Creating Culturally Responsive Environments

Guest post by Eva Cwynar

I want you to think about the last time you watched a movie where the main character looked like you, lived in a community like yours, or came from a similar background/culture. How often do you come across stories or texts where one or more of these characteristics are present? For some, the answers to these questions are that it happens all the time. For others, the answer may be rarely, if ever. Now imagine that you are a student in a school where the history that you learn is not the history of the culture that your family comes from, the scientists and mathematicians that you learn about don’t look like you or come from similar backgrounds, the literature that you read, music you hear in band, or sports that you play in PE don’t reflect your experiences or heritage. How do you think this would make you feel? This is a reality for many students that walk our halls and form our school community and this is why culturally responsive teaching is so important!

Culturally responsive teaching validates and affirms the culture of students in our schools/classrooms and incorporates that culture in meaningful ways in both the learning and the environment. It’s not enough to simply make mention of a race or culture or to change the names in a word problem so that they’re “ethnically diverse”, CRT is about leveraging and growing students’ existing funds of knowledge by connecting to diverse personal experiences. The following examples are simple ways to develop culturally responsive environments in your classroom:

  1. Connect learning to background knowledge – Take the time to learn more about your students’ homes, community, and interests. Parent & family surveys are a perfect way to learn about your students and their backgrounds. Think about providing the survey in multiple languages and in multiple formats so that it is accessible in multiple formats. Once you have this information, USE IT! Don’t just file it away in their student folder…incorporate these gems into the learning environment.
    • Create a library of non-fiction texts that focus on student interests and make them available in different languages that represent the home languages of your students.
    • Create a “Netflix” playlist full of documentaries showcasing diverse people, cultures, and countries, historical events from around the world, nature shows that highlight plants, animals, and natural phenomenon in different continents.
    • Bring the community into the classroom – connect social studies concepts to neighborhood events and/or landmarks, explore science concepts taking place in their backyards or local parks, engage in learning walks to identify geometric shapes in architecture.
    • Play music during transition periods that reflects students’ heritage or favorite genres.
  2. Encourage cognitive routines that foster critical conversations- Ask students to think critically about the relationships and connections between concepts or phenomenon.
    • Have your students engage in word play that’s both cognitively demanding yet fun. Taboo and Scrabble are great ways to build vocabulary about concepts students are learning while simultaneously repositioning the student as a leader in the learning by developing student agency. You may choose to have students do this by sharing the vocabulary terms in different languages, by having them define the term used in their own words, or by connecting the terms to something that they have experienced in their life.
    • Engage students in literature analysis by comparing the central idea of traditional texts in ELA and Social Studies to popular music and poetry (there is a library of songs as well as other resources that can support this type of learning at Get Free Hip Hop Civics Ed).
    • Provide texts that share diverse viewpoints and experiences to spur discussion about socially relevant topics that effect our community. These texts should provide avenues for students to think critically about current and past events in a classroom environment that provides a safe forum to share sensitive and thought-provoking concepts.

A critically important aspect of culturally responsive teaching is that these experiences, methods, and strategies do not become a single activity that you check off a to-do list once a trimester…these practices should become routine and be practiced over and over again throughout the school year and across the campus. A culturally responsive environment acknowledges that everyone brings something to the learning table and that everyone’s voice and experiences are incredibly valuable.

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**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.

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360 degree inclusive feedback for learning through storying

Guest post by Virna Rossi @VirnaRossi

Inclusive feedback for learning is like a flower. A flower is both fragile and resilient. To thrive it needs good conditions, such as good soil.

Who is the learner in the feedback process? It is the student. But it is also the teacher. Both students and teachers can thrive with inclusive feedback for learning.

The roots

The roots of the feedback flower are the inclusive principles and values that underpin inclusive feedback practices such as:

  • Accessible
  • Dialogic
  • Iterative
  • Respectful
  • Timely
  • Personalised
  • Developmental

The Petals

To be multidimensional, feedback should come from a variety of sources. In the flower analogy, these are the four petals which form the 360° wide-angle view.

Self

Inner feedback is very valuable to develop self-efficacy. We ‘talk to ourselves’ about our learning, during the learning experience as well as once it is completed. If we journal or blog – articulating our inner feedback – our ongoing inner narrative becomes more explicit and is more easily shareable.

Others

This is to enhance peer-learning. For students ‘others’ can be fellow students; for teachers, these can be colleagues and the students themselves.

Top-down

For students, this is feedback from teachers and other educators such as librarians. For teachers this is feedback from line-managers, principals or anyone ‘above’ them in their institution.

Research/literature

For the students, this the body of research of the discipline that they are studying: learning what the ‘experts’ in the field say – and discovering the present boundaries of the discipline – helps the students situate themselves within their field of study.

For teachers, engaging with current educational literature (generic or subject specific) provides indirect feedback on their own professional practice and expands their pedagogical horizon.

The Leaves

How, in practice, can we educators receive and give this type of inclusive feedback?

One very effective way in which the feedback flower can thrive, fed by inclusivity values, is through the use of journaling, storying and blogs (one of the leaves at the base of the flower). This applies to all disciplines.

Learning feedback activities such as these promote pausing and reflecting; they constitute a personal, safe space; they are context rich; they help learners re-focus, articulate and share their learning experience.

Journaling can effectively be integrated into the course. Teachers can plan a dedicated journaling time towards the end of every lesson: everyone is invited to blog or journal for about 15 minutes. Each student’s inner feedback written in the form of blog/journal can then be shared, discussed and used for ‘comparative’ learning. It can be used for formative and summative assessment submissions; it can also be part of an ongoing, life-long learning portfolio. And it constitutes very rich feedback for the teachers.

To build trust and truly model a learning mind-set, teachers should also journal at that same time: to articulate, record and share their inner feedback on the lesson, the cohort, their own learning, successes or missed opportunities in the learning that just took place. This enhances teachers’ feedback literacies.

The pandemic has accelerated and emphasised the need to review assessment and feedback processes. Teachers must design learning experiences that enable and enhance feedback literacies through inclusive, learner-driven processes. Feedback literacies are situated. The emphasis is now on engaging and learning from feedback – rather than simply about teachers giving ‘good’ feedback. For all these reasons, storying, journaling and blogging are powerful, effective ways to encourage 360° inclusive feedback for learning.

