the Grade 6s come into school in the morning and the other half in the afternoons 2- 3 times a week? Will grades 7s and 8s come in the other days and the rest of the time is being supplemented by virtual learning? And what are the implications for daycare, babysitting and parents work schedules depending on their work situation? Will teachers move from class to class instead of the students to minimize contact between individuals? If students are coming in for half days, what does that look like in terms of mathematics, language, social studies, science, and subjects like art, phys-ed, music, etc? There are so many factors to consider in terms of our kids returning to school and still ensuring their safety. Will we even return at all depending on what unfolds over the next few months? Many experts are talking about the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 cases if we ease restrictions too soon as well as the regular flu season later this year that will cause many to get sick. Or another scenario could be that we stagger students back into schools in September (or whenever your school year starts) to meet each other and build community and then in October, move to virtual learning. Again, there is so much to think about moving forward and the truth is we don’t really know what will happen because it all depends on what will happen over the next three months in terms of how the coronavirus is contained or how it might cause a second wave of infections. For now, it’s a wait and see situation.

The shift has also created discussion about more permanent changes to the future of education. I have seen teachers and various other stakeholders talk about some of the ‘permanent’ changes they would like to see as a result of this pandemic. While some of these ideas are good and can move education in a positive direction, some of the ideas need to be considered carefully due to several factors (e.g, developmental levels of students, equity, etc). Based on what I have heard and discussed with a variety of students, parents, and educators, here are five changes I would like to see:

1. Focus on Wellness & SEL: this pandemic has brought to light the importance of wellness and mental health. Many of our students are going through a range of emotions, which includes, fear, anxiety, and sadness. There are many reasons our kids are feeling this way and some of those reasons are: (a) they are missing their friends, (b) they are missing the regular routine of school, (c) their parents are front line workers, (d) they might have lost a loved one, (e) they are stuck in an abusive household, (f) they are bored, (g) they are stressed about school work and meeting deadlines set by teachers (which is another issue in itself!). According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” They identify five core competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making). Research has demonstrated that when there is a focus on SEL, there are positive changes in behaviour (e.g., attendance, classroom behaviour, etc) and academic achievement (https://casel.org/what-is-sel/). This pandemic has demonstrated that we need to invest more resources and time in this area. Students need to learn how to manage emotions when challenges and difficulties arise, which is currently happening due to the impact of the coronavirus. They need to identify their emotions and have a range of strategies to deal with these feelings, which might help them build a positive relationship with themselves and others. This pandemic has also brought to light the importance of play. As I’ve mentioned in my other posts, many parents/guardians are talking about how they are spending more time with their kids engaged in a variety of activities (e.g., cooking, baking, sewing, talking, playing board games, gardening etc), which has helped their relationships with their children. Perhaps there is something to be learned here. Should the school day be shorter, placing an equal or more important focus on SEL and play? If many parents are going to continue to work from home due to the shift in thinking in terms of what work now looks like, should we be re-thinking what school looks like? Again, these are all questions that came up during my conversations with parents, friends, and educators that I’ve had the privilege of having over the last few weeks. Our kids these days, in my opinion, are over-scheduled. Between school/homework and all the extra-curricular activities, children these days are overloaded. It seems they just don’t have time to just be kids! I think we can all agree that we don’t want them to hate learning; we want them to be excited about learning and new ideas. We want them to be thoughtful, and kind and compassionate and curious. But to be happy, we can’t and shouldn’t overload them. Do we really want to take away their present for whatever the future may hold? I believe somewhere along the way, we forgot that we need to be educating the whole child. In the recent past, there has been way too much emphasis placed on exams, grades, and standardized test scores, that we have forgotten we need to teach to the heart. We need to be placing more emphasis on teaching habits of mind, relationships, ethics, and morals.  What about bringing in the community to support student learning? I truly believe we have lost the community aspect of educating our children. As the saying goes, “It truly takes a village”.  We need to get back to working with our community members and organizations in order to educate the whole child.

