Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach? Vicki Vinton & Aeriale Johnson

By Fran McVeigh

Thursday, August 27th, #G2Great welcomed back familiar guest hosts Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson. It was a night eagerly anticipated by the #G2Great team as we celebrated a blog post written by Vicki on February 23, 2020, that included learning examples from Aeriale’s second grade classroom. That post, “Do We Underestimate the Students We Teach?” can be found here.

But more importantly, I was personally eagerly anticipating this conversation with Vicki and Aeriale as a toast to the end of summer 2020, this neverending summer that desperately needed a finale. Vicki Vinton has been a part of my summers in New York City as a group of us typically connect and catch up on life dating back to our first #WRRD chat. I also met Aeriale in NYC at a #TCRWP summer institute while she was a teacher in Alaska and her stories fascinated me. I have also been one of Aeriale’s admirers asking about her “book” as she has so much to say about student learning.

And yet this blog writing task seemed like a mountain to scale after the chat. For the first round of quotes, I pulled 11 pages of tweets from the full Wakelet (here) that I felt would illustrate the brilliance of the chat. If you missed the chat, you really will want to read through the Wakelet as it was impossible to capture all the brilliance of our one hour chat in one mere blog post and 10 tweets.

So let me begin at the beginning.

Do you know Vicki Vinton and Aeriale Johnson?

It’s sincerely my pleasure to introduce my friends, Vicki and Aeriale. (See if you learn something new about either of them.) Vicki is a writer. She is co-author of What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making, (blog post on Literacy Lenses here); author of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach, (blog post on Literacy Lenses here); The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language, (with Mary Ehrenworth); and a novel, The Jungle Law as well as a blogger at “To Make a Prairie.” Aeriale is an avid learner. This quote about Ellin Keene’s Engaging Children personifies my view of Aeriale: “I finished the book on a Tuesday; I integrated the four pillars of engagement she illustrates into my instruction on Wednesday.” Aeriale is a third grade teacher in San Jose, CA. in San Jose, CA, a 2016-18 Heinemann Fellow who blogs at Heinemann.com with posts such as “To Tiana, With Love,” as well as Kinderbender.com, the site of “Kinderbender: Drinking daily from the glass of tiny human giggles, hugs, innocence, brilliance, awe, and passion for life.” Both Vicki and Aeriale write extensively about all the brilliant learning that occurs when teachers are knowledgeable, build community and have high expectations.

Where do we begin?

“We must start their stories and identities with their excellence.” – Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

This quote came from Cultivating Genius and our June 18, 2020 chat (Literacy Lenses blog post here) just a little over two months ago. This book was also the #BookLove professional development book for elementary and secondary teachers this summer with two weeks spent on studying, reflecting, and listening to Dr. Muhammad twice.

How does this connect to the topic of “Underestimating Our Students?

Education is complicated. How we measure its effects is quite controversial and often very limiting. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to focus on values, beliefs, expectations, intellectualism, instruction, assessment and listening. I had to have some criteria in mind as I narrowed down tweets to use in this blog. The tweets that I immediately moved to the MUST use page were those that included statements about those topics and also matched my own beliefs and values.

Hmmm. Confirmation bias at work.

How do we focus on students without underestimating them and yet include their stories, their identities and their excellence?

Expectations … “the act or state of looking forward or anticipating” (dictionary.com)

John Hattie has teacher expectations at the top of his list of factors that impact student achievement with an effect size of 1.62. Other researchers have long documented the fact that a growth mindset allows teachers to focus on student assets instead of deficiencies. Research has shown that teachers may have lower expectations for students from low income families and/or for persons of color. It is a tragedy to set low bars of expectation for any students! As Vicki and Aeriale explain in the following tweets, “expectations” in the classroom need to be linked with learning opportunities.

To Think About: What are your expections? How do you communicate your expectations to students, caregivers, families, and the community?