Find out more

Watch my 5 minute video below about the why/what/when/who/how of inclusive feedback: What best practice in feedback can I embed in e-learning?https://player.vimeo.com/video/408054242?dnt=1&app_id=122963

References

Baughan, P., (2020) On Your Marks: Learner-Focused Feedback Practices and Feedback Literacy. [ebook] AdvanceHE. Available at: click here [Accessed 17 September 2020]

Nicol, D. (2019). Reconceptualising feedback as an internal not an external process. Italian Journal of Educational research, 71-84. Available at: click here [Accessed 17 September 2020]

Winstone, N. and Careless, D. (2019) Designing effective feedback processes in Higher Education, London: Routledge

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**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  

How to Find the Right Space to Create and Engage

Earlier this school year, I thought about how I could be more consistent in my classroom. When I say classroom, I mean all aspects of where I engage in my work and not simply my physical classroom space. Some areas that I wanted to focus on were the building of relationships, making better and more consistent connections with families, and designing a comfortable and welcoming classroom space for my students.

I think about each of these, I see them as “spaces” where we interact and exist together. I recognize that as educators, there are a lot of different spaces that we need to create and stay connected within. Being able to find the best ways to stay engaged in each of these spaces is important, especially with busy schedules and demands of the work that we do. Having the benefit of digital tools that can assist us also makes it easier to provide more for our students and their families, both in and out of our classroom space. So what are the spaces that educators need to create and engage in?

A Professional Learning Space

For educators, it is important that we really look at our professional learning space differently today than we may have in the past. For myself, having been an educator for many years, I did spend the first 15 years of my career mostly in isolation. While I engaged in opportunities for professional development within my school or attended a local conference periodically, those were the only types of professional learning spaces that existed for me—because I limited myself. What is worse, is that I also placed limits on my students by not putting myself out there to connect, to learn new ideas and methods to bring back to my classroom. Years ago, finding learning spaces and making time to engage in them was more time consuming with fewer choices available. Today, we have access to so many different and more accessible professional learning spaces. We can find something that meets our interests and our needs especially when it comes to time and place. What are some options?

ISTE offers Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) focused on specific topics related to technology and roles in education. It is a great space to become connected and to share ideas and connect classrooms.

LinkedIn is a social media platform for professional connections and professional learning. Educators are using LinkedIn to connect, gather resources and even help students develop their professional identities in this space.

Twitter offers many ways for educators to connect and learn via Twitter chats happening on a daily basis, and by following specific hashtags related to education. It is a great space to ask questions, to crowdsource ideas and to build a PLN.

Voxer is a walkie-talkie messaging app that promotes instant conversation with people from all around the world. Educators use Voxer for creating small groups for a PLC, having a space to share ideas and collaborate with educators from around the world, and even for participating in book studies and virtual learning events.

A Classroom Space, Both Physical and Virtual

The look of classrooms and learning today is so different from what it was when I was a student and quite different than even five years ago. We have the potential to learn from anywhere around the world and at a time that meets our needs. We truly have the capability to provide more for our students than we’ve ever been able to before. Through the use of digital tools and purposefully leveraging technology, we can provide the support our students need exactly when they need it. The world becomes our classroom when we include some of these tools and ideas in our practice.

The physical space can look quite different when we use station rotations in our classrooms, provide more flexible learning spaces for students to learn in, and also connect our students with learning that happens in our school community. We redefine the “space” of the classroom and can provide something to meet every student’s interests and needs. We can also explore different digital tools that help us create a more accessible connection with our students and provide ongoing support when they need it. Here are some of the tools that we have used to stay connected in our learning space.

Edmodo is a digital space for students and teachers to interact in a safe learning network. It provides access to resources, has helped us facilitate global collaboration and build digital citizenship skills.

Padlet allows us to create a wall of discussion and share audio, video, music, photos and text. It has helped us to connect with classrooms from around the world in real-time interactions.

Flipgrid is great for extending classroom discussions and providing students with a comfortable way to express their thoughts through video responses. Students build comfort that transfers into the physical classroom space by being able to connect with their peers in the digital space.

Kidblog provides many ways for students to build literacy and digital citizenship skills, as well as create their online presence. It promotes class discussion and collaboration and gives students a space to share their ideas and track their personal growth in the process.

A Space for Promoting Student and Family Engagement

Being able to connect with the families of our students is critically important. In order to provide the best for our students, we need to make sure that we are building and fostering true family engagement. To do so, we must rely on the traditional methods we have used such as exchanging emails, making phone calls home or holding meetings in the school, but now we have access to doing even more. Being able to bring families in to see and experience what learning looks like for their students, to share in the learning that happens in the classroom or to participate in a student’s in-class presentation is possible through digital spaces we set up. Events held at schools such as Open Houses, or STEAM showcase events, for example, are great for showing families the amazing things happening in our schools. However, not all families can participate due to time constraints which is why having digital tools available that enable us to share these events can make a difference.

Remind is helpful for messaging and sharing photos and files with families to include them in the school events.

ParentSquare facilitates better communication and collaboration and helps to build a solid connection between the home and the school community.

Buncee is a multimedia presentation tool that can be used to design a class newsletter with audio and video, or for students to share their work with families and include it in a Buncee presentation. Using a tool like this is helpful for families that cannot attend events such as Open House.

Seesaw is a platform that enables teachers to share what is happening in the classroom with parents. Teachers can record and directly share each child’s progress.

These are just some of the spaces that we need to consider as educators today. There are many options available for creating these spaces and the best part is that we can find something to meet the needs of our students, their families and ourselves.

**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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This is hard

Guest post by Deidre Roemer, originally posted on her site.

This is hard.  I was very tempted to have that be my entire post as that is how so many people, including me, are feeling these days.  I am always very solution focussed and generally very positive.  That hasn’t changed, but I am trying to adjust how I approach solutions and celebrations.  I am trying to listen to more, acknowledge that this is hard, recognize amazing work frequently, encourage everyone to take several deep breaths, and then offer as much support as I can to help. I have also been reaching out for help from my incredible support system. I need it. This is hard for everyone.

Our community has been asking questions about how we are supporting the mental health of our students right now.  It’s a question we should be asking every day all year long whether we are in a pandemic or not, but this time has undoubtedly brought the concern to the forefront more than ever.  As I compiled the list of what our team has done over the last several years to support learners’ mental health, it was staggering to see how much we have added and embedded across contexts.  We have added licensed therapists to each school site that see learners through their insurance and help families who don’t have access to insurance apply for it.  Some of those therapists also co-teach in classrooms and have office hours for staff so they can problem solve how to best help learners.  We have classroom teachers all over our district embedding social-emotional learning lessons and Mindfulness into daily instruction.  Our teachers spend a lot of time building relationships with our learners and offering them opportunities to build relationships with one another.  We have a school counselor, social worker, and/or a school psychologist at each school to work with staff, learners, and families.  We have Hope Squads at all our secondary schools so our learners have peer to peer support. 

