Close to one year ago, on March 13, 2020, my school along with many others across the country closed our physical buildings. We spent the remainder of that spring figuring out how to both teach students from a distance and navigate life in a pandemic. I took the lessons learned from that spring and paired it with reflection and study over the summer to write and share the blog series 15 Lessons Learned for the 2020-21 School Year. When I wrote those 15 lessons, I had no idea the learning and knowledge my students, colleagues, and I would gain between August 17, 2020 (our first day of school) and now, about two-thirds of the way into this school year. We’ve not only gained knowledge and understanding about teaching and learning, but we have also gained many lessons about how to better care for ourselves and each other. From my perspective, nothing is more important.
Those removed from the actual work of educating our children have been crying “learning loss” for months. Their fear mongering and scare tactics have prompted many politicians and decision-makers long removed from the classroom to make hasty decisions and declarations about the schooling of our children. Frankly, I’m done listening to their nonsense. Enough of the deficit approach to education- it’s time to move forward with a different mindset. Not one more word of this post or upcoming blog series will even acknowledge that harmful, deficit-based noise.
In the coming days and weeks ahead, I am excited to share another blog series, Learning Gained: Understanding & Knowledge Found During a Year of Teaching Pandemic School. With this blog series, I plan to share the stories of my students’, my colleagues’, and my own learning over the past year. While so much has been lost in our world that we will never get back, namely dear family members, friends, and loved ones to the pandemic, we have also gained quite a bit. I’m excited to name and highlight some of those gains. I’m hoping this blog series will bring some much needed love, light, healing, and motivation to my fellow teachers and all others who choose to follow along.
Click on the follow button to have the posts in this series delivered to your inbox or check back here in a few days. Until then, take care of yourself and do something good for others.
This is going to be a tough one to write. It’s going to be honest, and it isn’t going to be pretty. My goal as a teacher-writer isn’t to paint myself in a glowing light. Quite the contrary, in fact. My goal is to show myself as I truly am: a flawed but dedicated classroom teacher. I also happen to be someone with a deep passion for literacy education- such a passion that I even cowrote a book about conferring with readers. That’s why this is going to be a hard one to admit to…
Mistakes I Made in the Spring of 2020
I was an ineffective conferring teacher in April and May of 2020. It’s true. I just really didn’t know what to do. Like all of you, my world was completely turned upside down. If you’re a classroom teacher like me, you probably just didn’t know how to balance it all. My biggest concerns did not revolve around how to confer around reading…
Rather, I was mourning the very recent unexpected loss of a former student with my school community. Additionally, I was worried about my student Aiden’s family- his sister has serious health issues and the family moved to my area so she could be treated. I was also concerned about Angela- would she remember her school login and eventually join us in Zoom? I was deeply worried about Nate- the once happy-go-lucky chatty friend to all in our classroom had turned inward and just stopped talking. My nine months pregnant kindergarten buddy teacher and her family were constantly on my mind. Would they be ok through all this? My brother was also consistently in my thoughts. As a nurse in a busy San Francisco emergency department, was he in danger? Not only all this, but I was beside myself concerned about my parents. Will their age and health conditions put them in danger? When it came to the actual work of teaching, I was exhausting myself following my district’s directions of creating original videos every single day for my students. On a related note, I was often trying to mend my broken spirit when my equally exhausted students admitted they didn’t watch the video I sent that day or that they watched it at 2x speed. Plus, I was trying to keep up with 15-20 minute scheduled Zoom meetings with small groups of students that actually turned into emotional support time for all of us rather than instructional periods. Like all of you, I was trying to wrap my understanding around what a global pandemic was and how we even got there. To be completely honest, I was falling apart.
So, it’s true. I wasn’t even thinking about conferring. And, I forgive myself. You should forgive yourself, too. Actually, there is nothing to forgive. We were in crisis mode. Let’s all collectively grant each other some grace and move forward.
What I Plan to do in the Fall of 2020
Once school starts again, I plan to start conferring right away. Why? In retrospect, I honestly think a regular conferring practice would have actually worked wonders this past spring (not dwelling on it, just reflecting on it). It would have potentially given my students, and even me, some comfort, safe conversation, and an outlet of sorts.