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(www.casel.org)

2. Focus on personalized learning:  this pandemic should also bring to light the need for personalized and individualized learning. Learning needs to be student-centered and not teacher-centered; in other words a focus on learning over teaching. Learning should be approached from an inquiry stance (big idea and driving questions) with a social justice & equity lens. This approach is linked to student wellness & SEL – students learning in a manner in which empathy and other habits of mind are developed as well as digital citizenship skills. We need to move away from traditional worksheets and teaching methods as well as busy work to more authentic learning. Information is everywhere; it’s pretty much at the end of your arm and we need to be asking questions of our students that require critical thinking, evaluating, judging, synthesizing, and constructing, just to name a few. If you can Google an answer to a question, it’s not a good question. This kind of learning means we need to move away from exams, which usually test knowledge & facts and not on understanding, thinking, and application to more ‘projects’ and assignments that are choice-based. It also means we move away from using textbooks (yes, I still see teachers using this as the sole source of information and there are reasons behind this, which I will talk about in another blog post), and teacher ‘lectures’ where students sit and take notes; in other words students are not passive recipients but they take control of their learning and become active members of their learning. This type of learning just might fit nicely with shorter and staggered school days, especially in middle and high schools. Students would come into school to participate and host seminars, focus groups, and discussion with their teachers and classmates on their learning tasks and learning journey; then they might spend some time in the LLC (Library Learning Commons) or go home to continue their learning and complete their work. They need to be provided with opportunities to access learning in a manner that suits them. This type of learning model not only lends itself to students focusing on deeper learning and less on tests and exams but it also builds time for students to focus on their passions and interests, more time for play, and their well-being. For this to be successful, we need to re-examine the curriculum so that it is more flexible and there is a focus on skills and not content. We would also need to focus on digital literacy skills – we have all heard the term “digital natives” but our students are not digital natives. Yes, they were “born with technology” and they might know how to use tech tools like social media for personal reasons but they still require a lot of support on how to use technology for learning purposes (one example is teachers conveying to me that most students don’t know basic online etiquette when talking to their teachers and peers online). They not only need to learn how to collaborate online but they need to learn to use tech responsibly and in ways which deepen and extend their learning. Of course, this blended model will require parameters in terms of teacher availability and students’ schedules. Teachers can not be expected to be available 24/7 and students learn and complete their work at different times. And as always, privacy and security issues need to be maintained in this type of environment (more to come on this). We also need to look at equity in terms of this type of model to work. As I’ve said before, “equity is an institutional commitment, it’s not a band-aid strategy we use when needed.”  How are we getting devices into the hands of every student? How are we ensuring they have strong internet/wi-fi connections? In order to close the achievement gap, we need to start by closing both the engagement gap and the opportunity gap.

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3.Assessment and Evaluation: related to personalized learning, we need to rethink how we assess and evaluate students. We need to move away from “unit tests” and exams, which only seem to test knowledge and not understanding of the material. These types of assessment do not for the most part, develop student skills in critical thinking and other higher order skills. We need to look at providing more descriptive feedback based on learning goals and success criteria (and know the difference between success criteria and task requirements) and moving away from assigning grades; we know research has indicated that when we provide a grade with descriptive feedback, students only focus on the grade and not the feedback the teacher provided and when teachers provide only descriptive feedback, learning is enhanced. For example, students are given descriptive feedback on a writing piece and given the opportunity to improve on their next draft and subsequent drafts based on just descriptive feedback. This type of assessment shifts the focus from achievement to learning. I know grades are a contentious issue in education because of the implications related to higher education but I honestly don’t remember the last time an employer asked me for my transcript during an interview. They want to see what skills I bring to the role and how I can contribute to the team as a whole to improve the organization’s mission and vision. If we are to give grades, then let’s sit side by side with the student and negotiate a grade based on all their work and effort throughout the learning experience (e.g. not just after two drafts of a writing piece). And in the age of technology, let’s ensure all students have an online portfolio and some sort of online presence in the form of a blog and/or website. And let’s please get rid of standardized testing; not only is it not necessary but it’s harmful and negatively impacts students well being and we all know it is not a true reflection of what a student knows and understands.

