Learning Gain #2: Blunders & Missteps Modeled

“I can’t hear you. I see you’re not muted, but I can’t hear you.” The images on the Zoom screen showed mouths moving and gestures of conversation, but I could not hear anyone on the other end.

Suddenly, messages started flooding the chat…
I can hear her, Ms. Nosek.
She sounds fine to me.
Ms. Nosek check your settings.
Are you connected to audio Ms. Nosek?

I started to grow a tad frazzled as we only had a short amount of time for the reading workshop ahead. The added pressure of seamlessly managing the tech know-how of Zoom meetings while simultaneously leading a reading workshop is real. Not only did I need to respond to student reading needs in the moment, but I also had to respond to tech-issues, often my own, in the moment as well.

The advice continued in the chat…
Remember this happened before.
What was it last time when this happened to Ms. Nosek?
Ms. Nosek, is your computer volume turned all the way down AGAIN?

I immediately looked down at my keyboard, repeatedly pushed the volume button, and watched the volume symbol on screen grow from zero to ten. Yep. That was it. My computer volume was once again turned all the way down and I didn’t realize it. I planted my hand on the familiar spot on my forehead, took a deep breath, and sighed, “Thank you, fifth graders. What would I do without you? Shall we start reading workshop now?” Then, a friendly, understanding response came my way…

“It’s ok Ms. Nosek. These things happen.”

If your teaching is anything like mine, you’ve made quite a few missteps and blunders this year. Not only have I continually made these flubs, but I have made them publicly, in front of my students and even their families on occasion due to being broadcast into some of their homes. However, the power of this lesson does not come from the blunder itself being made. Rather, the power comes from watching me, the teacher in charge, publicly make them, learn from them, and eventually bounce back.

Some of the missteps and blunders I’ve unintentionally modeled in front of my students have included accidentally ending the entire Zoom meeting instead of closing breakout rooms, allowing my own typos to go unedited on assignments while realizing it as I’m explaining said assignment, and even making a simple arithmetic error in front of everyone while modeling a strategy on how to add fractions with unlike denominators. In all of these instances, rather than trying to cover my tracks or make an excuse for the blunder, I named it, owned it, repaired it when I could, and moved on…

Some of these lessons from the blunders have been simple- make sure double check the button I’m about to click in the Zoom meeting before I click on it. Others have been a bit more impactful- when I speed through my work without rereading it, even as an adult who is well versed at doing school, errors are bound to go unfixed. So, be sure to always reread or double check my work. The public and often unintended modeling of noticing, naming, accepting, and then finding the remedy to the errors is where the power of the lesson resides.

After a few weeks together, I noticed students started going through the same process with their small blunders. When minor blunders were made, students would say things like, “Oh well. Let me just fix this and move on!” or “Oh, now I see. Got it.” The embarrassment and self-consciousness of school years past has transformed into a humble confidence of sorts. During this school year more than any other, students are granting themselves grace or are even partially celebrating their minor blunders and then are just moving on.

I’m not able to draw causation from my public unintentional modeling of my missteps and blunders, but I do wonder if this has had an impact on my students when they make a minor misstep as well. I wonder if my frequent publicly made blunders are putting students more at ease for when they make them. I may never have an answer, but I do know I will carry this thinking with me well past this school year.

Learning gained: blunders and missteps publicly modeled are a beautiful thing.

-Christina

Learning Gain #3 will describe the power of listening to our kids. Click on the follow button to have each post delivered to your inbox, or check back here in a few days! All posts in this series can be found at this link.

Learning Gain #1: Friendship Found

During a meeting back in October with my fifth grade teaching partners and principal, I expressed that I was worried about one of my students. “I’m really concerned that Jill does not have a close friend in the current cohort. She needs that connection to feel safe,” We were working to place our students into cohorts of 10-12 kids each as we were moving from a full distance model of school to a hybrid model. In our hybrid model, students would remain with the same cohort of children for all activities both in and out of the classroom each day- they would learn together, eat together, and play together with no physical exposure to any other children at school. So, we spent quite a bit of time creating, rethinking, and then recreating our cohort placements. Ultimately, many of the placement decisions ended up being out of our control as we had to ensure siblings were in the same cohort time frames in addition to a few other considerations as well. So, we did not have as much flexibility as we would have liked.