In our 2018 book, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy, Kari Yates and I share that we believe at its simplest, a conference is a conversation between two readers. When we are fortunate to learn alongside teachers in person, we often share our belief that every child deserves a teacher who confers, and every teacher can develop a conferring practice that really works. All it takes is a little heart, tenacity, and a willingness to learn. This also applies from a distance- just a bit differently.
To be completely honest, conferring just isn’t the same over Zoom. Absolutely nothing can replace pulling up alongside a child in person, sitting shoulder to shoulder at the same level, leaning in asking, “May I join you,” and then engaging in a friendly in-person conversation around wonder, affirmation, and learning. Yet, there are things we can do from a distance to harness much of the power of conferring.
Instead of writing in paragraph form how I plan to confer with students this spring, I thought I’d create a more visually pleasing guide.
The guide below explains three different methods for conferring with students from a distance: After the Lesson Conferring, Scheduled Conferring, and Peer to Peer Conferring.
By providing one on one time to engage with students myself, and encouraging them to do so with each other, I’m hoping students will feel more of a connection with me and with their peers than if I did not intentionally take steps to set up a conferring practice from a distance. Plus, the more I confer with students, the more I’ll really get to know what’s going- both in their school work and in their hearts. In our work together, Kari and I keep two key questions at the forefront of everything we do:
What’s going on?
How might I respond?
There really is no more powerful teaching move than kidwatching (Yetta Goodman, 1978, 2002) and responding. We won’t know how to respond until we’ve explored what’s going on. We can’t exactly fully engage in the traditional instructional move of kid watching from a distance, but we can still figure out what’s going on by conferring on a consistent basis. I plan to do this from the start once we’re back at school- even from a distance.
More Conferring Support from the To Know and Nurture a Reader Blog
Think about a time you introduced a new tool to your students. Perhaps you’re thinking about the time you taught them how to change their backgrounds on Zoom? Maybe you’re thinking about the time you first handed them a personal white board and dry erase marker? Some of you might be thinking about the time you introduced Google Drawing or even new colored pencils to your class. Whatever it is you’re thinking about, consider how students first responded. In my close to two decades of teaching children, never have I experienced handing a new tool to a class of children (whether it be in-person or digitally from a distance), and then having all of them look at me with their hands perfectly still and voices off waiting for instructions on how to use the tool…
They’re kids! Of course we don’t expect that to happen! I don’t even expect that to happen when I’m working with adults! Kids want to play, experiment, discover these cool new tools on their own! In fact, whenever someone hands me a new device or introduces me to a new digital tool, my brain immediately turns to what I want to do- it rarely focuses awaiting directions from the more knowledgable person.
In the year ahead, we are going to teach using so many new tools. We’re going to ask our children to learn using methods that are completely unfamiliar to them (and many of us!). It is not reasonable, nor is it an effective teaching practice to introduce a new digital tool to students and not give them free exploration and play time with that new tool before using it for academic purposes.
Consider the turn and talk between a learning partnership for a moment. This is a small teaching method that holds a massive amount of power. Not only does it allow students a safe and secure environment to voice their thoughts, opinions and questions, but also it affords many students the opportunity to listen and grow their thinking while pondering their partner’s ideas. But, how do we introduce this simple in-person idea digitally, and how do we prepare students to use this important tool all year long?
In a workshop a few weeks ago given by Mike Flynn, my mind was blown! I finally learned how to support my students using the turn and talk method over Zoom. Here are the basic steps (and yes, I am going to tie it back to the idea of play in a moment)…
While in a Zoom meeting with students, open a new tab or window in your internet browser. Pull up this Google Doc (Feel free to make a copy of the doc and edit it for your needs. Make sure the share settings of your doc open it to all students).
Share your screen with students so they will be able to see the Turn and Talk/Type Google Doc. Explain to them how to use the doc: Partnerships first locate their row. Partner A types their thoughts in the left column while partner B types their thoughts in the right column. They then read each other’s thoughts and respond. The cool thing is, all kids in class now have access to everyone’s thoughts!
Copy and paste the link to the Turn and Talk/Type Google Doc in the chat box so students can access it.
