This semester, I have a college student spending a few days a week in our classroom as part of her coursework. Once the idea of a distance learning period became a reality, I gave her a call to let her know our school’s plan. Her response was spot on, “This is so wild!” I replied, “If you do end up pursuing education as a career, I can’t promise that you’ll love every minute of it, but I can promise that you’ll never be bored.” This quick pivot to a distance learning model has been new for so many of us in education, and it has provided a fresh perspective on much of what we do.
One of my favorite parts of the classroom experience is the interaction with students. I love seeing and hearing from them each day. The opportunity to – in real time – see what’s working, what isn’t, and make adjustments accordingly is invaluable. Unfortunately, distance learning makes this difficult (though some of my teammates might have a solution moving forward). While this past week of school wasn’t spent in the traditional classroom setting, I was reminded of many important aspects of being a learner and an educator. As I reflected on the wild week, here are a few things that stood out:
- Empathy for students and families: I’ve had to consider the workload and daily commitment I’ve asked from my students and their families. There are so many factors at play when it comes to distance learning, especially when it’s put into place over the course of a weekend. While I have always had high expectations for my students, everyone can use some grace while we figure out these next few weeks.
- Power of community: At school, each morning begins with homeroom. My students come into the room sharing all sorts of stories from the previous evening or their morning commute. We have the chance to laugh and have a positive start to the day. I’ve missed this start to the morning, but I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with my homeroom students through some Zoom live sessions. One of the best parts was seeing their faces light up as they saw their classmates entering the ‘meeting.’
- Creativity and communication: I’ve always welcomed the challenge to keep students engaged in the classroom setting. Creating video content, while totally new to me, has been no different in that I still have to be creative and engaging. The challenge has been to make sure my communication and expectations are clear. With students not being able to ask questions in the moment, I’ve had to try my best to clearly explain each specific portion of the lesson.
- Value of feedback: My team teachers and I have received some incredible feedback over the past week. Our students have also provided some insight to their experiences through Zoom live meetings or written correspondence. While much of this was positive, there were some unforeseen difficulties that came to light during the first week of distance learning. After hearing numerous accounts of a week in the life of a distance learner, we were able to meet – as a faculty and then as a team – and think through some ways to help our students and families in the coming weeks.
- Flexibility: As a teacher, much of my week is structured, fitting nicely into routines throughout each day. I actually just laughed to myself as I typed that last sentence. I might be someone who enjoys these routines even more than most teachers. One of my teammates can even predict when I’ll be getting my afternoon cup of coffee! Well, that is not sustainable at this point, and it’s been a positive exercise for me to stretch and grow outside of my beloved routines.
During one text exchange with a parent earlier this week, it hit me. The students and educators I get to work with each day really are a special group. My distance learning highlights from the past week were definitely the Zoom live meetings. Getting to interact with and see the faces of the people I spend most of my time with throughout the week gave me energy and a renewed spirit. If nothing else, this period away from them will make me more appreciative of our time together when we do return to campus.