I don’t know what to really call this distance education, remote teaching, home school, home learning, whatever it is. What I do know is it is about a million times harder than I thought it would be with a dramatically reduced amount of perks. It is basically like You are planning and creating learning experiences, making tutorial videos and scheduling zoom lessons and there there is all the feedback. See, for those who are watching from a distance you might think this would be easier. No students in the building, less behaviours to deal with. But those folks are not teachers. If they were they would know that the kids in the building is the best part. The conversations, the laughter, the moments of total honesty, the connections. That is what we miss so much, that is what makes our jobs the best in the world. So for now we just add more. All feedback is done absent of our students beside us. We spend all of our time in front of a camera or in front of a screen. It is an odd time. Teaching is happening, learning is happening but it is different. I am not so sure what to call it.
I have felt moderate levels of success as we have maneuvered these new waters and so here are some completely unsolicited and maybe incredibly unhelpful tips because we all have different situations but here goes.
- Have grace for yourself, your co-workers, your students and their parents– Everyone is stressed right now. Last week I was mad as heck after seeing some less than supportive feedback. I felt attacked, then I sat with it. Realizing we are all stressed I took steps to address the feedback. I am still mad, don’t get me wrong, but I also understand that this is not about me. There are so many moving parts and we need to make room for that. Some kids need due dates, some don’t. Some parents want an email more often than others. Some coworkers need to be left alone and others need some interaction. We all need a little grace as we maneuver this reality.
- Less is more regarding classwork- When this classroom closure was announced and we were told we would be going to this model I was not happy but I did feel ready as my students were about to being some larger writing related projects. I thought that posting these assignments in their entirety for students to work on in a choice approach would be best. For some it was, for others… it was not. So we are adjusting, adding check in dates, reducing pieces of the assignments to the individual needs of students and relying more on feedback than grading. Which brings me to my next point.
- Grading might be more important to students then we think- I am seeing a lot of posts about forget the grades, connection is more important, relationships… all of these things are true. From students I am also hearing “Mr.Gilson what is my grade on this assignment?” or “I see the feedback but what is my grade?” Students are use to grades, they have attached a value to them. So while we need to move away from this practice as we know it I am not sure completely eliminating grades is an answer. Compassion in grading? Absolutely. Perhaps we focus on less with more feedback. This one is tricky for me I am not sure if my solution fits for everyone but my students in the majority have asked that I continue grading so in some form I will.
- Balance- I have worked out a pretty balanced schedule for myself. From 8:30-10:00 I am making tutorial videos and providing assignment feedback. I spend the next 2 hours with available zoom meeting time open to my students. This operates as a drop in but we can also go over general information. In the afternoon I record a book talk, continue with individual feedback, plan both short and long term and work on personal PD. I feel like I am busier than ever but I am learning a lot about ways I can adjust my teaching to have multiple avenues for success for my students.
As I reflect on what has gone well and what has not one thing has become very clear to me. There is no going back to “normal”. There was always inequity in the education system when we look at access to technology, meals, support at home, quality internet. All these things were true before COVID and unless there is some shift and people no longer care about holding on to the advantages they have these inequities will exist after. What I can control is looking at how my practice either pushes back on that system or supports it.
While this experience has not been ideal and I would give anything to have my students back in my classroom. Learning and researching new ways to support them has been a surprising development. As I look towards finishing off this year with a greater focus on learning and building ourselves I am also looking forward to trying new things next year. Researching and developing better ways to measure learning.
For too long we have had the luxury of ease and became comfortable in the way we do things. Some of us leaned into our comfort and ignored the issues. This pandemic has forced us to look at our practice good and bad. We have a choice now to act on what we have seen or just hold on to hope that we can return to normal.
We have a choice.