Remind students who their partners are (only if necessary), and then invite them to Turn and Talk/Type. If students choose, they can also write in the doc by using voice to text in Google docs. This is a fantastic feature in Google docs that provides more accessibility. As a writer myself, I actually use it quite often! If Google Doc’s voice to text capability is new to you, learn more about it here.
Obviously, this will not be a typical 30 second turn and talk. It will take a little bit longer, but once our students become accustomed to it, the more efficient everyone’s use with the tool will become.
So, here is where the play comes in… before this tool is used for academics, students should be invited to have some fun with it! In fact, during the first week of school, they should only have fun with it! It can even be used as a fun way to continue building your community by learning more about each other. If you need some help coming up with fun questions or prompts for students to ponder, start simple. Starting out simple is always a good idea to engage everyone. Perhaps consider some of these questions/prompts.
What is one thing you read or watched this summer and enjoyed?
What is your favorite dessert- why?
Which is the superior food- pizza or spaghetti?
What would you rather be doing right now? So, some teachers may not approve of this one- but, I think it will at least make the kids laugh! For example, I’d rather be at the beach right now!
You get the picture. Fun before academics not only to teach efficient and proper use of new tech tools, but also to continue to build your classroom community. Having fun with the turn and talk/type is just one example.
In past years, the first day of school has always been joyous- the anticipation of a new year, and in the case of my students, the final year of their elementary school journey. I loved throwing open the classroom door to see my students’ eager and nervous faces lining up ready to start the first day of their final year of elementary school. At my school, as I discussed a bit in post #3, our parent community was always welcome on campus. So, after my new fifth graders walked into the room and met me and each other in our first morning circle, I looked to the large group of parents gathered trying to steal a final glance at their little big kid as they started their final year in elementary school. “Families, you have one minute, come in and join us.” The fifth grade families, not expecting the invitation, eagerly came into the room and lined up along the side wall as I started our first of 180 morning circles. After we all introduced ourselves in the circle, we waved goodbye to the other adults in the room, and the first day of school was well underway.
This year will be different.
Hopes & Guiding Questions
One thing that I found difficult this past spring was following a mostly asynchronous model. In that model students watched videos and completed school work on their own time rather than spending most of their school day interacting with other people- this caused feelings of isolation and disconnectedness for many of my students. While there is still room for some asynchronous work, I really am hoping the majority of our school time can be synchronous, interactive in real time, to try to build community. I’ve been keeping two questions at the center of my thinking for planning those ever important first couple days of school.
I searched the internet and chatted with many of my teacher friends around these two questions. The amount of new technology and ideas online is just incredibly overwhelming- at least to me it is. So, for the first few weeks of school, and perhaps longer, I’m keeping it simple with technology.
Two Simple Things I’m Going to Try Using Zoom & Google
Using the familiar and friendly-to-me-and-my-students tools of Zoom and Google, I have two ideas so far for the first day of school: 4 Slide Wordless Intros and What do We Have in Common?
Word of caution- if you’re looking for tech hacks and how to use other tools, this is not the blog for you. There are dozens, probably hundreds, of great blogs that beautifully serve that purpose! My method is simple- stick to two known basic tools to start the first few weeks and slowly build as the school year goes on. Again, the point is authentic connection with students from the start, not demonstration of advanced technology skills. So, for now, I’m keeping the tech very simple and to what I know is easily accessible for all of my students and fairly reasonable to complete within 30-45 minutes at the most without much new teaching needed.
4 Slide Wordless Intro: I know my incoming 5th graders are already familiar with Zoom and Google Slides, so both tools can be heavily relied on the first few days of school without much new tech know-how needed. In the 4 Slide Wordless Intro, the idea is that students will create a simple, visual introduction about themselves. This is something I plan to share in our whole group Zoom morning meeting on the first day of school. Here’s how I envision it going-
1. I will first share my 4 Slide Wordless Intro with Students so they can both get to know a little bit more about me and see what the end product may look like. I plan to keep it simple- as teachers we tend to want to add flash and lots of graphics, but I often think that backfires on us as it can look just overwhelming to some students. Plus, this project is not meant to be a video or stand alone item that’s passively viewed. The point of this is for students to verbally share the story of each of their images, so that’s what I’m going to model when I share my finished project. When I share each slide, I will tell a little bit about the picture that is displayed. Remember, the point of this isn’t to show off my tech skills and make something inaccessible or overwhelming, it’s to allow students to get to know me on a human level. Then, in turn, it’s for them to get to know each other. Here is what this might look like in a live meeting with students. My plan is to deliver this lesson live in Zoom by sharing my screen (this video is only to show how it may go, it won’t replace the live instruction). Again, I have a dual goal: share myself with my students and model how this may look when they create and share their intros. No flash, pizazz, scripts, or special effects- just me sharing myself with my students.