Intellectualism … “the exercise of the intellect” (dictionary.com)

This emphasis on intellectualism builds an even higher target for students and their excellence. This is the call to thinking, to making thinking visible, and to applying learning as evidence of those higher pursuits by students. Students who are going to meet their potential are going to be challenged to grow every day. Low level tasks, worksheets, and activities will simply not exist in classrooms where intellectualism is the standard. Teachers in these classrooms will always be amazed by the challenging work that students do.

To Think About: How do you define intellectualism in your classroom and then communicate that value to students, caregivers, families, and the community? (Or are your children stuck being “students”?)

Instruction … “the act of assessing; appraisal; evaluation” (dictionary.com)

Instruction that values student stories, identities and excellence is rooted in a culture of belief that students can construct knowledge as they read and write. Right answers are not the norm. Inquiry is a focus and questioning is a routine expectation for students and not an inquisition by the teacher. Students need time and space to be curious and to build the relevance that matches their lives and leads to deeper curiosity and wonder.

To Think About: How do our basic beliefs about instruction emphasize curiosity and inquiry as well as nurturing genius?

Assessment … “the act of assessing; appraisal; evaluation” (dictionary.com)

Assessment, a word derived from the Latin word assidere, means to sit beside.  If we truly value meaningful assessments then we will consider the ones that allow us to sit beside students. We can share assessment results that are qualitative and rich in descriptions of all that students “can do” instead of lists of skills that may not YET be under the reader’s/writer’s control.

To Think About: How do you communicate what you value about assessments to students, caregivers, families, and the community?

Listening … “paying attention; heeding, obeying” (dictionary.com)

One of the most powerful tools in a teacher’s toolbox is the power of listening which is often underestimated. Wait time is seldom mentioned in new educational research but it still is a free attached, accessible resource. Time and how we allocate it is critical. It’s also an observable way of checking for alignment of values, beliefs and resources when matched with the priorities in the daily lesson plan/schedule.

To Think About: How do we ensure that students have enough time to make sure their invisible thinking is deeply understood?

In conclusion . . .

We all have different but yet equally challenging roles in education. Whether we are beginning to plan for school or we have already planned and executed the first week(s) of school, how will we continue to reflect on our expectations for our students? How will we be responsive to the students in front of us? What will show up in our time allocations? Our reflective blog posts? Our Twitter conversations? How will we use what we know to make this the best learning year possible for our students? Your values and beliefs will show in many visible ways as the year progresses. Prioritize based on intellectualism, instruction, assessment, and listening to your students and your families.

What are your expectations for your students? How will we know?

Resisting Professional Band-aids: Responsible Solutions for Real Issues

by Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to access the Wakelet

The time between the end of summer and the startup of a new school year is a period of great transition for teachers. There is always a sense of urgency that interrupts our thoughts throughout the day no matter where we are or what we are doing. This urgency comes to call in the middle of the night, rousing us awake with never-ending mental lists and we mumble, “Oh yeah… I almost forgot… I need…” This is all true in an ordinary year, but 2020 has been anything BUT ordinary!

Everything is strange, daunting, and is supercharged with a current of risk. The solid ground beneath our feet that has been laid by years of experience for some, or preconceived expectations for others, is now wavy and uneven. This is going to be really hard, and it seems like everyone feels like a “first-year” teacher. We are a little over our heads (to say the least).

So when I was asked to write this post about resisting the urge to turn to quick fixes in the face of big problems in the form of these “professional band-aids” it couldn’t have come at a better time. I started this post as I often do, reading the Wakelet, and reflecting on the many words of wisdom shared by the #G2Great Professional Learning Network (PLN). As I followed the questions and answers of the chat, I found the calm that has been lacking these past few weeks. I felt gratefully reassured. I was reminded that although this is not a typical year, the shared wisdom of my community was going to be enough to get me through.

