December 2020 Coaching Tip
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities). And while this quote depicted a time in the late 1700, we might say the same thing about our current situation with the global pandemic.
Certainly, the pandemic has exposed a contrast in ideals: science vs. ignorance and even fact vs. superstition. But putting those aside, every individual, family, business, educational system, health care system, building trade, profession, performing arts, athletics, and life in general has been impacted by this devastating disease. No one is unscathed; the virus is non-discriminating.
The world is struggling; no one knows when the new normal will emerge.
And, yet, schools are tasked to provide its students with opportunities for deep learning and total participation. That is, despite the growing uncertainties of remote learning vs. in-person teaching and learning. That’s the “worst of times” part. What about the “best of times” part?
There are some silver linings and positive aspects just waiting to be noticed.
Schools have become more creative in their thinking and planning. Flexibility is the operative word, encouraging both teachers and students to think out of the box. Interactions both virtually and in-person are more deliberate and thoughtful. Students who are learning remotely can spend the time they need to finish a project rather than move from task to task without completion; they can explore more about a topic if they are not rushed to completion. Gen Z’ers understand technology, online learning, and the power of the internet. Many are visual learners who use their own abbreviated language. They are “digital natives” and are quite comfortable using their smartphones and other devices because they are accustomed to surfing the web for information.
But, I’m curious… why do we think there will be consistency in programming when every district has its own set of criteria to make the decision about face to face, virtual, or a hybrid program of study? I’ll even wager that within each school there are multiple opinions and reaching consensus may not be possible. So, what’s a district to do?
Districts need to make decisions that have the best intensions of the students and staff and at the same time, consider profoundly the needs of our vulnerable groups. At the very best, schools offer multiple opportunities for students to continue their studies. At the very worst, the confusion and rollercoaster ride are overwhelming and threatening the health and emotional state of the school communities.
Student needs still must be met; balancing in-person and remote instruction and then pivoting back and forth is a reality. The conditions determine the setting and that is fluid. We went from emergency teaching last spring to a more defined, effectively structured plan for the new school year. Or, did we?
Did we take the lessons we learned just a few months ago and build a better plan that prepared us for the future? Did we really learn how to socially distance ourselves yet maintain our emotional connections? Does the health and safety of our students and staff outweigh the benefits of the isolation? Did we tap into our reserves and become more innovative both with instructional delivery and collaborative practices? Did we give technology the respect it deserves while forcing the instructional conversations to dictate the planning process? Did we fully understand the legalities of synchronous instruction balanced against the privacy of one’s home? Are the students who are successful remote learners the same ones who are typically successful in-person learners? Are we considering how students learn and how teachers teach?
These are only a few of my questions. I’m sure you have many more questions and more examples that address each one of them. But the fact remains… we are here and now in this critical time in our history… how can we support the teaching, learning, and health concerns of our parents, students, staff, and communities?
- Recognize that school must go on;
- Flip your classroom and adjust the curriculum… pare down and be more intentional about what is important for students to know and be able to do;
- Be creative and take some risks… we are all members in a community of learners;
- Communicate regularly and personalize the communication with a name, word, call, email, post, nod, or note;
- Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate… with each other and reinforce student collaboration by building it into your daily plans;
- Reflect on what is effective… how do you know and how do you make changes when necessary?
- Ask students what is working for them; how can we make “it” better… then, do it!
- Design long-term and project-based assignments… encourage student agency and ownership;
- Implement “Open Inquiry” approaches that are driven by the students… encourage group work to complete tasks;
- Understand the differences in motivation, participation, and engagement; adjust your thinking to embrace all three.
So, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water and ensure we have a strong curriculum, strong pedagogical practices, strong collaborative relationships and interactions, and a strong commitment to learn from our mistakes and improve how learning takes place regardless of the venue.