The world shut down just like a computer that is overheated, overtaxed and over its limit of functionality. It makes you look at the world as a list of negative and positives.
|– deadly virus has us isolated||+ realized how much we need connection|
|– over use/reliance on digital devices gave us eye strain||+ set our sights on hands on tasks that provided nurturing; puzzles, baking, cooking, reading, playing, creating, walking, gardening|
When you cancel out the negatives with the positives you find balance in the equation.
Now as we move into safe mode, we are able to use some of the basic functions we once used, but are still limited in many ways. In order to rebuild we have to identify, acknowledge and process the problems that we were ignoring up until we have nowhere to bury our heads in the sand. Moving forward is not possible until views are addressed, accepted and amended.
- What we have witnessed collectively as a province, country and world?
- How have we witnessed this as individuals?
- How are we dealing with all this without the usual outreach of support systems?
- Most importantly, how has all this affected us?
- What wounds are new and which scars have been torn open creating deeper cuts?
The healing process begins with all of us. Enough with the sideline understanding and well meaning nods of empathy. If we didn’t get the message before when an example of injury was displayed somewhere in the world, we better get the message now that the whole world has not only stumbled but is in full out cardiac arrest. Where is the heartfelt sentiment for that moment? It’s definitely not found on the greeting card shelf. It is our collective action N-O-W.
The scramble to figure out what immediate school closures meant was a certain and understandable pause. Viewing the issue on the surface level brought a focus on how to distribute materials, lessons and schedules. In the next moment, it would have been beneficial to broaden the scope to see what we were dealing with. In the face of uncertainty, it is advisable to take a breath to help settle the mind. Clarity brings with it a sound perspective on a situation. Yet, in this case well meaning resources and free subscriptions to sites and online professional development were tossed into the ring at a rapid fire pace. With no time to pause, settle or reflect, the conveyor belt kept moving sending us in all directions. All with well minded intensions.
This is where calm, even-paced leaders help realign the process. Academic tasks that tried to overshadow a pandemic were drowned out by lack of devices, apathy or inability to justify work. Routines typically reserved for classrooms were being done in the personal space of homes. Now it is to be said some needed or perhaps craved a sense of what ‘normal’ looked like to them, so writing tasks played a positive role in their day. This however brings the larger question of the teacher being purveyor of knowledge and task giver. In that case, cruise director or party planner could be added to the resume. When students look solely to the teacher to know what to do, say or be we have failed and failed miserably. The goal is to help guide, direct and support learning through opportunity, feedback and connection.
This is why the time that COVID took from us needs to be viewed as the collective pause taken around the world. Any activities or options presented online through sites, videos, paper tasks or online conferences have to be seen as a preview. When these concepts are picked back up next year, in whatever form they are presented, students who were able to participate will have previous knowledge to build on. Those who were not able to approach any of the learning tasks will now have the chance to learn with their counterparts.
The hope is that an addendum to the curriculum be added to reflect the previous term. Before any academics is even considered social emotional considerations need to be the prime focus. Before a book is opened, a math problem discussed or a science lesson explored, building community has to set the stage for the next stage of learning to continue.
If nothing else, we have learned what school is not and what learning is essentially. Learning is a social activity and not the domain of one classroom. This is witnessed by all those natural learning experiences such as cooking, building and exploring that revealed the purpose for math, expression and artistry; and all underlined by the need for connection.
Connecting skills, connecting people, connecting ideas
Now we’re really cooking. This is not the time to stop. It will be the utmost missed opportunity if we let this time pass without:
- recognizing that we have this moment to change what we couldn’t during school days
- chart a course that explains and outlines ways to move forward productively.
The answers are clearly seen in the maker movement. Innovative teaching, creativity and problem solving are the building blocks we need to set in place. What we explore, create, wonder about and tinker with forms the foundation of our learning. This spurs us on to further learning, learning that is self motivated, learning that includes others and forms the basis of collaborative understanding and community connection. When we have a feel for a concept, we more readily take on it’s definitions, rules, and exceptions in a real way. Nothing tells you that you’ve measured wrong when the birds keep slipping off the edge of the birdhouse.