Our professional development has also included training over the last several years in understanding trauma, culturally responsive practices, restorative practices, empathy and design thinking to solve problems, Zones of Regulation, Universal Design for Learning, innovative classroom practices, and many more.  The idea is that staff members (including teachers, administrators, secretaries, assistants, recreation staff, facilities, and food service) have a wide array of tools to use in our schools to understand and empower all learners.  They often get to choose sessions that are important to them or suggest topics on which they would like professional development as we want all staff to feel empowered in their work.  We have also tried to build a lot of support for our staff through coaching as they need to feel our support to make it all work.  

Now, we are trying to make education work in the middle of a pandemic.  Our learners are all virtual right now.  We are anxious to see them back in school and were optimistic a few weeks ago that we could start bringing them back a few days a week until our health metrics took a turn for the worse.  We meet regularly with our local health department to discuss safety and are furiously planning safety measures and logistics for the time when we bring our learners back into physical schools.  In the meantime, our recreation department has opened camps for elementary students and students with special needs that families who need care and/or support with virtual instruction can access.  The camps can be kept small and can spread out across large spaces while providing a needed resource for some of our families in the safest way possible.

Our teachers are more stressed than normal.  Our families are more stressed than normal.  Our learners are more stressed than normal.  Our administrators and coaches are more stressed than normal. Everyone is feeling disconnected from one another.  The unpredictability of the current situation is overwhelming for all of us.  The length of time this has gone on with no foreseeable end in sight is making it even more challenging.  We are also headed into the cold and flu season with the weather getting colder, which means fewer opportunities to be outside.  We have all had to adapt and do it quickly. It can be done, but this is hard.  It is okay to say that out loud and recognize it.  

I am really proud of the work we have done to shift the learner experience over the last several years, which is serving us well in virtual instruction.  It does not make this less stressful on our team, but many of them have been adapting and shifting for years so they have tools to do it. We have been very purposeful in finding ways to meet teachers and administrators where they are and encourage them to make small steps that add up to big ones.  As a district leadership team, we have tried to share the message that we are here to support our schools in any way we can to empower our learners to be ready to live life on their own terms when they graduate from our system.  We are now forced to make shifts at warp speed and shift more frequently than we would ever normally ask people to do. It means instead of just support to grow as professionals; we had to start thinking creatively about how to take some things off their plates.    

Our teachers have the option to teach from home or school during virtual instruction as we trust them to know what is best for them. We have built more planning time into the day at each level and shifted our professional development days to be planning and self-directed time for teachers.  Purposeful professional development with choice for teachers is still a key element of our strategic plan, but that needs to look different right now.  Instead of planning required sessions for all staff to attend, we shifted to self-paced courses that teachers could choose from and complete at their own pace and time. They could also choose not to select one at this time if they didn’t feel it was something they could take on.  We will circle back to those staff later and build professional development support for them when they are ready for it and as they need it throughout the year.

We have encouraged our administrators to give our teachers permission to engage learners differently and focus on their interests.  Academic content is an essential part of our work, but we can spend more time connecting and embed content as we go.  In a collaboration session during emergency remote teaching last spring, a staff member shared how a learner went to work with his dad each day and spent a huge portion of one day on Facetime with his teacher showing her his community and what he had learned about his dad’s job.  Others in that same session shared similar stories apologizing that they weren’t doing anything “academic”. My response was that what they were doing was building a sense of belonging and an academic mindset, which IS essential to academics and life success.  We worked all summer to be ready for virtual instruction that was more robust than what we were able to do in emergency remote teaching last spring, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be focused on the whole child and embed time to connect as people.  Teachers can find a balance synchronous time with some asynchronous time to meet the needs of learners. They can use choice boards, complete planned activities, write reflections, or work on long-term projects during the time they are asynchronous.  They know their families and learners best, and we trust them to make the right decisions on finding balance.

We always want to hear feedback from our learners, staff, and community as it allows us to know what we are doing well and where we need to improve.  We have sent out an employee engagement and parent satisfaction survey twice a year and learners complete a social-emotional learning survey so we can gauge how they are feeling about the development of their own skills in self-regulation, social awareness, classroom effort, growth mindset, and curiosity for the last several years.  This year, we had the opportunity to offer different surveys that were much shorter for staff and families.  While we still needed their feedback, we also needed a quick and easy survey for them to complete that gave us fast results so we can adjust resources and support.  We added a wellness survey for our learners and do empathy interviews to ask them directly about how they are doing, if they are connected to adults and peers for support, and what they need to feel successful. 

We have encouraged our principals to think about a shift in teacher evaluation as well.  Our teacher evaluation process is intended to be one of self-reflection wherein the teacher sets a student learning objective for the year and a professional practice goal.  The observations should be an opportunity to collect evidence towards those goals with time to check-in with the teacher to help them celebrate success and adjust the goals throughout the year.  We have not always approached teacher evaluation that way but have been trying to move to a more reflective process over the last year.  We get to take this unusual year to accelerate that process so observations can be done in short one-on-one meetings during which teachers can share the evidence they have collected about their own their own practice to share with us.  We want to take the pressure off the formal nature of teacher observation but still get at the intent of the cycle of self-directed, continuous improvement in a way that also gives us more time to connect individually with each staff member.  We have some schools trying this out in the next couple of weeks. I am anxious to hear how it goes and to find out if the change alleviates some stress for administrators and teachers.

Our teachers also had the opportunity to meet as grade levels and departments before school started to share ideas and create lists of resources they thought they would need to make this all work.  We have ordered thousands of whiteboards, music kits, art kits, sensory tools, apps, and online subscriptions. We want our learners to have access to instructional materials in addition to technology and hotspots at home.  We trade reading books and give out learning kits once a month in a drive-up system at most of our schools. We also added many supplies to schools as students won’t be able to share materials with one another as easily in classrooms once we are back.  We’ve added some new and adaptive resources for teachers that all still align with our strategic plan but make the work more doable in a virtual or distance learning.  Teachers continue to send us requests regularly as they plan engaging activities to do at home in the next few weeks.  Sometimes the requests make me wonder what will come next, but mostly they make me excited that our learners are still having interactive, hands-on opportunities in our virtual world.  