We Got This…

Believe that you have the skills to be completely responsive to what your students need this year. Believe that your students are coming into your classrooms, no matter if it is a virtual space, physical space, or a bit of both, with life experiences that are going to help them grow. Assume an asset lens and come at teaching and learning from a position of strength. We got this.

Follow @franmcveigh

We are Safe Here…

We can construct a safe place for teaching and learning. Feeling safe comes from knowing you have what you need. When thinking about this year, having what you need might be a Chromebook, extra broadband, or a consistent community meeting to check-in and find out how everyone is doing. Safety comes from everyone taking extra time to reflect on our thoughts and feelings. Talk collectively about what is going on with the students in front of you. See them. Hear them. Be with them. This is how we let the whole classroom community know we are safe here.

Follow: @LRobbTeacher

Make a Plan to Teach Them…

Resist the allure of skill and drill programs. In the short term, it may feel like you are giving kids what they need with one of these programs. On the surface, students seem engaged as they recite a frozen script, but believe this; not every child needs the same thing. That is the one constant, and that is why there is no one best way to teach them. Instead, put your faith in formative assessments, think about what they need, and make a plan to teach them.

Follow: @DrMaryHoward

Look for the Bright Spots…

This school year is not going to be like any other year – ever. It is going to require solutions to problems you may never have encountered before. This kind of situation requires a deep commitment to doing everything you can to think “outside the box.” Be an advocate for putting students’ needs first and make sure you celebrate every moment of success. In other words, look for the bright spots.

Follow: @vrkimmel

Put Our Faith in Each Other…

Work smarter by having a strategic plan. Knowledge is a great comfort during uncertain times. Knowing what needs to be taught and when helps a lot! Gather all your assets meaning your colleagues and come together as a group to prioritize what is most important. Then repeat this cycle: teach, reflect, and collaborate to make a new plan. We don’t have to do this alone, let’s put our faith in each other.

Follow: @Lau7210

Believe in the Power of Story…

Now more than ever we need to feel connected. Our humanity stems from the stories we share with each other. Stories that come from books, stories we write, and stories that come from the mouths of our students. A story is a mighty thing: it teaches students about each other, it honors who students are, what they believe, who they may aspire to become. Children need to be known, they need to tell their stories so listen to them. Lift those classroom moments up with markers of joy and teach them how to believe in the power of story.

Follow: @dubioseducator

Keep the Conversation Going…

Now is the time to rally, now is the time to come together and fight for what is in the best interest of our students. Having the benefit of multiple perspectives is not a luxury but a necessity. Talk to teachers in your school who you might not ordinarily seek out. Gather all the information you can and make some decisions on how to proceed. I am reminded of something a friend once told me, “I think better in the company of others.” Me too, so let’s all promise to collaborate and keep the conversation going.

Follow: @ElisaW5

As I close out this post I (mercifully) realize I have flipped this narrative of the impossible year to one that is full of potential. It could be that in the face of great adversity I might gain some real clarity for what matters most in school. I would not have gotten to this place without the collective wisdom of all of you. I am very grateful to be a teacher among you. Have a great year.

Classroom Management: Strategies for Achievement, Cooperation, and Engagement

by Mary Howard

On 8/13/20, we welcomed first time #G2Great guest host Nancy Steineke to our chat to discuss her incredible new book: Classroom Management: Strategies for Achievement, Cooperation, and Engagement (Heinemann). We explored this topic on 2/6/20 in Weeding Misguided and Harmful Practices: Behavior Management and 10/16/16 in Classroom Management with Heart: Facilitating Intrinsic Motivation but it was a distinct honor to have Nancy share her wisdom as an author and educator who brought this topic to life.

I first heard about Classroom Management when Heinemann Publishing shared Nancy’s podcast: Building a Collaborative Classroom. Listening to her words, I was so mesmerized by the message that I immediately began to capture her thinking on my notes I could share. There was so much wisdom but it was these words that lingered with me long after the podcast ended:

“When teachers try to control their students, it makes you a sheriff in the town and everyone else then becomes a potential criminal. That’s not a way for a teacher to teach and it offers kids very little reason to buy into what the sheriff is proposing.” 