2. Then, I’m going to invite students to spend 30-45 minutes or so creating their own 4 Slide Wordless Intro using this Google Slides Template. My goal is for students to keep Zoom open while they are working in Google Slides in a separate tab or window. I then plan to invite students into a breakout rooms so I can confer with them about how it’s going and to offer support where needed. Because I’ll be conferring with students while they are creating their slides, I’ll be able to provide support as needed. Some students may benefit from sentence stems to build their talking points, some may need support uploading photos, and others just may need a few words of encouragement or questions to help their thinking along. The magic of teaching really comes after the lesson itself and during small group and conferring time. This is where we can provide individualized support.
3. The next day in class, once students are finished creating their 4 Slide Wordless Intro, I plan to give them about 10 minutes to review their slides and what they plan to say. Then, each student will be invited to share their screen with us in Zoom and tell us the story of each of their slides. After students share, others will be invited to ask questions and even share connections. The goal is to start to build community by getting to know each other.
4. With student permission, we will house each of their intros on a class Padlet or Google doc in our online learning management system (my school’s is Schoology). If students prefer not to share their intro slides on the shared Padlet or doc, they won’t have to. Students deserve voice and choice in what is shared or displayed. This activity will hopefully help all of us get to know each other a little better from a distance. Another great thing about this activity is that we will save the slides and revisit them every few weeks. With each new visit and revision session, students can change or add images, add music or voice tracks, and fancy up the tech as we all learn more!
Again, for day one we are keeping things simple and accessible for all.
What do we have in common? Another activity I love engaging with on the first day of school is a simple discussion activity called What do we have in common? During in-person school, students would engage in this activity in their table groups of 5-6 kids. Their task was simple: In 10 minutes, find out as may things as possible that your group has in common. The kids loved this activity in class, and I’m looking forward to trying it using Zoom breakout rooms. While the kids are in their 10 minute breakout groups, I will bounce in and out of each to provide support or more likely to just listen in. No fancy tech or use of anything outside of Zoom is needed here except a piece of paper that a group notetaker will use to capture everything they all have in common. To get things started I usually challenge students to find 5 things they all have in common and if time is left see if they can find more. Then, at the end of the 10 minutes, we’ll all come back together in the Zoom main room to share all that we discovered we have in common. Some past responses have been…
We’re all 5th graders.
We’re all the oldest sibling.
We all were born outside of California.
We all love sushi.
We all play soccer.
We all speak two languages.
We all love video games.
We all have read a many of the Diary of the Wimpy Kid books.
All of us were born in the spring.
All of us love math.
All of us have a pet.
I plan to do this activity each day of our first week of school, but to place the kids in different groups each day so they can get to know or talk with each of their classmates in a smaller group to get to know them a bit more and to become a bit more comfortable in our community.
Whether you plan to also use these two community building activities or others, I hope all of us just keep our students at the center and not get too lost or wrapped up in tech. We’re teachers of students, not technology. We all have to use tech in ways that we have never imagined before, but tech should support us in building community and getting to know our students on a human level. It should not become the focal point of our community taking away from the people we serve as teachers.
Post #7 is coming up on Wednesday!I’m taking a blogging break on Tuesday. Wednesday’s writing will discuss establishing routines for seamless communication and learning.
My school community is pretty unique. We sit right next to a big university, so we serve many of the university employee’s children. Many of our families both live and work within walking or biking distance of our school. Some can even hear the school bell from their living rooms! Because of this, lots of kids and families walk or bike to and from school and work each day. At my classroom’s front door when I greeted kids each morning, it was not uncommon to also wave and have quick conversations with former and current classroom parents as they headed off to work. As in many schools in California, my classroom door opened up to the outside- not to a hallway. Plus, my classroom is situated in the front of the school. So, I often saw all the comings and goings at the start and end of the school day. Casual conversation with students’ caregivers was the culture at my school. Much of my communication with families happened that way. In addition to regular casual communication, I also tried to send a weekly email update (if I’m being honest, it was more like every two or three weeks) to keep families informed. Communication with students’ caregivers was always pretty easy for me. Then, our school buildings shut down.