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4.Conferences: We also need to rethink educational conferences (or all conferences for that matter). Conferences have either been postponed or cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic. I know several conferences have opted for an online version of what should have been their face to face conference and I believe this is something we need to examine more closely. Costs to attend a conference has become astronomical. From registration fees to hotels and from flights to food, attending even one conference can take a significant bite out of anyone’s budget (a very small percentage of educators get their expenses covered by their district or school). And even when we get past the pandemic, flying may never be the same. So why not move towards more online conferences where educators can attend live sessions as well as pre-recorded sessions from the comfort of their home? If you must, charge a minimum fee to cover any costs based on the platform(s) you are using. And organizations can archive these sessions and have a repository available for everyone to access at any time.

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5.Teacher Professional Learning: last but certainly not least, let’s rethink teacher professional learning (PL). I’ve always believed that teacher PL needs to be  personalized, differentiated, and self paced. Teachers should be able to choose their own PL based on their goals, experiences, and background knowledge. This makes the learning more meaningful for teachers if they are allowed to pursue their own interests and passions related to education in the form of action research, collaborative inquiry cycles, etc. I believe the quote/image below says it all in terms of my beliefs for teacher PL. Let’s use an LMS (Learning Management System) like Brightspace to enhance teacher PL where teachers are learning from and with each other across districts – technology gives us the power and opportunity to learn with teachers from around the world so why not connect with teachers from different schools around the world to enhance and positively impact our practice? Why not use these PL opportunities to create learning experiences with these teachers for your students that incorporate social justice and equity mindsets (as mentioned in my bit about personalized learning? Let’s start putting PL back into the hands of educators.

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It will be interesting to see what education looks like when we do return and if any of these five points will be examined and explored further to not only enhance and improve education but also ensuring we keep students at the centre of it all.

I will be writing in more detail about each of these five points in upcoming blog posts but for the next few weeks, I am going to shift to writing about some other topics in education 🙂

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

When Schools Resume

Guest Post by Kathryn Starke (@KathrynStarke)

Opinions expressed are those of  the guest contributor.

 

Schools and districts across America have been closed for over a month now, and many schools are closed through the end of the year. It is sad and shocking for all of us. Teachers and children can’t wait to be back in their classrooms. Unfortunately, it will not be anytime soon. Therefore, teachers and parents across the country are sharing their passion and purpose in the teaching and learning process in a variety of creative ways. I have seen car parades through neighborhoods, teddy bear hunts in windows, nature scavenger bingo boards, and daily food delivery to bus stops. I have seen educational companies and some authors provide free access to their learning tool and NFL athletes help families Tackle Reading at home. This is an unprecedented event in our history.

The health and safety of others becomes the primary concern. Curriculum should not be a priority. Copyright should not be a priority. Digital learning is not accessible to every home. Not every child has a parent at home who is able to work with them. Just like in the classroom, differentiation is key. Teachers should feel empowered to create their own lessons and share their ideas with their students. Elementary school parents do not care about grades or attendance at this time. They want educational ideas and support, and most importantly, they want their children to be happy, healthy, and safe. Therefore, educators should focus on the new school year. So, what will happen when schools finally resume? Will every child be passed on to the next grade? Will every teacher receive the reading support they will need to effectively support these vast gaps while maintaining their designated grade level literacy objectives?

According to the most recent report by the National association for Educational Progress, sixty- four percent of all fourth-grade students in America are unable to read proficiently. The number increases to seventy-eight percent of fourth-grade students in low-income areas. When schools finally open, which may not be until August or September, the focus on learning will be a priority and it is going to need to change. Children will return to schools without six months of formal reading instruction. Some of our children will be significantly behind. The teaching and learning process will have to adjust. One hour of reading instruction will not be enough. It is in times like this when innovation and creativity in school communities will make the greatest impact and should be encouraged.