This is a stark reality of how classroom management is too often perceived. This disconnect is evidenced by the continued fascination with suspect yet very popular management ploys such as Clip Up/Down Charts and varied tools that elicits the image of an instructional “sheriff” publicly labeling students according to a level of behavioral compliance. This is far removed from the collaborative process Nancy describes in her book and it sets us all up for failure and may have serious consequences for our students. Nancy clearly explains this mismatch on page 5 of Classroom Management:

Through a system of numerous sticks with possibly a few carrots (the most common carrot being “Behave and I, the teacher, will leave you alone”) might induce student compliance in the moment, it does damage in the long run. Our students might learn to be quiet and follow our directions without a question, but do these students’ behaviors prepare them to be independent learners beyond your classroom? Do they reflect deep content learning? No. They simply teach students how to survive in your classroom? 

We asked Nancy to respond to three questions around her book that I’ll share across this post. As we dig deeper into classroom management, it seems as if contemplating her writerly BOOK WHY is a good starting point: 

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope it would have on the professional world?

Classroom management is challenging, often a burden we wrestle with silently because admitting management problems feels like admitting weakness. Compounding the problem, many of us entered our work without positive role models to emulate. When I was a student, my teachers relied on the twin weapons of compliance and punishment in their quest for class control. In moments of desperation early in my career, I fell back on those tools as well. Through trial and error I stumbled along, gradually refining my work with students until finally reaching this conclusion: For students and teachers to thrive, we have to develop and nurture positive relationships with students and between students.

But, fostering a supportive classroom community is easier said than done. Depending on grade level, teachers manage 30 to 175 co-workers (students) every day. Plus, we teachers have to cover our content as well! Because of the ever present pressures of limited time for content coverage combined with looming high stakes assessments, it’s easy for teachers to slip back into that rut of compliance and punishment because it seems expedient. Unfortunately, neither students nor teachers thrive under these conditions. Expecting unquestioning compliance often creates a “teacher versus students” atmosphere and the result is untold stress and dissatisfaction for everyone.

So what motivated me to write this book? My hope is that the lessons and insights offered will guide teachers to move towards a more collaborative approach to classroom management that enables teachers and students to work together. Also, this “roadmap” will give teachers direction and help them avoid the time wasting, relationship wasting “trial and error” classroom management learning curve so many of us struggle with.

I suspect that every educator reading her words can relate to how our own experiences can shape how we view and approach classroom management – for better or worse. I’d like to highlight words that are especially relevant at a time in our history where we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic induced challenge the likes of which none of us have experienced before:

“For students and teachers to thrive, we have to develop and nurture positive relationships with students and between students.”

Nancy acknowledges that there are inherent challenges associated with this lofty goal. Luckily for all of us, she addresses that challenge across the pages of her book as well as within our #G2great chat. And so with her book in my mind, I carefully revisited her twitter inspired wisdom and noticed several important points that can support educators as they begin to maneuver this inevitable shifting view challenge. I’m so grateful for Nancy’s generous chat wisdom that formed the basis of these eight BIG IDEAS:

BIG IDEA #1: Maintain your sights on the ultimate goal  

I open with this tweet since how we approach classroom management can serve as a roadblock or an invitation to “joy, engagement, and investment from students” that surfaces based our guiding purpose. As Nancy reminds us, the contradictory message that accompanies the triplet terms of control, coercion and compliance is likely to have a negative impact on students and can also blur how we interact with students in ways that could make that impact linger for the long haul. 

