Not only have educators been inundated with information on COVID-19, but they have had to retool, refocus, and rethink completely how they are going to connect with and teach their students. A lot is going on in our world right now, and my first instinct is that we need to slow down and focus on what is most important at this moment.
I have been thinking about how best I can support others in this time. Part of my “pause” is thinking about the importance of how do we get better moving forward because of this situation. I went back to this quote I shared in “Innovate Inside the Box” from Donna Volpitta, EdD, founder of the Center for Resilient Leadership:
Today, resilience has a much broader meaning. For researchers and professionals working with kids, it’s not just about “bouncing back.” It’s about “bouncing forward.”
Resilience doesn’t just mean getting back to normal after facing a difficult situation. It means learning from the process in order to become stronger and better at tackling the next challenge.
In Katie Martin’s latest post, she acknowledges the importance of recognizing that although “each teacher, school district, family, child, and community has its opportunities and challenges,” we also have an opportunity to create something compelling in education at this moment in time:
“I keep thinking necessity is the mother of all invention and this is the time to invent new structures, tear down ineffective ones and awaken hidden talents and passions in our children. Let’s think about how we can focus on connection and learning instead of recreating ineffective structures and routines of school that breed isolation and disengagement at home. Let’s not focus on how to cover it all remotely when we would have probably been spending the month (or more) prepping and taking tests anyway. Instead, could we see it as an opportunity to focus on what learners need and what they want to learn instead of what is in the pacing guide or
will bewould have been on the test, especially since they probably won’t remember it anyway?”
What I see moving forward is that people will start viewing what is essential in education, which is what the majority of educators have been advocating for since I started in the profession. There is more of a focus from the general public on the importance of creating meaning right now rather than solely focusing on what can be measured.
So as we temporarily move the majority of education in the world to these online spaces, there are two things to consider, that almost seems counterintuitive.
One of the most common questions people asked me was, “How do I convert my face-to-face course into an online course?”
The truth is, you can’t convert it. Learning isn’t like a file that converts between a .doc and a PDF and a Google Doc. We can’t simply substitute new tools and do the same exact activity.
The second consideration is that although our “teaching” may not look the same, the principles and focus on what is essential, should stay the same. In “Innovate Inside the Box,” I identified the “Core of Innovative Teaching and Learning,” and these ideas hold in any educational setting.
I would like to share some thoughts on each principle and some ideas for how they apply to an online environment. As Katie mentioned, everyone’s context is different, and I am hoping to provide these ideas for discussion. Still, ultimately, you have to figure out what works best for your unique situation.
1. Focus on Relationships
Although it is harder to “connect” in an online space, right now, it is more important than ever, that is where we start with our focus. For most students right now, “school” is the least of their concerns, or their family’s.
In this one minute video from Joe Sanfelippo, he shares these two crucial questions to start every day;
How are you doing?
Do you need anything?
LEADERS!!! In a time of uncertainty let’s make sure we are CONSISTENT and CONNECTED for those we serve. The 2 best questions to start the day are…HOW ARE YOU DOING? DO YOU NEED ANYTHING?#LeadFromWhereYouAre #1minwalk2work #ImpactTheNarrative #HackingLeadership pic.twitter.com/cfi5c0nuCB
— Joe Sanfelippo (@Joe_Sanfelippo) March 21, 2020
The idea is no different than greeting kids at the door in the morning to check in how they are doing, only the delivery.
A simple thing I did with my weekly GIF Friday question, was to just check in on people to see how they were doing and asked them to respond in GIF form. It provided an opportunity for people to share something funny and take a step back.
Every morning since we have been “social distancing,” I have been posting funny or warm videos to help people start the day. They might not provide much “educational value,” but they can have an impact on learning.
Check-in on your people early and often. (Do not limit that to students; staff and our communities need that as well. Allyson Apsey wrote this great post on team and community check-ins.)