Before I get into the details of this post, I have to acknowledge that my school system provided a device (Chromebook in the case of my fifth graders) and internet connection for all of our students who needed it. In my classroom alone, I checked out 13 Chromebooks. I recognize our privilege here. I also have to say it shouldn’t be a privilege- it should be a right for all children in our society as a whole.
Mistakes I Made in the Spring of 2020
Once we were ordered to go full distance, I made three major mistakes in communication with classroom families and caregivers this past spring.
After we shut down, I started emailing classroom families every single day to give updates and just check in. In fact, I even numbered the emails- Update from Ms. Nosek Day 1, Day 2, Day 3… Day 16. I thought I was being helpful, I really did! Then, I received an email response from one of my classroom dads for which I am so grateful. “Dear Christina- Thank you for the updates. I appreciate your constant communication, but I can’t keep up anymore. Can you send one weekly email instead of daily emails?” I was shocked! But, at the same time, I was so glad that someone finally said something! It never occurred to me that I might have been overwhelming my classroom parents or that I was clogging up their inboxes unnecessarily. In retrospect, I have no idea what I was thinking with those daily emails.
In addition to sending too many emails, I used multiple methods for communicating with families instead of one. In my school system, we use eMail, Schoology, and UptoUs for family communication. After sending messages on Schoology and UptoUs with little response, I learned that most parents really only look in two places for messages- their eMail and their phones. So, I decide to stick with one method of communication- eMail. Despite advances with learning management systems (LMS), I’m finding that most caregivers prefer traditional forms of communication. This study from 2019 also found the same thing. While LMSs have their advantages, such as housing student assignments and learning materials in one place, they aren’t necessarily always the best answer for communication with families. Sometimes they are, in my case they weren’t.
I constantly checked school email, even after work hours. I stressed out about responding to messages right away. If this was you, too, you might want to check out the first post in this series about self care. Almost no message ever needs an immediate response. Some require a quicker response than others, but rarely is anything so immediate that it requires a response right away.
What I’ll Do Moving Forward As the School Year Begins
Without being able to see my classroom families and with the goal of wanting to inform without overwhelm, here are three small changes my fifth grade team and I are putting into place come August.
Change #1: Meet the 5th Grade Team Zoom. We don’t exactly know when we will do this, but we imagine being able to do it the week before school starts. We want to just meet parents face to face (via Zoom), tell them a little bit about each of us, and then answer questions. We’re hoping this will give families both a little information and a little comfort as we begin the school year. My teaching team tries to do everything together- especially now, so it makes sense for us to hold a “meet the team” instead of a “meet the teacher.” But, there is no reason why an individual teacher can’t hold a solo session! In addition, we will likely have optional Zoom check-ins with families every few weeks.
Change #2: Be specific with families about my role as a teacher and their role as caregivers. This became very muddy and quite a challenge in the spring. To nobody’s fault at all, many families took on too much of the teaching responsibility while other families just didn’t know where or how to start. All of us were unexpectedly thrust into positions we’d never imagined having- expectations and roles were not defined at all. So, one thing my team and I have talked about is effectively communicating our expectations for our students’ caregivers and seeking out and listening to their expectations of us. All of this needs to be clearly and honestly communicated and defined from the beginning. If it’s not, miscommunications and misunderstandings are are likely to spiral. Since our students will be doing their learning away from us physically, communication about expectations and roles for everyone is absolutely critical.
Change #3: Clearly tell parents when and where to expect communication from me and the fifth grade team so they will not miss any messages. For this upcoming school year, my team decided to email weekly updates on the same day (to be determined still) each week. In that one email each week, families will see all necessary information and links for the week ahead- as much as possible to plan ahead. As all teachers know, it is not possible to effectively plan multiple days in advance. Good teaching is based on what happened the day or even moment before. In addition, we’ll house all email messages to families in one Google doc that will also be housed in a “Family Folder” in Schoology, our district’s LMS. So, it will be relatively easy to refer back to a message even well after they were sent. Your situation may be different. Perhaps families and caregivers may need a different method of communication. Whatever you choose, consistency and predictability is key!