Teachers will need to feel supported and empowered to make decisions to match the needs of their students. They will be tasked with having to conduct remediation, intervention, reteaching, and teaching. One solution may be to incorporate transitional grades in the fall. For example, a first-grade teacher may be reviewing kindergarten standards while introducing new first grade standards. Another idea would be to group children by reading and math abilities multiple times throughout the day. One to two hours of daily language arts instruction will not be enough in the fall. Literacy needs to be at the forefront of instruction through all content from pre-K to fifth grade. This means we need to incorporate the five pillars of reading instruction or the “science of reading” in every lesson including math, science, and social studies. Team teaching across grade levels is another option. We have to think outside of the box.

Kathryn Starke is a national urban literacy consultant, reading specialist, author of Amy’s Travels and Tackle Reading, and founder of Creative Minds Publications, LLC, an educational publishing company. She created the annual Tackle Reading initiative supported by the NFL and NFL Alumni.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

 

 

 

Guest post: Teachers have earned the benefit of the doubt

Be patient during the COVID-19 pandemic

As schools throughout the nation close for the remainder of the year, take a minute to consider what this will mean for thousands of teachers who are doing their best to educate our children. School leaders and local officials are scrambling to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is our top priority, and as we retrofit our education system on the fly to meet the needs of millions of students, we ask for your patience and understanding.

Schools are not designed to adapt quickly

Be kind to teachers who are on the front lines navigating school closures in an education system that is, like so many institutions, incapable of meeting the demands placed upon it by the outbreak. At best, the expectations for most teachers right now are loosely defined by school leaders. Many teachers are trying to patch together inadequate distance learning programs without guidance. This is not the time for parents to use social media platforms to compare teachers or to publicly complain about a teacher who is slow to adapt. Our nation’s teachers have earned the benefit of the doubt, so please show some grace if you are irritated.
During normal times, school districts take several months, even years, to institute changes in curriculum and instructional methods. Expecting teachers to do this at a high level, with no time to prepare, during a national emergency is ridiculous. If you feel the need to share feedback with an educator, consider what would be helpful before you hit send. Negativity toward a teacher at this time will bruise deeply and could limit the creativity of teachers trying their best to meet student needs. A measured tone is imperative if you feel discouraged as a parent and wish to share your frustration. Trust me, teachers wish they could meet the needs of every student and family they serve.

More than the internet

Connecting and teaching students in a distance-learning environment is not akin to a teacher simply jumping online and presenting academic material to students. Conducting meaningful virtual instruction requires dedicated professional coaching for staff, and it also requires significant training and practice for students and families. Most teachers have never been expected to integrate remote learning into their curriculum. The instinctive knowledge teachers have spent their respective careers amassing has a vastly different application online, and most educators have never been trained to deliver robust instruction in that format. In addition, the inequity of student access to technology and broadband internet service is woven into the challenge of teaching students remotely.

Teachers are pros at building relationships

Teachers are well versed in building relationships with students so be grateful for the teachers who are trying to maintain their connection to students. This connection — virtual or in-person — is critical for academic and social-emotional growth. Our best educators specialize in making those human connections and they are experts at molding positive relationships, devoting their talent to create a culture of learning, and contributing to the school culture. Those indelible skills for expressing care and demonstrating a commanding presence may translate online for some teachers, but it is unfair to expect it to happen naturally.

Teachers are stuck waiting

Many of our teachers can’t share with you that they are at the whim of school leaders and state mandates that are not always communicated to them effectively. While teachers are on the front lines of most communication with parents and students, they are not always armed with the information parents seek. Your child’s teacher understands your concerns about assessments and grades, your child falling behind and your desire to have access to more resources. Teachers are trying to be flexible and they do not want to throw their school leaders under the bus by voicing their misgivings to you and fueling the anxiety parents are feeling.