2. Focus on Creating Empowering Learning Experiences.
Here is a simple shift to consider right now in online environments. Are you focused more on your teaching or their learning? The two are intertwined, but when we shift our thinking to first focus on what our students will learn, it is more about what they will create through their learning. I have witnessed people wondering how they are going to “teach” for hours on end in an online environment. No one will be able to lecture for massive lengths of time and is probably the reason why Ted Talks are limited to twenty minutes.
Can we share small portions of information, that can be delivered in synchronous or asynchronous formats, and have students spend the majority of their time doing meaningful creation (to them) to share their learning? Videos, podcasts, or any type of media that students can create to show their knowledge, in my opinion, will provide for much more in-depth learning than merely consuming information.
My assumption here, of course, is that if students are doing online courses, they have access to technology. I know this is not always the case, or it can be minimal. This is why we must embrace flexibility while also doing our best to figure out solutions to support our communities. In a conversation with one district leader, she shared that their school community had focused on providing not only devices but WiFi to ensure access to all students during this time. I appreciated her focus on creating opportunities for all students at the highest levels.
Households with limited technology might not be able to complete or do something on the same timeline as others. We also have to be considerate that some homes will have no access to technology to kids during the day, which is why it is crucial to check-in and understand what supports our school communities can provide.
The more we can have our students creating, reflecting, and connecting their learning, the better. Content is still valuable, but the more we can empower our students to create their learning, the better.
Are you focused more on “doing school” or “learning”?
3. Focus on Learner-Driven, Evidence-Informed Practice.
It is easier to identify what we don’t have, as opposed to what we do. This is true of our situations and in those that we serve.
Now, more than ever, we must identify what our students bring to the table and the strengths they have.
Have time to connect with your students and figure out what works best for them to highlight their strengths. This will be beneficial beyond school.
The reason that “evidence-informed” practice is important is to understand that students can share their learning and provide evidence in multiple ways. If we are going to highlight and tap into strengths, we cannot standardize assessments.
The questions below can be modified easily to support an online environment. Please feel free to use them, remix, and change, how you see fit.
4. Focus on Educator as a Learner First, Teacher Second
I have heard the words “unprecedented times” more in the past few weeks than I have heard in my lifetime. There is a lot of uncertainty and doubt right now, while there is an expectation of changing everything immediately. We need to slow down.
Referring back to Michelle Baldwin’s earlier tweet, the “pause” is essential right now. It is not feasible to say, “we will be back in a few months” with a program. That is not what I am saying at all because it is not realistic for many communities. What I am saying is that educators don’t need to do everything right now, and our focus should be more on the experience of online learning through the perspective of our learners first.
This is a question that I often ask; are we jumping straight to the teaching without doing the learning?
As educators, can we ask our students to share some reflections on their learning in meaningful ways, while also doing the same? Starting a vlog or blog right now could not only be valuable to grow as a learner but to have a better understanding of the potential impact it can have on student learning, and how we can make it better.
With a focus on learning first, we not only become more empathetic to the struggles of our students, we learn how we can grow through the process. We can go through it or grow through it. Embracing the role of being a learner first can ultimately lead to becoming a much better educator.
The ideas I shared above are important in teaching online or face-to-face. The strategies might change but what truly matters and is important should stay the same. I also love this advice from Rich Kiker:
As you dive into #remotelearning don’t toss the best “bricks & clicks” strategies that you used in your classroom. Be intentional about having students draw, journal, brainstorm, etc. offline to keep engagement high & learning varied. #KikerLearning #edchat #edtech #blendedbites pic.twitter.com/pyxkNZw6Yb
— Rich Kiker (@rkiker) March 23, 2020
The reason I have provided these thoughts is because a) I want to give some ideas to support and hopefully spark some conversation, and b) taking the time to reflect and connect my learning provides me some purpose and meaning each day.
For any or all of these ideas to be successful, one thing matters more than anything else—your health and well-being. There is so much going on in our world, and if we do not take care of ourselves, it will be impossible to help others effectively.
Please take care of yourself.