I really missed seeing my school families almost as much as I missed seeing my students this past spring. Clear expectations, defined roles, and regularly scheduled consistent communication using one mode will have to do until we can greet each other and chat in person again. I’d love to hear some ideas you have for family communication- it’s more important now than ever before.
Post #4 is coming up tomorrow!Tomorrow’s writing will discuss the importance leaning on colleagues and professional networks during this difficult time.
Building and maintaining positive relationships with students is absolutely everything. Without trusting relationships, teaching will be less effective, students will be less engaged, and much of what we do will be for naught. I made mistakes with maintaining student relationships this past spring, and have intentionally made plans to build and maintain trusting relationships come August.
Mistakes I Made in the Spring of 2020
When reflecting on relationships with students this past spring, I can pinpoint two major mistakes I made once we started distance learning.
First, I made the assumption that since I had already built relationships with my students that we could get right to the business of learning. Honestly, I was so worried about academics that I didn’t really think about our relationships. This was a huge misstep.
Second, I did not do nearly enough to put systems into place to allow students to maintain and continue to build their relationships with each other. My relationship with students is important, but I came to realize that my students’ relationships with each other were of even more importance. Students need me, but distance learning clearly showed me that they need connection with each other even more.
What I’ll Do Moving Forward As the School Year Begins
My fifth grade team and I have spent a great deal of time talking about changes we will work to actively make at the start of the school year to foster relationship building with students from a distance. It’s much easier in person, but we have a few ideas we’re going to try out at a distance.
Idea #1Before the start of our school year, we are going to try to safely (with a mask and physically distanced) visit each of our students either outdoors at their home or at an agreed upon meeting place near their home. Since we know we are going to be teaching at a distance through a computer, we want to meet each student in-person to casually chat, answer questions they may have, and get to know them before the school year starts. This will take time, but the time spent up front will only support everything we will try to do in the future.
Idea #2 Schedule twice weekly Fun Zooms with our classes. This will look different with different age groups. With my fifth graders, this was a huge hit in the spring, and we did not do it nearly enough! We need more connection through fun and joy right now that is not attached to academics at all. For example, my fifth grade level partner Laura loved playing MadLibs with her class. This is something they all laughed around and connected on each week. Students really enjoyed sharing their outside interests as well- one of my students played his guitar for us, another often shared her drawings, while another just wanted to chat about her annoyance with her younger sibling. This unstructured, free, fun time was always a welcome experience for all involved. It really helped us stay and feel connected with each other. So, instead of doing this every now and again, we’re going to schedule it at a regular time twice a week during school hours. Some weeks, we may even do it more!
Idea #3 Create many opportunities for students to build and maintain relationships with each other. Before we sheltered in place, I had systems in my classroom set up for group work and different partnerships throughout the school day. Every single school day prior to March 13th, students collaborated with multiple peers on an ongoing basis. This fell by the wayside when we were in crisis mode and following an asynchronous teaching model this past spring. Well, my fifth grade team and I are bringing back regularly scheduled, real-time human interaction for our kids- and ourselves! This was sorely missed in the spring. In July 28th’s post, I’ll go into much more detail about how we are going to make this happen from a distance, but for now, here are a two of our ideas.
Daily class Zoom morning meetings where students will have rotating morning partners for small group and whole group discussion. In these meetings, we plan to have casual conversation, read alouds, and play a game or two to start each day. Students will be able to both freely ask questions, offer ideas, and share stories.
Reading, writing, and math partnershipsor trios for each learning unit. After our synchronous whole group mini lessons each day, students will break off to independently work offline, but they will all have their Zooms still open and computers within earshot in breakout rooms so they can easily ask questions or collaborate with their partners when needed. This will also allow us teachers to pop in and out of break out rooms for small group instruction and conferring during independent work time. More importantly, it will give students the opportunity to collaborate on their terms when they feel that they need it.