Uncertainty and sadness

Educators lament the loss of the celebrations, getting that last high five, hug or final word of encouragement to students. Teachers have been working hard to get your child to the finish line, and in a career that has always included clear beginnings and ends each school year, this new reality is bewildering. Many educators are helping their own children cope with the loss of a traditional school year while they also cope with the same reality as a professional. Not being able to grieve the loss of the school year together is tough on the children and the adults who serve them. Teachers wonder if their current efforts are making much of an impact on students. In some cases, only a handful of students are still connected to school and that is disheartening. Teachers are used to receiving regular feedback from students and adjusting their teaching strategies accordingly.

Moving forward

The best thing you can do to help teachers is to unite with them and let them know you appreciate them. If you feel the need to share your concerns about school district policies and local programs, reach out to school leaders. Our educators are committed to serving all children and we know that we’re in this together. Teachers and school leaders throughout the country care deeply about the health, safety, and engagement of their students. Right now our teachers need your support.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Dealing with Child Anxiety Stemming from Coronavirus Crisis

Guest post by Simon Choi, a mental health advocate and small business founder. He foundedStandout Bands which supports Beyond Blue and allows him to write for his mental health blog, Healthy Minds. Simon is particularly passionate about supporting those experiencing depression. Currently, Simon is supporting those struggling as a result of COVID-19 related mental health issues. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.

*Opinions expressed are those of the guest author.

Times of Uncertainty

 

The Global Coronavirus Pandemic has been ongoing for months now and there is a great deal of uncertainty among government and society. Adults are dealing with loss of work, changes to daily routines and possibly even sick relatives. However, the uncertainty is not only limited to adults.  

The Effects on Children

Children are not immune to the fears that this global pandemic has produced. Their lives have been greatly affected as well. Children are not only out of school, but they are not able to visit their friends and family as well. For example, fear of the health of the elderly means most grandparents are not advised to see grandkids in the present environment. Parents and educators can try to help and reduce some of this anxiety. In the following article, we will discuss seven ways that any educator or parent may be able to help those they care for and teach:

#1 Keep Their Usual Schedule

For a child, it can be difficult to experience many external changes. Since they have no control over being out of school and not seeing their friends and family, it is best to stabilize the things that can be stabilized. In order to give your children stability, do not change their sleep time, their school hours or other regular activities. Even if your child has to practice their sport in their own front yard or get violin lessons over Zoom, try to keep up with their previous schedule and activities as much as possible.  

#2 Don’t Let Kids Watch Too Much News

The news can be informative, but it can also be full of unwanted scenery and troublesome for younger viewers in particular. Since that is the case, you do not want to let your kids watch too much news.

#3 Talk to Kids Openly

Kids need to feel like they can openly express themselves with adults. You want to ask your kids questions about their feelings and give them age appropriate answers. Children are inquisitive by nature, so this process could require some patience, but it will help to dispel some of their fears.

#4 Watch Their Associates

If your children are spending a lot of time talking to virtual friends, make sure that you are aware of the other kids who they are talking to. Other children can have a big influence on your children’s feelings, so you want to monitor or at least be familiar with their friends.

#5 Play with Your Kids

Make sure that your kids are getting exercise. Each day, make it a practice to add an exercise routine to your kids daily work. Just like gym class at school, exercise should be a healthy part of their at home learning journey. Try to play sports with kids as well; this is especially true if your kids are involved in any extracurricular sports. That way, they can keep up with their skills and get out some extra energy as well.

#6 Talk to A Professional

If you think that your child is having an extra hard time dealing with the stress of COVID19 and you notice that the stress is interfering with his or her daily activities, you may have to contact a professional who can give your child a consultation over the phone and provide professional advice.