BIG IDEA #2: Define the term “Classroom Management”

Early in the chat, Nancy distinguished between two opposing meanings of “classroom management.” This is an essential reminder that it’s not the term that is problematic but how we define and interpret that term in the company of children. The key word is “transformational” as it applies to the reach our definition in action can have on its recipients. Control is short lived but often has unwanted consequences. Transformational implies that this reach will change students in positive ways for the long-term.  

BIG IDEA #3: Embrace community as your foundation

Nancy’s point about building community even in the best of times and what that could look like in the worst of times is important. As many schools are transitioning to the new year in a virtual space, we must cannot lose sight that those personal connections are more critical than ever. Relationships, community and connections put us on solid ground regardless of the topic, grade or setting. This should be our first consideration no matter where or what learning takes place.

BIG IDEA #4: Offer clear and explicit instruction

We must acknowledge that the positive classroom learning environment our children need to thrive will not happen by chance. This requires us to explicitly and consistently support these understandings through teacher modeling, teacher and peer supported practice and ongoing independent application. This is not something that can merely be scheduled into the calendar. Rather, it must become integral to what we do across the learning year to ensure student success over time. 

BIG IDEA #5: Create visible paper trail references

To support students as they move from explicit instruction and in-progress learning over time, it is helpful to create concrete visual paper trails. These can offer supportive tools that students can refer to and watch grow along with their growing understandings and shifting perspectives. When these tools are co-created, students take ownership of those written ideas as they engage in problem solving behaviors with peers that will then lead them to increasing collective independence.

BIG IDEA #6: Look beyond your own lens of understanding

It’s human nature to approach our lives by gazing through a personal reflective mirror as a measure for everything around us. Unfortunately this can promote an “all about me” perspective. But when we are willing to turn that reflective lens based on the perspective of students, it will allow us to honor what we do from their viewpoint. In the process, we understand that their behaviors tell us a great deal about who they are and even suggest how we may be inadvertently contributing to those behaviors.

BIG IDEA #7: Celebrate your role as decision-maker

Nancy’s story illustrates the power of choice and how those choices can provoke or empower students. Our day–to-day observations inform those decisions. Thus if we recognize our choices are flawed we can open our minds to use those choices as a springboard to new thinking based on the needs of students. It takes courageous commitment to recognize a mismatch between what we do and the reality of how what we do impacts students. This can be a professional nudge to adjust our choices on their behalf.

BIG IDEA #8: Invite negotiation leading to meaningful shifts

Nancy helps us to understand classroom management based on a spirit of collaboration between teachers and students. Collaborative negotiation invites student voices as we create a partnership in an ongoing process that celebrates shared ownership of the learning process. I see this as the heart and soul of the “classroom management” Nancy so eloquently describes in her book. Her words inspire us to redefine classroom management so that we might redesign what that could look like in action.

With these big ideas in mind, I’d like to turn back to Nancy’s words of wisdom in our next reflective question. Her hopeful takeaways support and extend the eight BIG IDEAS that Nancy inspired:

What are your big takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

  • The most productive approach for managing a classroom is to do it with our students, collaborating with them to build a classroom community.
  • Expanding responsibility to your students in a thoughtful and scaffolded way isn’t losing control: it is freeing to everyone.
  • A teacher should never try to “go it alone.” When problems occur, it is an opportunity to collaborate and problem solve with the class.
  • Strong relationships are based on mutual respect. True respect comes when teachers deliberately build a bridge between their own perspectives and the realities of their students.

My final thoughts…

As an extension to my BIG IDEAS and Nancy’s takeaways, I’d like to add two final tweets. In these additions, Nancy beautifully integrates our current reality as many educators face a new school year within a virtual space. This is wise advice as the 2020-2021 school year begins anew:

On behalf of our #G2great team, I would like to express deep gratitude to Nancy Steineke. The knowledge she so generously shares in her book and on our #G2great chat is relevant to us all no matter what or where we may teach. Her words renew my hope that educators everywhere can begin to re-envision how they will approach classroom management in the future. I find it comforting to know students will become the fortunate benefactors of this renewed spirit for a familiar term. This is Nancy’s gift to each of us.

