This Time Last Year
My first full week of the 2020-2021 school year is in the books! And although I have had 15 first weeks in education… let me tell you something, this particular first week was WILD!!!!!! If you would have told me this time last year, “Lauren, this time next year, you will be teaching reading to middle school learners.” I would have laughed and said, but I have been in the elementary school world for 14 years!” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year you will be teaching three different cohorts of students, face-to-face and virtually simultaneously while social distancing, I would have laughed and asked, “What in the world does social distancing mean and what does virtual teaching look and sound like?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year, you will wear a mask for protection and safety while doing it and you can take a mask break if everyone is working independently and not talking.” I would have laughed and asked, “For my protection and safety from what? AND Don’t we want students talking to one another…sharing and connecting is the jewel of learning, isn’t it?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year, there will be no flexible seating or any desks and tables arranged in groups so students can work comfortably and collaboratively.” I would have laughed and said, “How are learners going to collaborate, have meaningful social interaction, and learn in purposeful ways?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year all professional learning experiences, conferences, and meetings will only be held virtually.” I would have laughed and asked, “How can I build significant connections and continue to network in virtual learning environments? Oh my goodness… after this week, I KNOW that THIS year is not going to be like the rest. And for this reason, I am happy to share some of my learning from this week!
Starting the Year Off Right
I am grateful that my school district started the school year off right with having one of my favorite educators and speakers on the planet, George Couros keynote. I discovered George’s book The Innovator’s Mindset a little over a year ago and used his book as a framework to drive the learning in the new teacher mentor program I facilitate. And although I was looking forward to hearing him in person, he brought down the house virtually! He did! Last year, he was able to influence and inspire the teachers in the mentor program and me by sharing his positive messages, experiences, the importance of developing strong relationships, keeping learners front and center of the decision making process, and finding new and better ways to teach and learn. His philosophy and mindset have permanently latched to my core. And while I was listening to him speak on the morning of September 8, 2020, I could feel my heart smile for 60 minutes straight. To me, EVERYONE in the school organization needed to hear his words and messages of positivity. We owe it to the kids and the community we serve to approach THIS year with hope, promise, grace, determination, and the willingness to invite a #NewandBetterNormal into our lives.
Making Connections to the Heart
As you can see in the tweet above, Couros says, “If you want to inspire meaningful change, you have to make a connection to the heart before you make a connection to the mind.” With that being said, I made a deep commitment to get to know the learners I serve in the physical and virtual environments I am teaching in. I dedicated this entire week to get to know my students as human beings first. I do understand that this is a process that will authentically be embedded into my practice and WILL remain ongoing over the course of the school year and beyond! Relationship building is truly an investment of time that will have a monumental impact and influence over the way students approach and access the learning that transpires in the learning spaces we choose to create. Here are the learning experiences I created for middle school learners. All activities can be adapted for K-12 students. Keep in mind that all of these activities were explicitly modeled as I would never ask learners to do something I wouldn’t do myself:
Learning Survey for Families and Students: I created a Google Form Learning Survey for both learners and their families inspired by Catlin Tucker. I used similar questions for both because it was important for me to get to know the learners in my classes from both perspectives. This was also a way for me to introduce Google Forms as I plan on using this digital tool in a multitude of ways. I embedded a welcome video for the families right into the form so they can learn why filling out this form was important to me. This was also a way for me to connect with them, show who I am and what I value as an educator.
Jamboard to Share Answers From Survey: I wanted to show the students that I took the time to read their surveys and how I value their feedback. I utilized questions from the Learning Survey and had them answer those questions using the sticky note feature on Jamboard. Learners thought this digital tool was very intuitive, fun and easy to use as a collaborative digital tool.
Digital Notebook on Google Slides-Passions and Interests Collage: Students utilized a digital notebook on Google Slides to create a collage about themselves, their passions and interests. They inserted pictures, captions, and colors that represented who they are. This was also a way for them to practice using Google Slides…a digital tool we will be using for various learning activities.
George Couros’ 5 Questions: I used George Couros’ 5 Questions to connect with learners. Students got the opportunity to respond in a Google Form with video embedded directions and/or a Flipgrid video. I am finding that video is a powerful way to connect with learners and simulate more authentic learning experiences, especially the ones who are learning 100% virtually. They get an opportunity to see me and hear me as they learn. I was pleasantly surprised about how many students chose to use Flipgrid. Their responses were incredible!
Setting Classroom Community Agreements in Physical and Virtual Environments: I do not believe in setting the rules and expectations for my classes. Why? It’s because they aren’t MY classes. These are OUR learning spaces. When learners have an opportunity to contribute to community agreements, they take ownership over the norms and promises they create. We utilized Mentimeter’s cloud feature to brainstorm “What makes a GREAT classroom community?” After sharing their ideas, we wrote a summary of the agreements together. After, I dropped the link to the slides into the Google chat, learners committed to the agreements WE created by signing our contract in real time and in a collaborative way. Learners were invited to practice how to experience collaborating on a slide with their peers. We will be using this method for collaboration and response this year. See the process below! Make sure you click on the right arrow to see the video of learners collaborating on the Google Slide!
Tips for Face-To-Face and Remote Teaching
This week, I have lived the experience of teaching learners who are in the physical environment with me while also teaching students who are learning virtually. I am going to share some tips…but I’d like to be clear; these are strategies that are working for ME. I want to give all of the educators around the country and world all of the recognition and credit for approaching this new educational landscape in ways that work for them and their learners. Also note, that I am constantly in a state of reflection and any of these strategies may be revised over the course of the year to meet the needs of my students in intentional ways.
If You Would Have Told Me
So… if you would have told me that THIS year may actually go down in history as the year that has stretched my cognitive capacity in ways I never thought were possible, I wouldn’t have understood how if I wasn’t living it. THIS year is going to be the year where no matter how many times I check my email, new information will be flying into my inbox faster than Mariano Rivera can throw a fastball right over home plate. THIS year will be the year of troubleshooting, failing, and using that failure to learn and grow. THIS year will be the year of showing vulnerability and sharing successes and failures with colleagues so we can learn from each other and do what’s best for students. I know what you’re thinking…well, no two years have EVER been the same Lauren, and I know…they shouldn’t be. That’s because every year we have new students, new staff, new initiatives, new policies, and new procedures in education. And because this year is different from all of the other years, I am going to commit to continuing to write about my experiences and share my learning with other educators because I’m living it. I’m living this wild ride and I want to pay it forward. The truth is, I want to give recognition to all of the educators in my PLC and PLN for sharing their learning over the years. It has made me better and I truly believe that sharing our process can help others serve their learners in this new educational landscape we are living in!