Make the Best of a Difficult Situation

It can be stressful to deal with an unknown situation, but this stress can also build resilience in a child. Even in a global pandemic, you can help your child to make the best of the opportunities that staying at home can present or as an educator if over teleconference. When a child is taught to deal with difficulties in a healthy manner, he or she will be well prepared for whatever life throws at them. With the right support from you children can build resilience as a result of this time.  

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

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What we deny

Check out the Podcast too: “Just Conversations” with Melanie White and Amanda Potts. https://voiced.ca/project/just-conversations/

Only in our isolation and disconnectedness do we discover that everything and everyone is localized and connected. And, in this distancing, I am beginning to question what we deny.

Rebecca Solnit kept appearing in my daily consumption of media and I’m beginning to wonder if this is the work of a latent existential force drawing my attention to something I should have known or done long ago. I listened to her voice in an episode of On Being last week. She wrote, “When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers…and that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” The unusual lilt of her voice and calm intellect still spin in my mind’s ear. And, this morning, I stopped scrolling my Twitter feed struck by this linguistic wisdom. She wrote,

“Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” #RebeccaSolnit

And then on Twitter, Gianpiero Petriglieri wrote that an “old therapist friend” told him why everyone was “so exhausted after video calls. It’s the plausible deniability of each other’s absence. Our minds tricked into the idea of being together when our bodies feel we’re not. Dissonance is exhausting. Our bodies process so much context…” I stopped to think about that wording, “plausible deniability”, and the more common legalistic use for one escaping criminal repercussions as a member of a corrupt organization or political power.

However, I couldn’t wrap my head around this experience of dissonance and the connotations of “plausible deniability” as something happening to us rather than something we choose to avoid like the truth or an injustice. According to Wikipedia“the expression was first used by the CIA” but the idea apparently has a longer history. I needed to understand the term, like Solnit explored “emergency”; it was an itch that pressed me, so I read further. “Plausible denial involves the creation of power structures and chains of command loose and informal enough to be denied if necessary”.

Then a thought struck me. What power structures are currently in place which I deny? What small almost imperceptible movements have made me complicit in this dance of distraction? Solnit reappeared during my longer moment of breakfast reading in The Guardian article entitled: “The impossible has already happened: what coronavirus can teach us about hope”. How marvelous and uplifting it is to read her vibrant words calling us to action and existence, to make the most of the worst.

While I cannot deny there is absence in my new-found isolation, I can also see that my thoughts attend a new experience. I am paying attention to moving about my house, to walking the dog, to gazing out the window with no real productivity pressure of this instant. And, yes, I am teaching remotely, but connecting, supporting personalized learning is my focus rather than a product on the line of academic factory life. This is where I cannot sense Petriglieri’s Tweet about “plausible deniability”. I am now working on processing the context of my daily life which I previously ignored in mind-numbing haste consumed by the blind goals of my own productivity or some socialized version of productivity.

My body is processing the context of my life in isolation and thinking about the actions needed for when we might connect again. I am trying not to deny my own physical interaction with and existence in the world.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Riding an edu-emotional roller coaster

 

Opinions expressed are those of the author.

 

Last week those of us in BC ed had no idea what this week would have in store for us. When I was a kid, “self-isolating” was humorously coined for those who rather not deal with the public, “social distancing” was something told to us by supervisors at teen dances, and “quarantining” was something learned in history units.

But like it or not, we have been hit in the face with a crisis of epic proportions. It’s been an emotional roller coaster navigating the slings and arrows of toilet paper hoarding, Bonnie Henry updates, and beachy trip cancellations.

And now, BC teachers are faced with uncertainty as to how we will continue teaching without students in our classrooms. Over the last few years, we’ve been besieged with a renewed curriculum and just started to understand how proficiency scales can be used in our classrooms. Some of us have been making waves by leading teachers on a gradeless mission. Since yesterday’s announcement, I cannot help but wonder if all the work we’ve done will now be undone. I could scream and cry at the same time.

