By Denise Karratti
Miki Tomita, founder and CEO of Education Incubator, once shared that, “As educators, we are given the gift of a year in a child’s life.” These words continue to echo in my mind. The school year is almost over, so how can we ‘intentionalize’ the remaining few weeks, cherishing our gift?
As of early April, many bell schedules and routines have been altered to accommodate our increasing student population and sanitation needs. Staggered recesses, lunches, and release times have been modified to separate students safely. Designated walking paths, drop-off and pickup zones have been outlined. Classrooms, cafeterias, buses, and even restroom capacity have new limits. Mask breaks, elbow bumps, announcements over the PA reminding students to keep their distance are all part of our new norm.
A mix of emotions ripple throughout our campuses. Students squeal in excitement upon seeing their friends. Some are overwhelmingly shy and retreat to corners as it’s been a long time since they’ve been surrounded by anyone other than their families, or it’s a new campus, or their friends are in another cohort. Many are tired as they adjust their circadian rhythms and bedtimes. Most are grateful for the opportunity to interact with their teachers and receive immediate feedback.
Similarly, teachers celebrate with joy because they’ve missed having students in 3-D. However, some are filled with great concern regarding their personal health. Most, if not all, are overwhelmed as the difficult task of teaching faces yet another wave of transition.
Colleagues across the state recount their experiences of sloshing around in the midst of changing tides.
Mrs. K (middle school): “Trying to conduct a whole class discussion in the first days of students’ return to school, I was met with crickets. I joked and asked students to, 'Please unmute your mic'. It seems after having been in a virtual setting for sometime, the students needed to warm back up when it came to having in-person conversations in a classroom setting.”
Mr. S (high school): “We have actually had 50% of our students back on campus since before spring break. It’s been interesting, but definitely good to have them back! My brain hurts after trying to do concurrent teaching though.”
Mr. E (elementary school): “Time management. Some activities took half as long as I thought they would. Some took three to four times as long. Feels like my compass is off. For new students, this is the first time they are coming to school in the middle of a pandemic.”
So how do we navigate these unfamiliar waters? What can we do to END with a bang?!
Many of us have acquired new skill sets from our experiences in a virtual classroom. We’ve found effective ways to increase equity of voice, make students’ thinking visible, and increase the frequency of our formative assessments. More than ever we’ve seen that social-emotional learning (SEL) is not just a checkbox, but something we embed in our practice as we work with students. Strong instruction is strong instruction. Let’s persist in strengthening those connections and resist the temptation to slide into comfort. As students return face-to-face, our efforts to engage should not cease. Let’s use our digital whiteboards, continue those emotional weather checks, poll students, and keep our teacher talk time short, meaningful, and interactive.
There are many who are concerned about learning loss. Yet the very idea of learning loss falls into a deficit mindset. What if we nourish the idea of gains? In this challenging situation, students and educators are growing in their ability to be resilient, pivot, troubleshoot, create, communicate, advocate, and empathize. COVID has provided us with a crash course in honoring multiple perspectives, gratitude, and patience. While these skills are harder to assess, they are equally, if not greater, in importance. These are the skills needed in inquiry, problem solving, and collaboration. What better way to address any perceived academic shortfalls? Let’s continue to nourish each other as we each work through our emotions and trials. Send an email recognizing a colleague’s contribution; text a message of thanks; and compliment generously in passing, in the parking lot, everywhere. Let’s continue to nourish hope by celebrating when we see students and educators choosing optimism as they adapt yet again to new routines and activities. Let’s continue to nourish the opportunities.
This is our time to dabble and be daring. We never know what we will discover. This year we’ve created career day video playlists, held drive-up school picture taking, invited community members into our classrooms for virtual read alouds, and held countless PD webinars online. The structure of these events had not been questioned pre-pandemic and now due to their highly successful outcomes these new structures are catalyzing future options.
Terms like “roomies and zoomies” or “seaties and meeties” were coined to describe when teachers work with students in-person and online simultaneously. To encourage a “one class” mindset, teachers ask seaties to build on answers provided by meeties, or vice-versa. Teachers are intentionally building community by pairing up seaties and meeties to do group work in breakout rooms. Classes are partnering up, connecting students with peers or mentors from different schools, marking the beginning of what could become a “one district” mindset. Our ability to communicate meaningfully despite our distance opens a whole new world of possibilities. Let’s courageously pilot innovative ideas on a small scale with the intention to carry forward what works and build upon it.
This is our opportunity to reimagine. Let’s reimagine our school culture, classrooms, and our roles as educators. Let’s reimagine curriculum, assessment, and professional development. Let’s reimagine what school could be, maximizing the time we have now as this END is really just the beginning!
Denise teaches seventh grade AVID, sixth-eighth grade English, and is also an academic coach at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She is a Hawaiʻi State Teacher Fellow with National Board Certification.