And so I close this post with Nancy’s sage advice in our final question:

What is message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

When working with students, do your best to see their perspective and put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you received the feedback you’re tempted to share with a student? Would it make you feel happy and appreciated or resentful, hurt, sad, or angry? No one enjoys humiliation and it is natural for a student to make an effort to save face at the teacher’s expense, escalating a conflict. Instead of offering students negative feedback, be attentive to all the positive contributions students bring to your classroom every day. Celebrate each student by telling them what you’ve noticed, showing that each and every one of them is an appreciated, important member of your class.

Thank you, Nancy!

LINKS

Classroom Management: Strategies for Achievement, Cooperation, and Engagement by Nancy Steineke (Heinemann, 2020)

Heinemann Podcast with Nancy Steineke: Building a Collaborative Classroom

My notes on Nancy’s Podcast  

Positive Notes from Nancy Steineke

Creating Safe Spaces in a Virtual Community How to Develop Online Classroom Norms from Nancy Steineke

Finding Your Student Advocate Voice

By: Brent Gilson

The Wakelet of this chat can be found here

As I type this some teachers have returned to school for the new school year while others are beginning very soon in whatever capacity has been dictated by their local authorities. The 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 school experience will be one for the history books. The inequality that was so deeply woven into our education systems rose quickly to the surface when we could see nothing else. Don’t be fooled none of the inequity was new, it is just more widespread. There have been kids who did not have access to technology outside of the school since technology entered our schools. There have been students who did not have a safe place to go after school. There have been educational practices that oppress our students far before COVID-19.

Student advocacy is no more important now than it was before.

The difference is, of course, students that traditionally require less advocacy, because the circumstances of their life allowed for an easier path than others, now face hurdles they were ill-prepared for. In a search to find relief for that newfound discomfort we have renewed our calls for student advocacy. My hope, if anything good is to come of COVID impacted school systems is that the advocacy doesn’t fade away and we solve the discomfort for the privileged and that we continue working for all students.

It can be scary to speak up. I took part in the Institute for Racial Equity in Literacy this summer. There were elements that were fantastic, however when we broke out into affinity groups a common refrain from white educators was about the discomfort they felt pushing back against the system. Fears of being ostracized by their co-workers, perhaps being looked over for advancement in their schools for causing trouble. I was pissed. Here we were in an institute lead by some of the best educators I have had the pleasure to learn from and as soon as we are left to our own devices we take steps backwards. Our students can’t afford steps backwards. As educators, we must find our voice to advocate for ALL of our students. Stopping there is not much better than doing nothing. Voices don’t move things unless you are Blackbolt of the Inhumans (comic geek reference lets see who notices 🤓 ). We gotta work, and our students need to see us doing it.

We also need to be aware of what students are facing, the systems that make up our schools were designed for white students, this might be uncomfortable news but it shouldn’t be new. So when we are looking at advocating for change away from “what has always been done” we must recognize that what has always been done is likely rooted in white supremacy and advocating against it is best for ALL students. To do nothing is to do harm and take part in curriculum violence. You can learn more about that here in a Teaching Tolerance article by Stephanie P.Jones (Thanks to the amazing Tricia Ebarvia and Dr. Kim Parker for sharing it with me)

It is funny because I am a part of the team and I wanted to push back on this question haha. I have been accused of being mean in my pushback often. I don’t always listen to understand because some people hold tight to dangerous views and I am not here to listen and learn, they won’t be teaching me anything. This is most certainly a closed mindset but I think of it as a filter, if my students’ wellbeing is the focus why allow the distractions of harmful practices to take up “thinking” space? If ideas are potentially harmful they do not deserve an equal voice or the freedom to express their feelings with me (I welcome pushback here, you all know where to find me 😘 )

Our students have so much stacked up against them and more often than not our BIPOC students have even more.