This is hard.  Saying so doesn’t make it any easier, but it does create space for us to rely on each other to get through it.  I want all our staff, learners, and families to know that we see them.  We see the efforts they are putting in each hour of the day.  We see that they sometimes need us to support them in new and different ways.  We see that they may feel overwhelmed by the world right now and sometimes need some space to feel that.  We see that we need to find even more ways to connect and listen to them.  Mostly we see that they are all doing the best they can each day, despite everything that is thrown at them, to always keep what is best for children at the forefront.  I love this quote by Todd Whitaker, “The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.” Not only does teaching matter, but the people who do it each day matter too.

I am a proud mother, wife, and educator dedicated to creating experiences for all learners that are authentic and connect their time in school to what and who they want to be well beyond high school. I serve as the Director of Leadership and Learning for the West Allis- West Milwaukee School District in West Allis, WI. The thoughts I share here are my own and my reflections on our work. View all posts by Deidreroemer

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**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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“Do you care about your students?”

Guest post Chris Stuchko @chrisstuchko

I have been a teacher for 15 years. I have been in 100s of meetings over that time span. It probably is closer to 1,000 really. I have been asked many off-the-wall questions and have had conversations that only Special Education teachers, like myself, could appreciate. But never have I been so flustered by a question from a parent during a meeting.

“Do you care about your students?”

In the middle of a Zoom meeting that filled all the required Brady Bunch squares – a supervisor, an assistant principal, a school counselor, regular education teachers, special education teachers, a parent and a student – I stammered and was taken back by the question.

I repeated her query out loud, using a classic stall technique, while quickly trying to process if this was indeed a trick question.

Had I not done something to help this student? Did I misrepresent myself as I was speaking about the student and the start of the school year?

After several stammers and some real thought, I gave an “eloquent” answer.

“Of course I care about my students.”

What teacher doesn’t care about their students, I quickly rationalized.

There really can’t be any other answer, right? That has to be the automatic response. Like the answer that follows the question, “How do I look in this dress?”

As every single one of us in our profession today struggles with our teaching reality, hybrid reality, or virtual reality, I know the one common thread amongst educators everywhere is the high level of care we have for all of our students. We are all trying to do the best we can given what we are up against.

But after my amazing, ground-breaking answer, I quickly learned that the parent wasn’t negatively questioning my care for her student.

Rather, she was trying to make a point about the student’s ability to understand and evaluate if his teachers really cared about him. Her point in that question was to reinforce a simple, yet oft overlooked advice for life: people will do things for those that have their back.

My co-teacher and I in that particular class don’t have a magic formula for how to reach kids. If you really want a listicle that will give the 10 most groundbreaking, 100-percent guaranteed tips on how to show students you care, feel free to click off of this story and go somewhere else. But if you have chosen to keep reading, just know that anything you do to reach out to students can make an impact.

Remaining positive with a student who hears only negative can make an impact.

Noticing that a student drinks tea every day at 7:31 AM during class can make an impact.

Complimenting a student on a newly painted ceiling after seeing it day after day can make an impact.

Making silly jokes to a room of teenagers with their microphones dutifully silenced following virtual meeting etiquette can make an impact.

Letting everyone in a classroom, including yourself, know that it is OK to not be OK can make an impact.

After finishing with that meeting, and realizing that my co-teacher and I were doing our best to pass the care test with that particular student, I returned back to our virtual class session and made it a point to talk with everyone about that thought-provoking question

“Do you care about your students?”

It was the end of our sixth week with students. My co-teacher and I had only seen them in person one time for less than an hour before our school went virtual. We are scheduled to come back together in a few weeks, but like many things since March of last year, the only certainty is uncertainty.

We had to let them know and remind them that yes, we do care. We wanted them to know that even though all of us got to know each other as small boxes on a computer monitor for weeks, we are attempting to build relationships. We are all learning together how to show others we care when all we can do is show it through the computer.

It is a challenge and we are all struggling. But as educators, we know it is all about making those connections. That is what ultimately matters in the end.

When was the last time you thought about the teacher who taught the amazing lesson on parts of a plant? But the teacher who reached out to you in a time of need or saw something special in you? For many of us, the person who made the connection is the reason we are in this profession today.

“Do you care about your students?”

Now, more than ever, we need to show and reinforce the answer to that question with our students, and not just reflexively say “Of course!”

**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’s Your Green Sauce?

Guest post By Brent Coley, @brentcoley

Principal, Alta Murrieta Elementary School, Murrieta, CA

#EduInfluence

Most people have a favorite restaurant. Ask 20 people to identify their favorite and you may get 20 different answers. Some may name a fine steakhouse like Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s. Fans of sushi might select as their favorite a local establishment serving up this Japanese delicacy. Ask a small child to name his or her favorite and you may get McDonald’s or Little Caesar’s as the answer. To each his own.

What about me? What’s my favorite restaurant? If you hadn’t already read the title of this blog post, the answer may have surprised you. My favorite? El Pollo Loco.

That’s right. El Pollo Loco.

Seriously, Brent? El Pollo Loco? Out of all the restaurants you could choose, your favorite is a drive-thru fast food restaurant serving a variety of inexpensive chicken meals? That’s right. El Pollo Loco.

I love this restaurant. It’s affordable. It’s relatively healthy when compared to other fast food options that serve up only burgers and fries. And there’s a location only a mile down the road from my school. I’m not ashamed to say I order lunch here multiple times a week. I get the same thing every time. A $5 Pollo Bowl Combo with flour tortillas and a large tropical iced tea. Mmmm. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

But it’s not the taste of the food that keeps me coming back, though I do enjoy the combination of chicken, beans, and rice. It’s not the value either, though being able to fill my stomach for under six bucks is a fact my budget definitely appreciates. And it’s not the comfortable ambience I used to enjoy before COVID-19 forced the closure of all restaurant dining rooms in my community. So what is it? What pulls me to this restaurant like the Millennium Falcon caught in the Death Star’s tractor beam? (You’re welcome, Star Wars fans.)

It’s the avocado salsa, what I affectionately call “green sauce.” I absolutely love it. Seriously, can’t get enough. It’s flavorful with just the right amount of kick. I could drink it like water (which I actually did one time to win a bet, but that’s another story). I love smothering each bite in this liquid slice of heaven.

If I hit the drive-thru and discover upon returning to the office they forgot to put my green sauce in the bag, my mood turns grumpy. The birds stop singing, and the day seems darker. The meal just isn’t the same. I go to El Pollo Loco for the avocado salsa. I go for the green sauce. If the restaurant stopped serving it, I can honestly say I wouldn’t eat there as frequently as I do. I’m not sure I would go at all. It’s that important to me.

