This post is week 1 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators sponsored by a member of my PLN, Penny Christensen. It’s about time I get back to my blog. It’s not that I didn’t have things to write about. With The World Turned Upside Down (an appropriate homage to my days teaching in Yorktown and my junior high fife and drum corps turn), I thought I’d have lots of time on my hands.
Last March, I was helping chaperone Virginia Tech students to Iceland on a study abroad trip when the border was about to close and we had to rush home early. I stockpiled paper and canned goods and filled up the freezer and thought I’d have plenty of time to do things like blog, work around the house, garden…anything but work. That was not the case, however. I would’ve never predicted back in the 90s that when I started working in online learning, that there would be a period of such demand. What an interesting year it has been, and with almost non-stop work with states, districts, and schools.
Describe relationships with those you taught this year.
This is this week’s prompt from Penny. I’m going to take some leeway and use those I’ve “taught, coached, or worked with” as my focus. A year ago, any of those was a challenging proposition. As educators across the world got thrown into remote learning and tried to figure it out on their own, many were reluctant to share. As a consequence of the tremendous stress they were facing, many of the teachers I worked with often acted like the students they complained about. “My students won’t turn on their camera.” “My students won’t engage online.” It was actually an opportunity for adult educators to put themselves in the place of the students they were working with and to build some empathy for what we were asking them to do.
It just took some time. I work with a cadre of coaches in a statewide network. In early March, we had just met our division teams and were gearing up for a year of promoting innovation in each district. Then, almost over night, radio silence. Who can blame them? Everything was new. My fellow coaches and I would meet every Friday morning, and all were facing similar issues. We just waited. Offer help, and when you’re ready, we’re here to help.
By the Fall, people were more prepared to interact. Many of my districts started reaching out again in the late Summer and early Fall. Summer was full of helping educators across multiple states hone their skills for the inevitability of working with at least some, if not all, of their students from a distance. Some took every webinar they could fit into their schedule. Others took things in then went off to process.
It was during that time that I updated the norms I use in these situations. I try to set norms for all of the groups I work with. Sometimes we have time to create norms together, but in some of these webinars, I just had to offer some and move on. It was during the Summer/Fall that I added the norm, “Acknowledge our reality,” to the mix, and I think people seemed to appreciate it. None of us were in a normal situation. We might have kids, or pets, or even adults that we were trying to take care of while still teaching or learning. Many couldn’t be in their offices or their classrooms, and so I think it helped many people to know that we were all in this together, and if something comes up, you’re free to go take care of it and then get back to us.
Several times, people had turn off their microphones or cameras, to go check in on a child or a pet, or to take care of something pressing and come back when they could focus. My favorite example was when I lost my Internet connection in the middle of a webinar and had to restart my router. About eight minutes later, I checked back in, and because I had shared my agenda, slides, and resources, the group had just kept on going. I’m not sure that would’ve happened in March, but it was nice to see that by late Summer, people were back on track.
There are a lot of other good stories to share, but I’m waiting to see what Penny has on tap for next week. Wish me luck! I hope to keep this up.