Idea #4 Regularly seek out, listen to, and apply feedback from students. One thing we do not do enough of in education is ask students how we’re doing and what they’d like to see more of in class. We rarely ask them how we’re making them feel and what they’d like to see change in school. I did not do this in the spring, but have made a habit of it in the past. This can be done through a Google Form survey or even a casual class discussion in the morning meeting. When we invite students to let us know how we’re doing as teachers and how they’re feeling as students, trust has the potential to exponentially grow, and relationships tend to become much stronger. But, not only should we ask them their opinion, we should also apply what they tell us. That’s key!
Idea #5 Allow students to get to know you, too! As teachers, we often make efforts to get to know students, but we should equally make an effort to allow students to get to know us. My students know me almost as well as my friends do, but in a more professional manner, of course. They all knew I was a massive Pearl Jam and San Jose Sharks fan, had a fear of flying, loved singing (poor kids heard me break out into song often!), and that I despised ants more than any other creature on Earth. These things may sound trivial, but opening up and allowing students to get to know me only made our relationships stronger. One rule of thumb I try to follow each year is to connect with each student around something outside of school. For example, with my students Eddie and Nicholas this year, we talked hockey all the time. My student Angela and I shared a fondness for cats. Elsa and I connected over a shared music interest while Vince and I talked ramen. You’d be surprised how much there is to discuss about ramen (unless you’re a ramen lover like Vince and me!). Making a point to find an outside of school connection with students goes a long way in relationship building, trust, and connection.
I’d love to hear some of your ideas for building relationships with students. What have you done in the past that has worked well? What are some new things you plan to do in our new teaching and learning landscape moving forward?
Book: Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad, particularly chapter 3, Toward the Pursuit of Identity. My fifth grade team and I are reading and discussing this brilliant book over the summer. We are really examining how our literacy practices impact our students and what we should do differently. Chapter 3 is all about inviting in and honoring students’ identities in the classroom. By acknowledging and honoring our students identities, they will more likely feel safe, more likely trust us, and we will more likely be able to better build relationships with them that are authentic. I cannot recommend this book enough!
Book: No More Teaching Without Positive Relationships (disclaimer: I have not read this book myself yet, but I have learned a great deal from Heinemann’s Not This, But That series and heard this is a great new book, so it is high on my to-read list!)
Post #3 is coming up tomorrow! Tomorrow’s writing will explore the mistakes I made in the relationships with my students’ caregivers this past spring and how I plan to effectively communicate with students’ caregivers once the new school year starts in just a few weeks’ time.
I bet some of you are reading this thinking I’ve lost my mind. Prioritize myself?But, we’re in a global pandemic! I’m a teacher! I must prioritize my my own children, my elderly parents, my students! Now is the time to take care of others! I’m fine. Well, I now have a different take on it.
When we prioritize ourselves, we’re not only modeling self love and self respect to those around us, but we’re also better equipping and positioning ourselves to take care of our children, parents, students, and even other members of our community. When we don’t prioritize ourselves, we can potentially develop unhealthy stress, unhealthy habits, and even an unhealthy mental state. In March and April, I actually fell into a really difficult, painful, unfamiliar mental space, which I learned was a type of adjustment disorder. Because of this, I realized I was not fully capable of taking care of others, so I needed to make a big change. Indeed, learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. But, even though it sounds beautiful, it’s just not that simple. It’s not easy to get there and stay there- in fact, it is extremely difficult and often requires uncomfortable commitments and outside help, which eventually helped me. If it seems overwhelming or impossible, I urge you to seek help outside of yourself. It made a huge difference for me. In addition, perhaps reading about my mistakes from the spring may help a bit.
Mistakes I Made in the Spring of 2020
As soon as our shelter in place was called back on March 13th here in California, I jumped into what I thought was productivity mode. I sent my classroom families daily emails, spent hours trying to create perfect instructional videos, monitored my classroom discussion board at all hours, called my own parents to lecture them about staying home, and joined every single social Zoom to which I was invited.
I eventually learned those daily emails to classroom parents became more of a burden on them than a help, the videos I tried to perfect were actually more effective the simpler they were, my students were not using the discussion board at all hours so my constant monitoring was unnecessary, my parents were already making good choices for themselves- my frantic calls only frustrated them, and that I needed to pick and choose which Zoom events to join- Zoom fatigue is real!