​It’s salsa for crying out loud. A side dish. No, it’s not even a side dish. A condiment. It’s a condiment, something extra the restaurant gives away for free, but it’s what keeps me coming back over and over. And over.

So let’s tie this into education. Ladies and gentlemen, my question to you is this — “What’s your green sauce?”

What is that extra something that keeps your students wanting to come back to your classroom, to your school? What is it that, figuratively speaking, makes their mouths water when they think about getting to spend time with you?

While this question focuses on the “extra,” let me be clear. The main dishes we serve in our classrooms, lessons in reading, writing, math, or whatever subject you teach, are important. Very, very important. It’s imperative we provide our students with rigorous opportunities for learning, that we fill their “stomachs” with nutritious “food.” But my point is this — the main dish may not be what gets your students up in the morning. It may be that something extra you provide, that cherry on top. It may be the green sauce.

So I ask you once again, “What’s your green sauce?”

  • It may be your smiling face that greets students each day when they enter your classroom or the front gate of your school.
  • It may be the high five, fist bump, or hug at the door each morning (current physical distancing restrictions aside).
  • It may be the smelly stickers you put on your students’ exams when they do well. That’s right. A smelly sticker may be making a student’s day, may be what he or she is looking forward to. And this is not just limited to the elementary grades.
  • It may be the instrumental music you play in the background as students are working, or the upbeat music you have playing in the room as students enter each day.
  • It may be the corny dad jokes you tell every day. You know, the ones at which the students outwardly roll their eyes, but inwardly look forward to hearing.
  • It may be the class Instagram account you created to share the great things taking place in your classroom. Or maybe you’re on TikTok, creating funny videos, making you “cool” in your students’ eyes.

In the grand scheme of things, these are all actions or gestures that could be considered small. These may not have been the things upon which your professors focused when you were studying to be a teacher. But that doesn’t mean they can’t and don’t make a big difference in the lives of those we serve. Don’t underestimate the power of the little things, because more often than we may think, it’s that little something extra, that green sauce, that our students are thirsting for and what keeps them coming back for more.

​What’s your green sauce?


Want to hear more? I devoted an entire chapter of my book Stories of EduInfluence to the topic of how small actions can make a big impact. Click/tap here to listen to the Audible version of “Chapter 8: The Power of the Little Things.”

If you’d like to purchase a copy of the book, available in paperback, Kindle, and audio versions, head over to Amazon.

**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  

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

JabuMind for Teacher Self-Care

Guest post by Erin Swanson, M.Ed,  JabuMind

Teachers are in crisis, suffering from compassion fatigue and burnout at an alarming rate. Tasked with adapting to the pandemic, protecting their students from school shootings, teaching to high-stakes state tests, juggling crushing workloads, working overtime for little pay, responding to their students’ trauma, and more—teachers need our help.

The JabuMind self-care app for teachers is here to help. JabuMind was designed by a group of teachers, coaches, artists, school principals, and mental health clinicians. We share a common goal of creating a safer, stronger, and more supportive classroom experience for both teachers and students. Our mission is to support teachers in their own social and emotional growth so that they, in turn, can help their students and school communities.

Why Teachers Need Self-Care

Teachers are overworked and overwhelmed. No doubt about it, teaching is one of the most stressful professions. An analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research revealed that “one in five teachers (20 percent) feel tense about their job most or all of the time, compared to 13 percent of similar professionals.” In addition, The American Federation of Teachers found that “78% of teachers reported feeling physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.”

Let’s not forget the additional weight placed on teachers during the pandemic. A March 2020 survey from Yale and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) showed that teachers’ top emotions regarding teaching during COVID included fearful, worried, overwhelmed, and sad.

One of teachers’ main stressors is compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is the experience of emotional and physical fatigue due to the chronic use of empathy. It is often used interchangeably with the terms secondary trauma and vicarious trauma.

As teachers, we care deeply for our students. When our students face trauma, we feel the weight of heartbreak, fear, uncertainty, and responsibility as their caretakers. Distraught over how to support a traumatized child, we might start experiencing the symptoms of compassion fatigue—anxiety, difficulty sleeping, exhaustion, hypervigilance, decreased motivation, trouble separating work from personal life, increased cynicism, or a sense of hopelessness.

Suffering from compassion fatigue is among the top reasons teachers leave the profession. No longer able to handle the pressure and heartbreak, they experience burnout. “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu.”

The Solution? Mindfulness

Fortunately, there is an antidote to the struggles teachers face. Research shows that teachers who participated in a mindfulness course had reductions in burnout and increases in self-compassion. Additional research proved that teachers who followed a mindfulness program developed resilience to stress and nonreactivity by practicing mindful awareness.

Even more, a study on mindfulness intervention and workplace productivity showed that mindfulness produced “increases in team and organizational climate and personal performance.” Meditation, in particular, activates the part of the brain associated with more adaptive responses to stressful and negative events.

JabuMind Brings Teachers Mindfulness and Self-Care

The JabuMind self-care app for teachers uses the iRest® method to support teacher self-care. Co-Founder of JabuMind, Jill Apperson Manly, explains why JabuMind chose the iRest® method of meditation for its app in this interview. We explain the 10 tools of iRest® and their connection to teacher wellness here.

Research shows that iRest® promotes better sleep, decreases stress, alleviates symptoms of PTSD, and enhances quality of life for school counselors.

The JabuMind app offers guided meditations, daily sleep and mood check ins, and professional development designed to meet teachers’ stressors. All premium app content is free through the pandemic to support teachers during this difficult time.

Jabu2Learn more about how the JabuMind app can support your self-care in these articles:

You might also enjoy our other resources to support teachers, such as:

Teachers—you, more than anyone, deserve self-care. In a career that asks you to be selfless, be the one to prove that self-care leads to better care for everyone.

**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  

10 Strategies to Help Parents with Distance Learning

How to Beat the “Back To School Blues”

Guest post by Monica Gupta Mehta @monicagmehta and Co-authored by Ariana Pokatilova, EmotionalMUSE Volunteer

“MOMMYSCHOOL,” by Deb Liu, released a cartoon entitled ‘Back To School Blues.’ The humorous graphic proclaimed fire and brimstone and doom for the 2020–2021 school year. When I saw this cartoon, I was struck by how much I related to every single one of the 10 bulleted items, based on our own family’s first week back to school.