So where are we in education right now? We’re at the corner of change and complacency. Change is uncomfortable and takes work. Complacency recognizes that something isn’t working but doesn’t move forward even though the situation is known. It’s more than watching a TV show you don’t like because you can’t find or reach the remote. It is arrogance that the system works for me or the select few in my range. Complacency recognizes that others are not only benefitting but being harmed yet still does not join in to begin to remedy the situation. Not knowing how to move forward so going back to old methods is a event that we cannot allow to happen.
This is where the phrase, Maslow before Bloom rings the loudest. How would the basic needs of life be accounted for each day? Food, water, clothing, shelter, safety take priority before addition or science lessons.
When lessons do appear, the question of how do they differ from the paper worksheet needs to be addressed. Filling in facts on a page tells you that the student can fill in blanks, not what they did. Counting on fingers, using a calculator, asking for the answers or using solid strategies are all possibilities. What we need to strive for is a student’s ability to know what the task is, the purpose for the task, the connection to the larger concept and the path taken to understand the concept. This is what we have to set out and expect all our students do. Practice makes permanent, not perfect.
Memorizing multiplication facts brings a false sense of knowing the same way a young child rapidly spell Mississippi or banana does. It has the look of real seafood but when you get right down to it, it’s mock crab. This false sense leaves little room for struggle, only instant success that is built on a very weak structure. When the child comes upon a harder task, the experience of working through, around and under to figure something out and know how you know it is not there. When we string more moments of unproductive learning and safe steps that have the look of success, we have failed. Bring out the five frames, ten frames, and Reknreks and put the pencils away until exploration builds to figuring a few things out. From there those math talks that we struggle to fit into the schedule become natural extensions of the moment. Now we are not the ones looping back to previous lessons to help students see connections, they are making them on their own and sharing this learning with the group. When asked how they know, they can answer in the moment instead of hemming and hawing until you give up and ask someone else. If you don’t how you got here, how can we move on?
When it comes to your child who is sick a remedy is sought and quickly; most often demanded. We have to look at schools the same way the world is looking to find a remedy vaccine for COVID19. Our remedy needs to come in the form of collaboration; the one thing we as teachers are the best at. As isolationists, we were built for a pandemic. True, not being able to connect with students to support them ripped teachers apart, yet we all scrambled once again to our separate corners to develop online lessons, create web pages of tasks and schedule online meet times with students. All the while we all said we didn’t know how to start, what to offer or what course of action worked best. We look to resources as a start, which is a valid source.
What we need to program into our go-to status is reaching out to staff members to start with discussion of questions, worries, ideas and then to co-creation of plans. How much more effective and stronger would our response and connection have been then? What better way to demonstrate what we mean when we say this generation is going to have to learn to work with world wide partners than to actually create multiple class group connections? A student in one area was in the same boat as another when COVID struck. We were all at home facing fears, doubts, uncertainty and the need to connect. This is also to note that many children faced further challenges and it is to be recognized that a Google Meet would not have been the answer to cover all needs.
My steps begin with my ongoing observations and reflection during this pause. Inequity of supplies, devices and connection is first. How are materials distributed? Equal is not equitable. Materials delivered without notice, support or guidance have little value. Materials are at times either hoarded due to limited supply, factoring insecurity. Look at how toilet tissue was cleared from shelves before we really even knew what COVID was! Materials end up getting dusty on shelves because there is fear of the unknown. If we have to be proficient at everything we do before we present it we will get nowhere. Also this is the opposite message we have for children. “How do you know you don’t like broccoli if you don’t try it?” How do you know you can’t read if you don’t use the clues on the page?” It is beyond time that we put our money where our mouth is on the issues facing us.
COVID has brought out all the issues we well meaningfully acknowledge but still sweep under the rug. Racism, inequity, mental health, food insecurity, financial struggles, need for connection and our destruction of land, air and water. How quickly will well meaning turn to complacency? Inaction is a dangerous precedent to send.
The massive numbers of death due to virus, violence and visible accidents that all happened…in…real…time…before…our…eyes is devastating to the point of being soul crushing. These psyche shaking revelations that are showing us collectively a change is needed, change is inevitable, change is crucial and change is now.
We do not have the luxury of looking back at history. We are history. The only way to solve the problems is to acknowledge our part in their making and work together for all. Our story is to heal the harm together.