I know it might seem like an unrealistic conundrum to be contemplating the fate of gradeless at a time like this. Like many of you, I’m hanging on pins and needles waiting for our school board to announce how, specifically, we will meet the needs of our students after spring break. I have so many questions from communication to assessment. I’m worried about my at-risk students and how my colleagues will weather this storm. How will my student LEARN at home?

Learn. Hmmm…

Learning is the focus of gradeless teaching and assessment. You’ve heard me explain so many times over that when we remove grades and focus on the individual child and their growth, a child will develop a growth mindset. When we put the needs of each individual child instead of comparing them to each other or categorizing them by grades, we build a culture of learners, not grade grabbers.

Amid this edu-crisis, do we have to stop? Should we still consider gradeless? In fact, isn’t now, more than ever, the time to rethink what our goals are for our students? Is uncertainty and anxiousness a reason to revert to old habits, like handing over packages of content heavy worksheets, and abandoning single point rubrics? Or is this an opportunity to practice…really practice putting learning before grades? Isn’t this the time to think about the needs of the child? Shouldn’t our focus be on how the child will learn instead of how will I teach under these different circumstances? So many questions!

One thing I know is, now more than ever, students do not need grade pressures. They don’t need us to hover a “here’s what you need to pass” over their heads because we’re worried about getting through “the curriculum.” At home, students are juggling feelings of isolation, parents being laid off, themselves being laid off, lack of technology, too much technology, empty grocery store shelves and empty cupboards, never mind the questions: When will we return to school? Will there be a grad ceremony? Why can’t I see my friends?

In my opinion, if the government (or school board, or whomever makes these decisions) is smart, they’ll deemphasize grades. This will reduce the burden on educators. But like letter grades, even discussions over pass/fail, if that becomes the new norm, should not be considered or discussed with students until the end of the year. We can, instead, focus our energy on creative ways to meet students’ social emotional needs, develop a distance classroom community, and give voice and choice. Teachers will need to let go of being an eyewitness to learning in their rooms and we’ll really need to let go of content. If we hand over miles of notes, worksheets and google-able essay topics, we’re asking for trouble in the form of disinterest, cheating and plagiarism, and crushing failure. We’ll need lots of time to settle into a new routine. Students will need time to adjust.

Ultimately, before we start teaching, we need to figure out a balance between Maslow and Bloom….for all stakeholders: students, parents, and us. We need to lower our expectations and big dreams for the perfect online or distance education course. We need to take care of ourselves and our families first, connect with students and their families second, and collaborate with colleagues on implementing curriculum third.

When we implement the curriculum, we need to use the skills that are the focal point of the BC curriculum as a platform for meeting student’s social-emotional needs. If we give students some voice and choice as to what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, it will feel less like us pushing our agenda on them, and more like welcoming students into this new learning environment and building trust. For example, an English teacher (well duh…of course I’m going to use an English example) might begin by asking students to journal every day from a series of prompts but use prompts that are flexible and open to interpretation. This will give teachers some insight into students’ social-emotional levels/needs as well as meeting curriculum requirements to foster reflection and thinking. Information from those journals could springboard into a project-based learning assignment. Creative writers could write a story, critical thinkers could research a topic, and visual learners could create a collage or PowerPoint. Content pieces can be slipped into to individualized projects to try to meet curriculum requirements.

I understand the pressure that content heavy courses like science and math have on teachers. This dilemma has been systemically ingrained in school culture for years. Right now, a math teacher is reading this blog and thinking that there is no way they can do PBL when they have X number of chapters to get through in the textbook by June. My hope is that teachers incorporate a bit of hands on learning in order to make learning in seclusion enjoyable and fun. The reality is, the content students do not learn this year, can be incorporated into next year’s curriculum. Yup it can. But that’s next year.

I’ve made a point to vocally de-emphasize prepping over spring break, but I know that recommendation has fallen on deaf ears. I cast no blame, for if I were to, that would draw attention to me as a proverbial finger-wagger instead of me the genuine worrier for the well-being of my colleagues around the province. I confess, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I will handle my own new teaching situation, as, but I lost sleep thinking about how my colleagues are handling the pressure. I already see the formation of chats and groups with sole purpose of collaborating on resources and expertise. While these groups have good intentions, I hope teachers are using this time to focus on themselves and their families.