This past week was essentially a series of timers set about 20 minutes apart to keep our three kids on track…three kids in three different schools with three entirely different schedules, despite being in the same district. Snack breaks and lunch breaks did not line up even once, which meant the adults in the house were “short order cooks” all day every day. As I frantically attempted to work with any amount of focus in my 15 minute windows of distraction-free time, I found myself looking up to “shhhh!!” the one child who was on break while the other two were on zoom calls. That’s right — even when they had breaks, there could be no loud boisterous play, out of respect for their siblings still in school. A collective sigh was heaved each day at approximately 3:30pm.

Reading Deb Liu’s ‘Back to School Blues,’ I find comfort in the knowledge that our family is not alone. If the plane is about to go down in flames, at least we are all in this together. But why is that comforting? I suppose it is the hope that comes from knowing that others are experiencing the same obstacles and challenges; somehow, somebody will come up with solutions to these challenges. As founder of the MUSE Framework for Social Emotional Learning, with a mission of developing the emotional intelligence of generations of students, I felt compelled to offer whatever advice I could to the parents who are attempting to thrive…or at least survive!…during this unprecedented school year.

1. “Orientation: Attended orientation with sixteen 8 year-olds, half didn’t know how to mute, one was upside down. Chaos ensued.”

I think we can all agree that it is not the most natural thing to have children set up on all day video conferences that rival the schedule of the busiest tech execs.

One way to help mitigate the unfamiliarity of this situation is to teach children the basics of video conferencing, beyond simply showing them how to join a video call. If your child’s teacher doesn’t already have something similar, share this graphic with them to help create a set of virtual community guidelines. It is also helpful to have a discussion with your children about what steps to take when their call is not working. Teach them to self advocate!

2. “Textbook Pickup: Freshmen book pickup cancelled due to the insufficient staff. Still TBD on the updated calendar. School starts Monday.”

It is eerie how similar our experiences were — our schools had to delay materials pickup multiple times, and many students did not have their textbook pick up until after the school year had started. The schools tried to recruit more parent volunteers, but without adequate childcare, most parents with younger kids are not free to leave their homes. My teen found a partial workaround for this problem — there are many sites out there that offer both free and rental versions of textbooks in digital, PDF format. To make this easier for younger children, print out the pages they actually need so they can take notes and annotate as they would in a print textbook.

3. “Class Assignments: Middle school class assignments were delayed until just before the first day of class due to technical issues.”

I guess this is one of those “it is what it is” things in life. Hopefully it’s true what they say — tough situations build strong people. One thing is for sure…we’ll come out of this pandemic with more grit and resilience than we could have learned through any purely educational methods.

4. “Lunch Roulette: Found all three kids have different lunch times. Will need to be a short order cook to feed them.”

Ugh. I feel your pain, Deb Liu! This was my life the first few days of school. However, I wised up (eventually) and remembered that we used to pack lunch in the morning before school, and my kids had lunch whenever it fell in their school schedule — without me trying to give them company, or serve them hot, fresh food. Save the nice meals for dinnertime and go back to pre-packed foods that are prepared ahead of time! If you find yourself wanting to make fresh lunches, prepare everyone’s lunch at the same time as you prepare the first child’s lunch. The other children are likely to be along within the hour, and most foods can sit out that long without spoiling.

For those feeling especially ambitious, one bonus idea I had is to set up a lunch ‘playdate’ schedule, with virtual calls set up for each child to socialize during their lunch break. For some of my kids, this works great…for others, they just want a break from video calls even more than they want to socialize with their friends at lunch.

5. “School Days: Kids are expected to be on zoom for 5 to 6 hours a day, but each day is staggered so the schedule is different per day of the week, per kid. Send help.”

Yes. This. This is exhausting. Not only does each child’s day look different from their siblings’ day; each child also has a different bell schedule for each day on their own school schedule. This is difficult to manage for all of us, and creates the additional difficulty of children who are on “break” having to be quiet and solitary while the other children are still in school. One way to deal with this is to plan your younger children’s breaks a little bit ahead of time, ideally with their input. Write down various break activities your child could do during downtimes. For my own children, I ask them to use the restroom and drink water at every break as needed, then to either get a snack or do anything on the list of brainstormed activities. These include stretching breaks, puzzles, journaling, coloring, quick chats with friends, shooting some baskets, taking a short walk (for older kids), having a mindful moment, reading a book, etc. I also let my kids play in this virtual “playroom” I created, which they find simultaneously both fun and relaxing. (FYI the virtual playroom only works on computers; it is not yet optimized for mobile use.)

I’d also recommend creating a master schedule of all of your children’s log in times as well as codes. If possible, give your children “view” access and teach them how to check the master schedule. Include all additional schedule items, such as exercise, meal plans, and extracurriculars. As things change (updated zoom links, changes in schedule) you can then simply update this master spreadsheet, and your kids will always find the most updated schedule/links as they check back throughout the day.

I find it useful to include my own general schedule in this spreadsheet — that way my kids know if I am in meetings or appointments, on a walk with our puppy, etc.

6. “Communication Management: After reading through two dozen back-to-school emails from five schools and filling out online forms for two days, I am sure I missed at least three things. Just not sure which three.”

This is not my strong suit; I have come to dread my emails with a passion (can you dread something with a passion?? I think the answer is you can during a worldwide pandemic.). However, one hack I have started using seems to be working pretty well. I’ve created a separate folder for emails coming from school, since there is so much communication home these days. Any school email that comes across my inbox I dump in the folder to read in the evening, and I keep the email there even after I’ve read it. Once I am sure I have processed it, noted vital info, and done all tasks from the email, then I remove it from the folder.

7. “School IT Support: Juggled logins to Schoology, Infinite Campus, UpToUs, Google Classroom, Quickschools, Clever, and Konstella to figure out all of the action items. Probably forgot all of the usernames and passwords already.”

I think the solution to this one is obvious…it’s just frustratingly time consuming. Somehow, somewhere all of that information needs stored where it can be readily retrieved. I threw out my usual hesitation to write down passwords and created a login information tab in my master spreadsheet (the one the kids use to see their schedule each day and all the zoom links). The benefit of this is that the kids can see their own login information, and they now come to me far less for this specific need. If I end up getting hacked because we wrote everything down, I suppose I’ll be eating my words. Fingers crossed it all works out.

“8. Calendaring: Realized one of us will be a full-time executive assistant to manage the calendar for three kids or else everything will fall apart.”

