When staring into a pool of still, clear water, the reflected image is sharp, almost perfect. When the water is disturbed, the reflection is still there, but it is distorted, no longer a perfect copy. Our water has been disturbed. For some of us, in the most violent way. Our year has resembled past school years, but it has been unmistakably different. The water will calm in time, but the ripples of change will extend infinitely.
In our part of the world the school year has just recently come to an end, summer break is still new, and we are breathing a sigh of relief. We are changed, and so are you. The most important thing we can do to make sense of all the ripples, is to ask ourselves, What did we learn?
Make it Simple but Significant
From the moment we had to quarantine with our own families in March, 2020 and teach from home, simplifying everything from our own families’ routines to what we provided to our students was a saving grace- and something that we kept as we moved into the 2020-2021 school year both for in-person and remote students. Our in-person students were communicating with us from behind masks and from six feet away. Our remote students couldn’t see more than what we could fit in the Zoom frame on their iPads. The distance, both physical and virtual, meant that intricacy was not going to work. Both situations compelled us to determine what was most vitally important and to let the rest go.
Teamwork is Working Together- Even When Apart
Collaboration with other educators actually became easier this year. Zoom and other social media outlets quickly became commonplace and in-person professional development opportunities moved online making access more feasible. Meetings that would typically be face-to-face were expected to be held digitally which meant they could be conducted from home, or without regard for the complications of accounting for travel time. Previously, scheduling a meeting on Zoom would not have been the initial remedy. Scheduling in-person meetings is more complicated and sometimes impossible, but due to the global necessity of digital platforms, our communication with colleagues and families has blossomed and our professional network has flourished. Developing new professional relationships and participating in, once out of reach, experiences will help us to keep searching for new perspectives on how to make learning accessible to all students.
Loosen the Reins and Promote Independence
We could see from the beginning, whether we were looking at our students at school or our own children at home, we wouldn’t be able to take on this new world with new expectations on our own. Children learning remotely were taught how to be independent with logging into and using their electronic devices. They had to manage their own independent learning completed after their Zoom meetings. In school, we placed more of an emphasis on independence so that our in-person students could be problem-solvers while their teachers took on many extra cleaning and monitoring duties.
Ignore the Noise and Follow Your Heart
We all experienced the need to ask for grace this year, and it was freely given. Everyone knew this year would be challenging, and sometimes down right difficult. Many educators received the message that trying something new was welcomed and that bumps in the road were to be expected. “Don’t worry about it, this is a unique year” became the theme for many. It was in these moments that some of our best teaching decisions were made, when we were free from the expectations of the past. When our positions were changed in ways that no one could have imagined, and we were told, “just do the best you can,” we found out that, “the best we could” was pretty great! Educators’ ingenuity is limitless when it is allowed to breathe. We would like all educators to go forward with the same permission to, “do the best you can” and keep creating new ways to connect, nurture, and reveal students’ excellence.
The Fundamental Glue That Holds Any Relationship Together is Trust
Relationships were harder to maintain this year due to the necessary physical distance that was required, whether it was six to twelve feet in-person, or miles due to remote learning. More than ever, our students needed to know that we were there for them and that we cared about their well-being. We experienced the need to lean on our colleagues and our own families more than normal. There was a need to share our fears and concerns without judgement or censorship. There were also new types of relationships to maintain. The family-teacher relationship in remote learning situations was co-dependent this year. We all had to find our footing to make this unprecedented year work as well as possible for everyone involved. Families were in our classrooms and we were in their homes every day. We needed each other and the mutual building of respect and trust was more necessary than ever before- and it started with us.
We Do Not Learn From Experience… We Learn From Reflecting on Experience
Such wise words from John Dewey. Perhaps some of our reflections resonate with you. Perhaps your reflections lead you to different understandings. What is most important is the process of reflection, regardless of where it takes you. We want to hold on to that premise and remember to reflect on every day, week, month, and year, even when they are seemingly unremarkable.