I completely burnt out, and in doing so I left no space for self love and joy for myself, let alone for those around me. During the past couple months, I’ve been taking a new approach, and will continue that approach as the school year starts.
What I’ll Do Moving Forward As the School Year Begins
There are three simple steps I’ve adopted and will continue to apply to show love to myself as I officially start the school year on August 10th.
NUMBER 1: Start each day doing something I love and put a HARD STOP on the work day to fully engage in other aspects of life. For me, this means brewing a pot of coffee and going for a quick 15 minute walk or run in the neighborhood before I do anything else for the day. I find I am happier the more I move. I’ll be teaching full distance come August, so intentionally moving before sitting down at the computer each day is critical. Plus, walking into the house to the smell of fresh coffee after a short workout is just heavenly. Running, walking, and coffee is not for everybody. What brings you joy? What might something you love to start the day look like?
Also, working until after 8, 9, sometimes even 10pm did nobody any favors in the spring, including myself. So, I made the intentional choice to put a hard stop on my school work day at 3pm. My workday starts at 7am, so putting a stop to it at 8 hours is more than reasonable. Of course flexibility will be necessary to accommodate occasional meeting needs and other events, but for the majority of each week, my work day will stop at 3pm, and I’m not hiding it. Stopping the work day at 3pm will allow me to better take care of myself, enjoy my family and friends, and engage in the things I love outside of work. Plus, it will also keep me refreshed and allow me to be my best self for my students at the start of each new school day. Later in this series, I’m going to discuss time management and how I will actually make my 3pm hard stop a reality. Look for that post on Tuesday, August 4th.
NUMBER 2: Say no and own it. One of the most effective ways to practice self love is to embrace the act of saying no. For many teachers, myself included, saying no to a request is extremely difficult. The last thing we want to do is let anyone down. However, saying no to the things that may drain our energy or use up precious after-school time will only open up more possibilities for the things we value and love.
For the school year ahead, I have personally promised myself that I will say no to the the following in order to open up space for more things that I love.
I will say no to… – Any requests to sit on a district-wide committee- after all, I have other smart colleagues who will gladly fill in. -School work on the weekend- whatever it is can wait until Monday. -Any social events that might be more of an energy drain than an uplifting renewal- I’m looking at you, Thursday afternoon Zoom happy hour. -Any favors or extras for those not in one of my inner circles: family, close friends, trusted colleagues, etc. I know I cannot be all-things to all people, so I won’t even waste my precious energy trying.
Much of this may sound harsh or uncaring to some, but that’s ok. I’m trying to focus on loving myself so I can be the best teacher, daughter, friend, sister, colleague, and self that I can be. I’m ok with saying no, and the people who matter the most to me will be ok with it, too!
NUMBER 3:Name what brings me joy, what drains my energy, and act accordingly. The simple act of writing down the things that bring me joy and the things that drain my energy has been incredibly helpful. I placed my simple t-chart list in a space where I will see it often. I’m consciously making an effort to do more of the things that bring me joy and less of the things that drain my energy.
When we were first ordered to stay at home, I spent way too much time on the things listed here than drained my energy. Not only that, but I allowed myself to feel guilty when I indulged in the things that brought me joy. As soon as I decided that guilt had no place in my life, I started feeling much better. Now, I have no issues with sitting in the backyard for hours at a time reading, binge watching The Walking Dead (there’s something about a zombie apocalypse that oddly makes me feel better about our current situation), or going for a hike with my phone turned off. Creating my joy and energy drain list really changed things for me. I highly recommend making a list of your own- and, I’d love to see it!
As the school year is quickly approaching, it is more important than ever to to completely love yourself by not working obscene hours, embracing the gift of saying no, and naming/acting upon what brings you joy and drains your energy. After all, learning to love yourself, indeed, is the greatest love of all (cheesy, I know, but it’s true!). As soon as we can embrace loving ourselves, we will have so much more to offer the other people in our lives as well- our family, our friends, our colleagues, and our students.
Post #2 is coming up tomorrow! Tomorrow’s writing will explore the mistakes I made in the relationships with my students this past spring and what I plan to do to build positive relationships with my students once the new school year starts in just a few weeks’ time.