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The last week has proven to society something that we, in education, already know. Teachers care deeply about their students. I’ve seen so many examples of teachers making phone calls to families, having class Zoom meetings to just do a pulse check on each child, and going out of their way to make sure kids know that there’s an adult out there who cares. I’ve seen third grade teachers doing read alouds and high school teachers writing positive notes to seniors, knowing that they’ll miss out on graduation, varsity sports, the senior musical, and various concerts. It’s a reminder that collectively teachers are in this because they care about their students.

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Teaching is inherently relational and teachers care deeply about those they serve.  Teachers have proven that “social distancing” is more about physical distance than relational distance. They are maintaining relationships and building community despite the inherent barriers they face.

It’s not just teachers. I am incredibly grateful for the principals and district office leaders who have managed this transition quickly, often with patience and empathy. I am grateful for all cafeteria and food service staff who mobilized in a matter of a few days to ensure that students have access to a free breakfast and lunch every day during this crisis.

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There’s No Single “Right Way” to Do Distance Learning

I mention this because many of the pre-service teachers I work with are feeling uncertain right now. They’re not sure what distance learning should look like. They’re worried about students slipping through the cracks. They’re reading articles and tweets online lambasting teachers for giving students handouts or worksheets.

And yet . . .

I used to rail against worksheets and packets but then I realized that some kids love that stuff. Not out of compliance or brainwashing or whatever. They legitimately love the progression of skill-based work. Right now, some families need packets. They need structure and “busy work” as an escape.

And that’s okay.

Meanwhile, some kids need a ton of choice. Give them a full day of Genius Hour in distance learning and they’ll do something amazing. Give them a choice menu with five project ideas and watch them take flight! Let them do a Wonder Day and see them chase their curiosity. But other kids need a little more structure.

And that’s okay.

Right now, some families need packets. Others need projects. Others need ideas. Others need to be left alone as they grieve and heal and carve out time for themselves amid the chaos. Some of them have lost their jobs in the service and travel industries. Some are “essential workers” and they’re scrambling to get childcare. Still, others are telecommuting (is that still a term?) and they can’t take time off to teach and reteach concepts.

And that’s okay.

Some of the parents are eager to communicate and loving the phone calls home. Some of them aren’t answering the phone at all. And the ones who aren’t answering the phone might just be dealing with lost jobs and sick parents and unbearable stress. Some of them took every ounce of energy just to get out of bed. In other words, some parents may want to communicate more. Some may want to communicate less.

And that’s okay.

Every child is different. Every family is different. But there are universals. We all need connection and compassion. We all need choice and autonomy. We all need the permission to process this social distancing thing in our own way. We all need to be shown a little grace. The more choice and permission we can provide families, the better. Ultimately, we’re all handling this in different ways.

And that’s okay.

We are in uncharted territory right now and it’s amazing what teachers and school leaders have been able to accomplish with little direction and a chaotic context. Maybe it’s time we show ourselves a little grace and be okay with the idea that it’s not going to be perfect and there’s no single “right way” to do this distance learning thing.

And that’s okay.

A Warm-Up Idea for Your Students

When I taught 8th grade self-contained (all subjects), we did Show and Tell. Instead of explaining the object, students had to read a fictional journal entry from the perspective of the object. Some were funny. Many were tragic. But all were memorable. This might be an idea to try out with video conferencing. If you put students into small groups (such as the Breakout Room function in Zoom or separate small groups in Google Meet) they can explain their item and read their diary from the item. The other option is to do this in an LMS such as Google Classroom. I think I might do Show and Tell with my cohort next time we meet up. They’re stressed about getting certified as teachers and stressed about landing jobs. And, like everyone else, many of them feel lonely. Show and Tell might work well. Then again, it might tank. The only way to find out is to try it. Note: you can find these images on my Instagram page. Please feel free to follow me there.

This last week, we used the following as our warm-up. I’m not sure if it would work with younger students and it might lead to a few eye rolls at the high school level. But I thought I’d share it just in case.

It was a moment of levity that allowed me to do a quick pulse check of how people were doing. There was goofiness and a little laughter. For what it’s worth, my band name was The Frantic Navy Cheez-Itz, which sounds a bit like a ska band. My son’s band name would probably be The Moody Grey Oreos, which is definitely a progressive rock band name. Despite the silliness of the activity, this is also a way to see who might need a follow-up phone call. When you see “The I’m Not Okay Pink Pringles” you can make a quick mental note to make a phone call or email.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me

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