And with all of these roadblocks to success, these hurdles and hoops to jump through we see students falter. Kids pushback and face school discipline, perhaps retaliatory actions from teachers and administrators. So it really is up to us to do the pushing. There is no room for meeting a consensus if the end result is not the best possible option for students. Here Cornelius Minor reminds us where we need to be putting our energy.

Inequity in education is probably the most visible it has been in my lifetime but none of the issues is new. Racism, access to technology, poverty, limited community services, access to quality medical services, water quality, unsafe schools and homes, ZOOM rules 🤯 , homework policies, discipline policies that unfairly target Black and Brown students. There are countless other hurdles that meet our students in the academic realm. The dire need our students have for teachers to advocate on their behave is immeasurable. Good intentions are not enough. We can peddle kindness like Ron Popiel selling a tabletop rotisserie for 4 easy payments of $99.99 but that is not going to address the systems. As teachers, we need to advocate with both our voice and our actions. We can’t keep putting bandaids on cracks in a dam hoping it will hold. We can’t sit back waiting for the day things change.

As I was writing this the words of Dena Simmons which you can find here came to mind. She talks about Social Emotional Learning and the need to address the issues caused by white supremacy and racism as we do that work or it is what she calls, “white supremacy with a hug”. As I wrote this I thought about how Advocacy without Action is just words with a smile. If we are not actively doing something to tear down the systems that cause inequity we give them permission to exist.

Well, this has been a post. As a final thought, I want to bring up a question Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul brought up during IREL20 when speaking about ways we (white educators) can address racism and work towards equity,

“What are you willing to give up?”

This is another point that I think applies to advocacy work. What are we willing to give up?

Are we willing to put our students before our comfort? Are we willing to put our students before our work relationships? Before our standing in a school? Advocacy is rarely popular because it is pushing back against an established thing, but with students at the centre of our decision making we need to work for what is best for them and ride through the turbulence that this good work might cause in our school community.

Change is Inevitable: What the Pandemic Has Shown Educators

by Fran McVeigh

So much change in the world. But as I listen to conversations about schools, I hear the phrases “reopening plans” and “reimagining learning” and a whole slew of “re-” words.

No.

No.

NO!

Words matter.

This is so NOT about “again” or ”again and again.” There is no “re-” prefix that fits these times. The decisions that are being made are about the best ways to OPEN for the 2020-2021 school year. There is no RE-OPEN if the schools are not already open for 2020-2021. In most places, the year has not yet begun. It cannot be starting AGAIN before the opening day on the calendar! Take that prefix out of your vocabulary, please!

Chill!

Breathe!

Listen!

Actions matter.

Our #G2Great chat on Thursday, July 30th was the fourth one in the past four months dealing with change and the archived Wakelet is here. You can review the chats through the archived Wakelets or the blog posts about April 2nd, May 14th and June 11th chats. All the chats literally dripped with positivity. Corresponding content on social media accounts varies as time progresses. Many teachers left brick and mortar classrooms on a Friday in March to pick up a form of Distance Learning the following Monday morning. That required weekend work. Work that has continued for months. States, districts and building staff had different visions for that distance learning. Full days of instruction? Support only? No new learning? The mandates varied. You may remember the word ultracrepidarian from that first April post but here it is again for your convenience.

Ultracrepidarian means “noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise: The play provides a classic, simplistic portrayal of an ultracrepidarian mother-in-law.” (dictionary.com link)

Everyone has an opinion about education whether they are a product of public education or not. Everyone has an opinion about the effectiveness of distance learning whether they participated or not. This post will focus on both lessons learned and planning for the future for the best opening for the upcoming 2020 school year.

What have we learned?

Cornelius Minor reminds us in We Got This. Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be that “education should function to change outcomes for whole communities.” Changing outcomes for whole communities… Not just one section but whole communities. Continue to think about that as you read on and / or check out other wisdom from Cornelius here.

