For families, students and staff, the start of this year was markedly different from past years. In place of student schedules and bus routes, our students received a set of Zoom links and email log-ins. The excitement of picking out one’s first day of school clothes was replaced by picking a quiet corner to log into school from. Classroom whiteboards and markers were replaced by colorful Zoom backgrounds and teacher home offices.
Despite this new reality it is heartwarming to see how true we’ve stayed to our commitment to providing students with a rigorous and inclusive education.
Confucius is credited with the following quote:
Learning without reflection is a waste.
Reflection without learning is dangerous.
Although this year’s school opening has been nothing like what we expected, we’ve also learned quite few lessons. As we enter a season of reflection, this is what we’ve learned so far:
- We are current events. Prior to this year, teachers would approach current events as an add-on to the curriculum. Perhaps a few minutes were spent at the beginning of a lesson discussing events occurring in a far off place. This year, the Black Lives Matter movement brought the real-life racial tensions into our school, with staff needing to address their own privileges and biases with their students. These discussions couldn’t be relegated to a mere five minutes sporadically planned. Deep, meaningful conversations that lead to lasting changes in policy and curriculum had to happen. Uncomfortable? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.
- We serve a community. Too often in education, policies are tagged as either student-centered or teacher-centered, with the two being mutually exclusive of one another. While making decisions in regards to our reopening plans, we could not simply make a decision that was either student-centered or teacher-centered. We needed to make decisions that were instead community-centered. What would be in the best interest of our entire community: families, students and teachers? Compromises, numerous surveys, lengthy conversations and several drafts of a plan were all required to come to solutions where our families, students and teachers all felt heard, valued and considered during the decision-making process.
- We have to enter the 21st century. While we are aware of the advances that technology has made in the past ten years (i.e. imagine explaining to a middle schooler what AOL AIM was), honestly, as an education community, we’ve been slow to embrace any systemic change in how we teach. Up until last year, it would be the norm to walk into a classroom and see a teacher at the front of a classroom, writing on a whiteboard, while students diligently copied notes down in college-ruled notebooks. Occasionally, the teacher might use the smartboard feature and play a video or ask students to type an essay using their Chromebooks, but therein was the extent of “technology” in our teaching.
The physical limitations put upon us by the current COVID19 pandemic forced our teachers to educate themselves and leverage exciting online tools that have deeply changed how we teach. For years, we have said that we are preparing our students for life in the 21st century, but honestly, this is probably the first time that teachers have integrated online tech tools into the daily structure of their classes. Our fifth graders are navigating email and creating Padlet boards like pros, while our eighth graders are touring far-off museums and collaborating with their classmates on Google Jamboards.
Don’t get me wrong. We all miss the smiling faces of our students greeting us in the mornings. And personally, I’ve never missed jump roping during recess as much as I do right now. That said, the lessons that we’re learning in this remote world are truly lessons that we will bring into our physical classrooms when it is safe to do so again.