This is just factually true, and it is no fun. I do have hope this will get better as things become more routine; but it does feel like half my day goes to this. There are two strategies that have helped me counteract this. One is, yet again, my master schedule. Having a really organized place to collect all information, and to update it as it changes, is a game changer. Every bit of new info that comes in has a spot either in that spreadsheet or on my Google calendar. Knowing where to record the constantly changing information as it comes in is half the battle.

The other two thirds of the battle (yes, we are all metaphorically putting in way more than 100% effort!!) is to not procrastinate. This is a huge ask when everyone is overwhelmed and working way too many jobs at once (paid and unpaid)…but aim for an empty email inbox each day if possible. The more you let the emails build up, the more reluctant you will become to address them.

9. WiFi: Our WiFi is melting down already with too many concurrent video connections. Next week will be WiFi-Mageddon.”

Oof. I have lost count of the number of things we have tried to do to create enough bandwidth for the kids to all be in school synchronously, for me to get my work done, and for my husband to be on all day long conference calls. We have called our Internet service provider, and that has occasionally helped, as sometimes the issue is on their end. You can also try resetting your router — sometimes if we do that enough, the WiFi magically begins working again.

If this issue persists, internet connection is the area I would say is most worth spending a little extra money if you can afford it. Upgrading to a better router will generally help immensely. We have also purchased something called a MiFi — a personal internet hotspot that can be plugged anywhere, with its own monthly fee. This is amazing to have for our outdoor classroom, which we are doing four days a week (we are allowing some friends to come do school with our kids socially distanced in the backyard). That is, four days a week if the California wildfires are not devastating our air quality and trapping us indoors! (…while simultaneously making us so grateful to have an “indoors” to be trapped in, as our neighbors to the north, east, and south are all being evacuated).

One last suggestion for sparing your WiFi is to encourage yourself and your kids to take breaks from their devices when they are on school breaks. Encourage them to move their bodies and to engage their minds in different ways, such as reading, puzzles, chores and games.

10. “Assessment for School Year 2020: We are doomed.”

Well…here’s hoping my Dad is right. He is always telling us to be “wildly optimistic.” While every word of Liu’s cartoon depicts exactly how I felt last week, this week I am optimistic that the tips and strategies collected here can keep us aloft. It certainly won’t be a smooth flight, but with a confident pilot and the advice of our co-pilots, I believe we will get through this. Together.

Visit Monica’s site EmotionalMUSE.com for Social Emotional Learning curriculum you can use with your children. My first two units include a Piloting Your Plane emotional regulation curriculum for early elementary school children, and a Socializing During A Pandemic social skills unit for secondary school students. It is a rapidly growing site — follow me for updates when new units become available!

_________________*********************

**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  

 Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

Guest Post: Culturally Responsive Teaching

Guest post by Chris Orlando @Dr_ChrisOrlando

When COVID-19 struck in the spring, it forced an unprecedented portion of our country’s schools to suspend brick-and-mortar instruction. Teachers were thrown into distance teaching—referred to by many as “crisis teaching”— with little preparation. It was like trying to build a plane while flying it.

The crisis has exposed societal inequities impacting our students’ daily lives including food deficits, inadequate health care—including mental health care, issues with housing stability, and insufficient access to the internet.

This fall, to ensure that I’m meeting the needs of my marginalized students even as I shift to a new learning environment, I plan on creating a culturally responsive digital classroom, one that can provide a space where students feel welcomed and valued. Culturally responsive instruction centers on building the learning capacity of all students. According to Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, “There is a focus on leveraging the affective and the cognitive scaffolding that students bring with them.”

Here are three ways in which I plan to implement culturally responsive teaching this year:

Building Relationships

The single greatest investment teachers can make is to build relationships with their students. Relationships boost motivation, create safe spaces for learning, build new pathways for learning, and improve student behavior. The question, of course, is how can I build relationships with students who I might never see in person?

First, I plan to master the soft start to class in order to ease students into our learning environment each day. Though often thought of as an elementary school strategy, my middle schoolers respond well to soft starts. It allows time for students to transition and to re-engage their mental muscles with a short game, puzzle, brainteaser, reading, or interesting “Would You Rather” question. Be cognizant that typical icebreakers like, “What I did this summer” may leave children with nothing positive to share and create a social hierarchy of who had the most impressive summer break. Instead, pose questions like, “Imagine your best day ever. What would happen?” or “If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?” Taking even ten minutes to check-in with students at the beginning of class each day is vital because high-trust, low-stress environments can help marginalized students effectively process and retain learned information. Additionally, I plan to do the following to build relationships and increase connectedness virtually:

  • Learn my students’ names promptly and use them as much as possible. As a teacher who often mispronounces my students’ names, I’ll assign students to create a short video in which they pronounce their name so that I can reference it.
  • Ask for student feedback regularly through an ungraded video or Google Form known as “Friday Feedback”
  • Host informal office hours that will encourage one-on-one communication
  • Collect and share virtual notes of gratitude and appreciation

Be a Personal Trainer of Students’ Cognitive Development

As a teacher who is preparing for Round 2 of distance teaching this fall, much of the success or failure of this upcoming school year will depend on my students’ ability to work independently. In order to foster this independence, I will be providing students who are dependent learners with cognitive routines and tools that will help them organize their thinking and process content. Consistently using a regular set of prompts in all assignments helps students internalize cognitive routines so that they can use them when I’m not around. After all, isn’t the goal of education to help students become lifelong learners who can marshal their critical thinking skills long after they’ve left the classroom? Internalizing cognitive routines will help expand the learning capacity of students who have been historically marginalized and work to dismantle dominant narratives about students of color.

Make It a Game, Make It Social, Make It a Story

Each day students walk into our classrooms (or this year, log in to our classrooms) armed with their own learning tools, but too often teachers fail to use them to maximize student learning. Students’ culture can inform us whether they learn best on their own or by collaborating with others. In a distance learning context, students are often given packets and assigned independent projects, which serve independent learners, but are a detriment to communal learners. For example, diverse students who come from oral traditions, might benefit from activities that require social interaction, physical manipulation of content, or narrative. In other words: make it a game, make it social, or make it a story. Utilizing breakout features in Zoom and apps like Jamboard, Flipgrid, and Socrative can help engage communal learners. However, it’s important to remember that culturally responsive teaching isn’t simply a set of strategies. It’s consistently mirroring students’ cultural learning styles and tools.

