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I am one of the lucky ones who haphazardly fell into this incredible career. Somehow the stars aligned, and I found myself in a job where I laugh, imagine, discover, read, explore, and grow with young humans each day. I have rarely experienced Sunday evening blues. I have never dreaded returning to work after a long holiday break.
Teaching suddenly feels overwhelming, defeating, and just plain hard.
All the things that I love about this job: the ease of a well-orchestrated classroom culture, captivated faces, the sound of laughter, the feel of high fives… All of these things have been reduced to distracted, screen-fatigued faces with muted voices in little boxes on my computer. Before, I knew that while it wasn’t always easy or pretty, I could create magic within the four walls of my classroom. Now I sit alone within those walls.
So, instead of spending the last two days of my holiday break feeling sorry for myself, I set out to explore how I could make this stretch of distance learning magical or at least manageable. I wrote this for myself. I hope it helps you too.
I started with the awe-inspiring podcast, Unlocking Us, with Brene Brown and Priya Parker titled The Art of Gathering. Within the first five minutes, Pryia poses the questions given to her by her mother.
“What is it that I know what to do? Where is the need? How can I help?”
The discussion then centered on how historically, gatherings have served a distinct purpose in our worlds. Barn-raisings, baby showers, and weddings are all gatherings that were developed to solve a problem, serve a purpose, or meet a need. Each type of gathering also comes with a set of expectations and norms. We often find comfort in those gathers because we know what to expect. However, we can also get stuck in the tradition and miss opportunities for new growth. Pryia asks the question, “Why are we doing this in the first place? How might we design this so it looks fresh and like us?”
Although the podcast does not broach education, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I am mourning the tradition and normalcy of the ‘physical gathering’ of my students and the emotional needs that were met within that physical space. And, if my needs are not getting met, what about our students’ needs? Because we can no longer gather physically, how can I meet our emotional needs virtually?
Aside from the tangible needs schools offer: education, child care, and nutrition, these are the emotional needs that were met when I gathered students in my classroom. Now I am challenging myself to meet them through the screen. Wish me luck!
Human Connection and Belonging
Every day I would hug or high-five my students as they entered my room. I would say their names and look them in the eye. I would connect. It started our day on a human level before we ever started an academic lesson. This is more challenging online because while I am connecting with 1 student, I tend to lose the rest. You know what I am talking about! However, let’s make every student feel seen and heard Every. Single. Day.
I will orchestrate human connection by:
1- taking the time to know my students. We will play Last One Standing, Two Truths and A Lie, Would You Rather, and all the rest! I will ask questions. And I will listen to their answers.
2- incorporating personal interests in lessons when at all possible. Our fluency passages, dictation sentences, and word problems will reflect these children and their experiences.
3- altering expectations of independent, monotonous tasks and assignments. I will work relentlessly to orchestrate cooperative learning virtually. It is important. They are lonely.
Am I the only one or is it more difficult to orchestrate and maintain excitement these days? I want to look forward to something each week! I am going to create moments my young humans will be enthralled with and anxiously await.
I will orchestrate excitement by:
1- creating a content-related surprise and give daily clues
2- scheduling a guest speaker
3- creating a contest
4- playing a new game
I will experiment, read the thrilling book, use the voices, do all the things I have always done… I vow we will be excited!
Hands-on is hard virtually. Just getting students to turn on their cameras and look at the screen is a win. How can we make lessons engaging without feeling like a performer all day?
I will orchestrate engagement by:
1- planning more variety. Now is the time to keep things fresh and not do the thing I’ve done a thousand times before.
2- planning physical engagement. We will stand up, do the motions, and move!
3- limiting passive listening/learning. Now is not the time for my 20-minute lecture.
4- giving one measurable goal each lesson and providing feedback so students can measure his/her own progress.
5- playing music
6- giving BREAKS- I will have developmentally appropriate expectations of the time my students can sit still and listen in front of a computer.
I think as I have gotten more overwhelmed and stress about online education, my usual stand-up teaching style has taken a hit. How can we bring back the light-heartedness we all so desperately need?
I will orchestrate humor by:
1- telling jokes. Yes, we used to have a joke or riddle of the day.
2- playing funny, fast games as warm-ups or for transitions. Have you ever played “The Wrong Answer Game?” It’s hilarious. Mad Libs is great too. Let’s be silly.
3- not taking this all too seriously. I will take this as an opportunity to model positivity and optimism. How many hilarious things naturally happen during our online lessons. Let’s all start a book!
Kids need to know that we are all in this together! We are a class; we are a tribe. Teachers spend the first few weeks of school building class community when we are in person. How can we recreate this now?
I will orchestrate community by:
1- being honest. Let students know how it feels to be on this side of the screen. Kids are typically empathetic. Tell your students it is rough to teach to a crowd of profile icons when they turn their cameras off. Let them know that you are human too.
2- genuinely asking them what I can do to make their online learning experience more enjoyable. They may just have some brilliant insights we haven’t thought about.
Of course, this is not going to last forever, and yes, we can do hard things. But perhaps if we can recognize a few of our needs that aren’t being met and focus on implementing them into our online “gatherings,” we will all be better for it. This is our chance. “What is it that we know what to do? Where is the need? How can we help?” Let’s not miss opportunities for new growth and a fresh look.