On our first day back I was worried for Jill as her two closest friends were placed in a different cohort. The first hour and a half of the day went smoothly. We reacquainted ourselves with physically being back in school and of course read some great books! Around 9:30 that morning, I decided to bring my students outside for some unstructured extra play time. I figured that they had not been with other children in 8 months, so the more play time together, the better! As students moved into our designated play zone for the day (each cohort is assigned a rotating play zone everyday in order to stay physically distanced from other cohorts), I noticed Jill stayed back a ways and just observed the others. The rest of the kids quickly gathered together (at a safe distance of course) and started chatting. It looked like they were figuring out what to do. I’m a firm believer in allowing kids the space and freedom to structure their own play time, so I decided to hang back and just observe. As a little more time went on, the kids all moved into a game with jump ropes. They all grabbed ropes, helped tie a few together, and formed a line to take turns running into the spinning jump rope two at a time. It brought me immense joy to watch them giddily play together after months of being separated. However, Jill was still hanging back on her own.

As I was about to walk up to Jill to invite her to play with the other kids, Layla, another student in class, looked over and gleefully yelled, “Jill, what are you doing? Come play with us!” I took a step back and just looked at Jill. As she quickly glanced up from whatever she was staring at on the ground, a smile grew across her face, and she ran over to the other kids to join the jumping line. That’s all it took.

Every single day since, Jill’s cohort has played together like a family out at recess and during extra play time. All kids in the cohort of ten are always included. They do this completely on their own without my prompting. Instead of small groups of two or three children doing their own separate things, they always make it a point to play as a whole group. The ten of them, all coming from different friendship groups in previous grades, have become a caring and nurturing bubble of classmates. Not only do they continue to play together without my intervention, but they also share their personal poetry with each other, audibly laugh with each other in class (mostly at my frustration with tech issues!), and even resolve conflict with each other in a compassionate way. Our days are not always without conflict, but that conflict is now met with a layer of compassion that’s much deeper than I’ve ever previously observed as a teacher.

Someone recently asked me how I work to foster friendships in a hybrid model classroom. I honestly answered that the kids have done it themselves. They just needed the adult around them to get out of the way. Or, I should say, they needed the adult around them to give them the space to apply what they have learned and experienced as humans living in a pandemic to build relationships with the people around them. It didn’t matter that Jill wasn’t placed in a cohort with her best friends. What mattered on that first day back and still matters now is that the people with her value her as a fellow human being and she values them as well. Friendship was found in simple, beautiful ways because of our situation, not in spite of it. Imagine if I would have intervened with Jill that day. I would have taken away that feeling of acceptance she felt coming directly from the other kids. Adult intervention is definitely necessary at times, but more often than not, the kids just don’t need us- and we have to recognize what a beautiful thing that is! 

Interestingly, when chatting with students’ caregivers at our conferences a couple weeks ago, a few parents mentioned that they were concerned at first because their child’s close friend was placed in a different cohort, but that the concern quickly faded as new friendships were immediately formed. In talking with a few of my colleagues, they are also noticing the same level of new friendships blossoming as well.

Whether our kids are in a full distance, hybrid, or even back to a full classroom model of learning, one thing I know is true. Our kids have realized and prioritized the importance of friendships and relationships during this trying time- whether those relationships are developing in-person or online, human connection matters now more than it ever has before. Being physically away from others has really demonstrated how important we all are to one another.

We have gone through so much loss as a global community. Our children have not been spared from this loss. In these overwhelmingly difficult times, friendship, love, and compassion for each other have been found and fostered. It’s not perfect. After all, who has ever heard of a perfect friendship or a perfect love? But, it is real and it is perhaps more important than anything else. Authentic human relationships and budding or growing friendships have been shining lights in the darkness of this pandemic. Our kids see it, believe in it, and most importantly, act upon it. It’s time for us to follow their lead. 

Learning Gain #2 of this series, Blunders & Missteps Modeled, is coming out soon. Click on the follow button to have the post delivered to your inbox or check back here in a few days. Until then, follow the lead of our kids- they clearly know what they’re doing!

-Christina

All posts in this series can be found at this link.

Learning Gained: Understanding & Knowledge Found During a Year of Teaching Pandemic School

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.

-Christina

Learning Gain #1: Friendship Found
Learning Gain #2: Blunders & Missteps Modeled
Learning Gain #3: Listen to the Children
Learning Gain #4: coming soon!

15 Lessons Learned for the 2020-21 School Year: #1 Prioritize Myself

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.

Image: Huddart Park, Woodside, CA. Lyrics by Linda Creed, 1977, made famous by Whitney Houston, 1985

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!

My joy/energy drain list. I’d love to see your list as well!

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.

Further Resources

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.

All posts in this blog series will be housed here: 15 lessons learned for the 2020-21 School Year, July 20-August 7th Click on the follow this blog link to have the posts delivered to your inbox each day, or check back tomorrow!