Focus on Students

Lesson Learned: As Aeriale Johnson stated in the quote above, our connections to students survived the transition to distance learning last March. We knew our students. We had their trust. We had this. Whatever boundaries were placed on our work, we were able to transcend them . . . for the students.

Planning for the Future: We have to figure out how to connect to our students’ hearts and minds. Immediately. Every second spent on connections is vital. Every second is time well spent because it is not going to be easy to begin a transition year – no matter what the transition is. The 2020-2021 school year is going to be difficult. In fact, it will take time and energy that will gnaw at our very fiber as we continually wonder “Is this enough?” Our answer will be, “It depends!” And educators will also need to nurture their collaboration partners, their teams, their communities in order to grow and learn together. #BetterTogether!

Name the Inequities and Plan to Overcome Them

Lesson Learned: It’s complicated. Making sure students are safe is priority one. Basic needs must be met before learning can occur. There is no one plan that fits for every district in a single state let alone a plan that meets the needs of every student in every state in the U.S.

Planning for the Future: Because this work is going to be school and community specific, please think about the following questions and their answers as you plan. How were needs met last spring? What did we accomplish? Who were our community partners? Where are resources aligned with needs? Where do resources need to be better allocated? Who and where are our continued allies in this work? Who are the folks in our community that need to lead the planning for wrap around resources that will enable families and communities to be successful?

Focus on the World

Lesson Learned: Shrinking our lives down to our households during mandatory quarantines and lockdowns served some basic prevention principles for Covid-19. And yet, students craved knowledge of others as well as the connections with their classmates that were previously listed.

Planning for the Future: It may seem like a huge contrast to go from a focus on the students, those beseeching eyes that will be peering out of boxes on screens, to focusing on the world. But the world is literally the future of the students. Our students can and will impact the world today, tomorrow and the future. They can and will create change that will reverberate around the world. Change may begin within ourselves, our schools, our communities, but it will be the shot fired across the bow that will be heard around the world. And how we respond will be the critical moments frozen in our timelines that we will revisit and reflect on the need to allow ourselves grace as we press onward!

Add in the Technology that Matches the Work

Lesson Learned: It doesn’t have to be cute. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can’t be lessons that last for hours. Hard work pays off. And yet technology is wonderful when it works and the pits when it doesn’t!

Planning for the Future: Communication with families provided a window into their needs. Every child in the household cannot be using a different platform. Every child cannot be online for synchronous learning at the same time. Not enough devices. Not enough bandwidth for simultaneous streaming videos. And the added stress if adults in the house also need to be online for work! How can you provide flexibility in access to the learning work for students?

Now Write Your Curriculum

Lesson Learned: Priorities had to be set. What did you use for criteria? What was the response from your families and community? Capitalize on the overarching ideas from the previous lessons. Meet with parents/caregivers. Respond to their questions/concerns.

Planning for the Future: What are the big ideas that impact curricula? Delivery system is one aspect and the content is another. Student autonomy in working through the curricula / instruction at their own pace is critical. Not all work can be synchronous and meet the student, family and community needs. Remember Cornelius Minor’s words. “You are not the expert. You are positioned to find the answers.” Teachers everywhere are positioned to find the answers. You are free of the task of downloading knowledge. Your task is to provide time, choice and voice so that students can find the answers.

In conclusion . . .

Whatever you do or dream you can do – begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Begin the 2020-2021 school year with a plan. Focus on your dream. Build in all the flexibility that will allow you to respond to the needs of the students, their relationships, the world, the technology available as well as focus the curriculum. Construct the curricula with your students so it is relevant and engaging. Bring that beacon of light into your work with your students as you “change outcomes for whole communities.”

YOU GOT THIS.

Thank you, Valinda Kimmel, for this inspiring chat that showcased so many moments of success for educators that will inspire educators to the many possibilities for student learning!