My job is to be responsive to students’ individual and collective lived experiences, and in particular this year, their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. That will require me to integrate my students’ cultural learning tools into my pedagogy and be a warm demander of their cognitive development. But above all, this year will be about relationships. Creating a learning partnership that encourages my students to take ownership of their learning has always been important, but this year it will be paramount to address gaps in learning outcomes between diverse students and their white counterparts. Through robust reflection of my own pedagogy and the adoption of culturally responsive teaching practices, I plan to make learning exciting and joyful for my students so that they’ll be motivated to take ownership of their own learning. Students will be seen. They’ll be heard. They’ll be loved. And we’ll make it through this school year together.

Gonzalez, J. (2017, September 10). Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions. Cult of Pedagogy. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/culturally-responsive-misconceptions/

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

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5 Ways to Prioritize Social & Emotional Learning for the 2020 School Year

Guest post by Peter Davis, @kapwingapp 

Opinions expressed are those of the guest blogger.

 

The 2020-2021 school year has just kicked off in some areas, and it is already proving to be a year like no other. Heightened anxiety among students, teachers, and parents is a certainty this year, across all of the various educational methods administrators are using. Some students will be stuck in precarious, distracting, or harmful home environments, some will be forced to walk halls that could threaten the health of them and their families, and others face an uncertain fall in districts that have yet to finalize their back-to-school methods.

In total, all these changes mean that social and emotional learning will be front and center in the 2020 school year. I talked to Denver-area elementary school teacher Adin Becker about his learnings from spring 2020, his uncertainties in approaching the fall term, and his plans to prioritize SEL in the virtual learning environment. Here are the 5 main things to strive for in the fall semester:

  1. Make sure students have opportunities to interact with each other
  2. Schedule socially distanced visits when possible
  3. Make your materials more inclusive than ever
  4. Advocate for remote health services
  5. Make space for trauma
  1. Give your students opportunities to interact with each other

If you’re conducting some or all of your school through remote e-learning, it won’t be possible to replicate the social environment that your students would experience under normal class conditions. Students’ social interactions with each other are vital to their engagement in school work and their growth as individuals. Becker puts it this way:

The biggest difference this year is classroom community. Young students need social interaction to grow, and there is no question that the online learning environment is not the same as seeing your friends in-person. My school has already experienced the difficulties of limited engagement in e-learning from the last semester. I plan to introduce more in-class discussion between students, make use of online academic games, and show interest in my students’ wellbeing.

There’s no perfect way to transfer the social benefits of in-person school to the remote classroom, but there are lots of things you can do to make up for students’ loss of social engagement. Especially with younger students, their social experiences are as important as your lessons, so it’s vital to dedicate a similar amount of your time and attention to both. Something as simple as using Zoom breakout rooms for free discussion during remote class periods can help to make up for students’ lack of social interaction in school.

  1. Schedule socially distanced visits when possible

Students’ social relationships with each other are indispensable to their SEL experience, but so is their relationship with their teacher. And the same way remote classrooms can’t replicate the social experience of in-person school, Zoom meetings with your students can’t provide quite the same student-teacher relationship. Here’s what Becker has to say:

Unfortunately, it’s simply not possible to provide the same access and inclusion to students through e-learning. Districts can do their best to provide all families with laptops and internet, but there’s only so much they can accomplish – there are nearly 100,000 students in my district, for example. To bolster student interest, I am hoping that I can organize a few socially-distanced home visits with each of my students so that they can get to know me and hopefully feel more comfortable with me online.

Luckily, it’s easier to stay safe while meeting with just one student at a time. If your school’s administration allows it, try to set up socially distanced home visits with your students at least once a semester. This allows students to feel individually heard and acknowledged, so they can feel even more comfortable and engaged in remote learning sessions.

  1. Make your materials more inclusive than ever

Inclusivity and accessibility are crucial in the social & emotional learning of all students under “normal” conditions, and the remote environment of 2020’s classroom means you have to be more intentional than ever in serving all of your students equitably. Record your lesson videos at a pace that all of your students can follow, and add subtitles so every student can absorb the lesson the way they learn best. And if you’re trying to make your e-learning materials fun & distinctive, keep an eye on the readability of your resources for students with visual difficulties.

Unfortunately, even if you include helpful subtitles, visual aids, and voiceovers in your videos, kinesthetic learners won’t find the same tailored learning support that they could in the classroom. Becker explains:

In-class I like to use manipulatives to supplement student learning. Because I’m a general education teacher, I cover every subject including math. Online, I can’t provide extra physical materials to help students understand concepts like fractions. Instead, I will make use of online academic games, and interactive learning models that can engage young students outside the classroom. Because it will be exceedingly easy for students to tune out during online learning, class will need to be hyper-interactive.

Inclusivity extends to every corner of your teaching: use gender-appropriate or gender-neutral pronouns in your materials, and be wary of your students’ personal needs. When planning recorded lessons and producing e-learning videos, be efficient and make use of your students’ limited attention spans. In the classroom, you’re able to monitor your students’ engagement, but teaching remotely means that you can’t always keep an eye on their focus.

  1. Advocate for remote health services

Another important aspect of the in-person school experience that’s missing in remote learning is the accessibility of health services for students. While in-person medical care can’t be provided to students using typical school resources, it’s especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide adequate mental health resources for students of all ages.

You likely don’t have much direct control over your administrators’ use of health resources. But if you’re able, do what you can to advocate for mental health resources to be made available for your students. This might involve bringing several educators together in order to work for what you believe is best for your students, speaking with parents in order to focus the school’s entire community on students’ well-being, or doing your own research on accessible mental health resources online. This terrific list of accessible remote mental health resources is a great place to start.

  1. Make space for trauma

It would be great for your remote teaching to be just as effective as in-person school, but most likely that’s not possible in 2020. And what’s more, it shouldn’t be your primary objective. Many students are experiencing an especially traumatic year, and their health and wellness has to be prioritized over the diligence of their schoolwork. Becker elaborates:

Many students are traumatized after losing family to COVID or getting sick themselves. For that reason, social-emotional learning will be front and center this semester to address trauma. Education through this catastrophe needs a dose of realism: pushing your students harder than usual will do more harm than good.

The main takeaway here is that educators need to be especially responsive to all their students this year and rethink the teacher/student relationship. More than ever before, the parent/teacher relationship may occupy a lot of your attention, as students’ whole lives become central to the success of their 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  

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"Classrooms don't need tech geeks who can teach; we need teaching geeks who can use tech."

Dene Gainey

Educator. Author. Singer/Songwriter.

SimonBaddeley64

Minecraft in the Classroom