15 Lessons Learned for the 2020-21 School Year: The Final Four

It’s real. I’m officially teaching a new group of fifth graders from a distance. My goal was to finish this series two weeks ago, but as many of you know, working as a full-time classroom teacher is time intensive work! Much of the time, things we set out to do take much longer than anticipated. So, I made the choice to abbreviate the final four lessons into one blog post.

Here are the 11 lessons that led up to my first day of school…

And, this now leads me to the final four: The final four lessons learned and applied last week, which was my first week of school. These final four lessons are overarching big ideas. All four lessons are going to get me through the challenges to come, and my hope is that they can help you, too.

Lesson #12: Use Your Time Wisely

Without students physically in front of me, I’ve found that I can easily become distracted. Since my goal is to put a hard stop to my work day at 3pm each day, I know I have to use all of my time wisely. This past week, I’m happy to say I did just that. The biggest time suck for me in these strange times has been social media- Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. So, during the school day, I avoid them.

Additionally, I’m also a fan of lists. I make a list each day and check items off as I complete them. There is nothing quite as satisfying as crossing items off a list and watching the to-do’s shrink. Sounds simplistic, but sometimes the simplest solutions are the ones that work the best.

Lesson #13: Consider Sharing the Work

My fifth grade team and I are sharing all of the work this school year. I let go of control and agreed with my teaching team to departmentalize. So, instead of teaching many lessons a day, I’m now only teaching one reading lesson to 66 students at once on Zoom. While I’m the main teacher, my 5th grade colleagues are also in the Zoom call acting as co-teachers. They handle all the tech issues and behind the scenes questions while I’m teaching. After the lesson is over, we all break into our homeroom classes and even smaller breakout room groups for independent work time based on the lesson. We like to think of it as an expanded and flexible workshop.

We didn’t know if this crazy idea would work, but we are finding that it is surpassing all of our expectations! I only have to prep and teach one lesson a day, I get support from my colleagues during that lesson, I have the privilege of acting as a support co-teacher in their lessons, and I get to save most of my energy for small groups and conferences. Most importantly, our students and their families have only given us positive feedback about our new learning system. Sharing the work has truly been a dream.

Lesson #14: Seek Out Feedback, Accept it, and Adjust

This is really hard work. Teaching from a distance is unlike anything I have ever done before. Because of it, I’m a new learner. I’m engaging in something to which I have no experience. Sure, I have two decades of teaching experience. But all of that was done in person and not during a pandemic.

What I know about being a new learner is that feedback is critical to growth. So, I’m seeking out feedback. I’m not seeking it from the experts, nor am I looking to them for advice. After all, there are no experts in this. This is new to all of us. None of us have ever done this before.

So, I’m seeking out feedback and even some advice from those who matter most- my students, my students’ families, and my colleagues. No one else matters. I’ve seen a lot of opinions on teacher social media about what schedules, norms, procedures, etc. should or shouldn’t be. But, all of this is new. No one is an expert here, so no one really knows what’s best. I’ve decided to ignore the opinions that are out there. Some of the experts would probably scoff at some of the things I’m choosing to do- and that’s ok. I’m the one doing it, not them. The only opinions that matter come from those three groups I serve: students, families, colleagues.

Feedback will come in the form of honest frequent conversations and opportunities to offer thoughts and ideas through Google forms, individual meetings, and email. It will not come from those who have never met my students. So, when in doubt, ask your students how it’s going for them. Don’t ask the experts. After all, there are no experts in this. I feel like I’m doing a good job, but I won’t truly know until the people that matter most give their feedback.

Lesson #15: Don’t Forget About #1

Mostly importantly, please take care of yourself this year. None of us can fully serve our children if we are not first serving ourselves. Don’t forget about Lesson #1 in the series: Prioritize Yourself. This is hard work- probably the hardest work any of us will ever face. The only way we can take it on and serve our students in the way they deserve is if we take care of ourselves first. We got this. You got this.

I hope my 15 lessons were helpful. I’d love to hear some of your lessons as well. The catch phrase of the moment is true: We’re all in this together. Good luck, friends! We’re in for quite the adventure!