Teachers wear their hearts on their sleeves. We want to do what is best for our students. We naturally lack patience when gaps of information are left without direction. We overthink. We care so much. We worry. We’re teachers. Heck, I’m writing a blog in order to manage my own stress. It’s how I roll. It’s how I cope.

It won’t be long and spring break will be over and we’ll return to school. It will look and feel different. We’ll have to collaborate virtually with our colleagues who work just next door. Staff meetings may very well take place in the theatre so that we can sit 2 meters away from each other. It will be weird. Nothing about this pandemic is familiar. It’s important that we don’t expect to recreate what was in our classrooms and in our buildings. It’s important to accept the feelings of uneasiness and frustration that will come. Pause. Breathe. Accept. Repeat.

Focus on yourself. When you are ready to focus on how you’ll teach your students in this new reality, make learning and the social emotionally well being of them the priority. They’ll be just fine. So will you. We are, after all, in this together.

#mygrowthmindset

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

An In-Home Learning Strategy for Busy Quarantine Families

Guest post byAndrew Easton: teacher, edu-blogger, podcaster, and future author for Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. Follow him on Twitter @EastonA1, on Instagram @andrew.d.easton, or at andrewdeaston.com/

 

In our household there are two teachers and two primary-age students, and during our first week staying at home, we had a problem. As adults, we still have work responsibilities, and at ages 5 and 8, the kids need help navigating the five subjects of schoolwork they receive each day.

Our first thought was to set a schedule so that routines would be established. In that way, designated times would kick-start certain subjects and tasks. 

Fail. 

What we quickly realized was that sometimes the kids needed support with certain tasks, and if there happened to be a Zoom staff meeting or any other commitment that prevented us from supporting them in that immediate moment, the structure fell apart. The schedule needed more flexibility.

Then, we tried a checklist.

Fail.

Next, we tried using a checklist. I mean, who doesn’t love the feeling of crossing things off your to-do list?!? Well, the answer to that is my children. Even though a checklist does not have to be done in a specific order, don’t try telling that to them. The checklist was frustrating, and stopping a task to take a break routinely killed all their motivation to continue on with their work.

 

Finally, an answer.

Recognizing the shortcomings of our initial attempts, we felt optimistic about using a “To-Do, Doing, Done” board. The idea was that each day we would write down each item on their to-do list on a separate post-it note. Those post-its get placed in their “To-Do” column, and then as they start a task, the post-it moves to the “Doing” column. Once complete, it gets moved to “Done” and five completed tasks earns a sticker that is worth 30 minutes of free time.

Success.

Here’s what’s happened since we started. The kids now wake up each morning and run to their board to search through their list for the day. We intentionally scatter the post-its so that there is no implied order, and we like to put a fun, surprise activity on a post-it and hide it in the mix. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, chores also go on post-its.

The “Doing” column has also been a godsend. There are times throughout the day when our responsibilities as adults make us momentarily unavailable to lead them through a portion of their work. The kids now know that they can leave a task in the “Doing” column and start something else if an adult is busy.

The “Doing” column has also been great for motivation. When the kids choose to stop mid-activity, we ask them to reflect on how close they are to finishing and to move that post-it to the place between the start/finish lines in the “Doing” column that reflects just how close they are to completing that task. Last week, my daughter had stopped her writing earlier in the day, but she was bent on moving the post-it to done. Seeing just how close she was to finishing, she, unprompted, wrote for an additional 30 minutes later that night.

 

Overall, this board has made our household happier and more productive. It’s helped us to maintain a more positive learning dynamic during these stressful times, which is why I wanted to share our story. I hope this strategy can help you! 

 

So from our family to yours, please know that we are thinking about you all and are sending our best wishes your way.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

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