Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Our New Normal

This morning I sat on the floor of my office, responding to one of my student’s Flipgrid videos. Leia’s head was on my lap as Elle told me how much she enjoyed The War I Finally Won. My mom had recommended it to her the last time mom subbed in my classroom. Elle said, “I can’t wait to tell her I loved it...” and my heart broke just a little.

We’re now in week three of staying home, week two of remote learning, and I’m not sure about this new normal. To be blunt, I can do this. I see memes online about how hard this is on teachers. I’m not one to ever pick up the teacher as martyr card. I’m at home. I’m talking to my students. I’m finding ways for them to continue learning online. That isn’t what makes this hard. I watch friends online post about making the decision to separate from their family because they work in the hospital. My former students post photos of them in protective gear heading to work at said hospitals and beg people to stay home. That’s hard. This, I can do this.

What is hard on me are those quiet words in a Flipgrid video from students, or typed in an email:

Mrs. S, I’m ready to be back.

I hate being stuck at home.

I miss you and our classmates.

Mrs. S, when do you think we can all be together again?

That’s hard. I think many teachers have soft hearts. We carry the weight of our students with us. I worry about them. I think about them throughout every day and when I lay down to sleep at night. It’s a struggle.

And so, I find myself in this new normal and learning what works for us. In case anyone is looking for suggestions, here’s what my 7th grade Language Arts teacher and I have decided to do for our students. 

Daily reading and writing
We want them to continue to read for enjoyment, to write. We gave lots of suggestions as to where they can find books online, through our local library, through companies providing free books online, and through our local bookstore. 

For writing, I suggested journaling each day, but in case they don’t want to dwell on our present circumstances, they can also write fiction, sketch and draw, write reviews, etc. They need to “turn in” one day’s writing by Friday each week.

Weekly check-ins

This is in a variety of ways. 

Flipgrid: We post a video each week for them to respond to on Flipgrid. This week mine was a book talk on Dragon Hoops, which I just finished, and Stamped, which I’m currently reading. I also told them what I’ve been doing for fun and asked them to respond through Flipgrid or email. I then reply back to them.

Google Classroom poll question: I give a poll question each week just to connect. Last week was in response to our read aloud, did they want me to keep reading or pause and add more chapters next week? This week I asked them if they liked our weekly connection on Zoom or if they’d rather I skip it? Overwhelmingly they have asked me to keep the Zoom.

Zoom: As I mentioned above, I have a weekly Zoom. I teach three classes, so on Wednesdays I have a weekly Zoom, one for each class. I told them upfront it was optional and would only last 15-20 minutes. Importantly, I came to it with an agenda that I had written down. I quickly gave them all a course on Zoom, asked them to mute themselves unless they were talking to avoid feedback from everyone else.  I used it mainly to touch base, tell them how much I missed them, see if anyone had questions, and we did a quick share at the end to see what they were up to. 

Read Aloud

I was reading aloud The False Prince when we were last at school. We were around chapter 20. When the mandate went out that we were out of school, several kids reached out to ask what we would do about the read aloud. Looking online, it seems most publishers have relaxed their usual rules and have allowed online read alouds, assuming that you aren't posting them publicly. So, I’ve created a Flipgrid just for our read aloud. I read a chapter at a time and upload the video. It’s interesting to see how many views are on these videos. Several kids told me they lay in bed and listen to me read, that it helps when they’re stressed. That both gave me joy and brought me to tears. 

Weekly Focus
Next week as we had a bit of new curriculum, we will add a “weekly focus” to our online learning. For April, it will be poetry. The kids will get a set of poems for the week with the directions to read the poems, respond to them, and on Friday either share their thinking or a poem of their own.

Children First
Our district’s mandate, and the direction from our state, has been that we need to not operate as business as usual. Our priority is connecting with kids. Being there for them. Then, keeping their minds active. I appreciate that. We do need to be putting kids first here, not trying to cram in everything we would normally be teaching.

My district, like many others, had been providing meals for students. Today they are starting a checkout program for our Chromebooks. They’re purchasing hotspots for folks without internet. They’ve copied our plans and have copies at all of the schools for kids with no online access. I personally have two of my seventy-five without internet, but the parents connect with me through their phones. We want to reach everyone.

Everyday I wake up and pray that our new normal will end soon. That this virus will decide it’s done enough harm and be gone. Whenever that happens, I hope we find a new appreciation for our schools, for days spent with students, and for the solid feeling I get deep into my toes as I lead a class. I miss it more than I could ever say.