Friday, June 26, 2020

We May Not Reap, But We Always Plant

Summertime for teachers is usually a time to reflect, relax and recharge. If the year ends well, we are excited and energized. If it didn't end so well, we breathe a sigh of relief, learn from challenges and mistakes, and move forward in the hopes of a better year.

Image by Walkerssk from Pixabay

But this summer is different.

Covid has turned our world upside down. Campuses closed, we taught remotely and ended the year unlike any other with no traditional celebrations and graduations. Remote teaching had us working harder than ever, and it was exhausting - physically, mentally and emotionally. It's also a little disheartening. Despite our best efforts, engagement was low, with some students disconnecting as soon as schools closed, especially once they learned of standardized testing cancellations. And the uncertainty of it all is nerve-racking. We can reflect but we are not sure what to plan for. 

Photo by Gary Fisher from Pixabay. Quote added using Canva

This year I realized that while I'm officially an educator, I'm really more of a farmer.

No, I don't live on a farm and have no connection to the farming industry. I've lived in the suburbs for most of my life, although I did live in a rural, farming community for over 15 years - a place I consider my adopted hometown. Even so, no one who knows me personally would ever describe me as a farmer. Not even close. I don't own a garden. I don't do much landscaping. I don't even have the slightest hint of a green thumb. Everything I've ever planted without the help of my dear husband has died. So why would I consider myself a farmer?

Like a farmer, I plant and I (sometimes) reap. Farmers deal with unpredictable weather, land conditions, pest infestations, and other uncontrollable factors that can adversely affect even the most skilled agriculturist. Likewise, even the most accomplished educator will encounter challenges beyond her control. From poverty to peer pressure to politics, there's so much that can throw off learning. Add a global pandemic and social justice issues to the mix and you have nothing short of a perfect storm. And although we know it takes time to reap and we may never see the fruits of our labor, we always hope to see growth.

We ended the school year in an unexpected, unprecedented way, and we move forward to a post-COVID season full of uncertainty and anticipation. Like a farmer, we take the good with the bad and if the season didn't go as expected, we pick ourselves up, sow again and never lose hope.

Stay well, stay strong and stay positive, my friends. Rather than fret about the unknown, let's be present in the moment and seize the day. I truly believe good things will come of this experience.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Letter To My Future Self

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Image Credit: wilgengebroed

We all know that change is constant and life is full of surprises, but never has our future been as uncertain as now.

This pandemic has played out like a horrible science fiction movie with no ending in sight. And while stay-at-home orders have been lifted in most areas, without a vaccine I think it's unlikely that we will return to school as we knew it based on  CDC guidelinesAlthough we don't know what the new normal will look like, we do know that we cannot work to potential if we are not feeling healthy, safe, and secure. I can't even speculate on what the future holds.

Image by Ranjat M from Pixabay

Last year a colleague introduced me to futureme.org. A cool website where you can write a letter to your future self, enter an email address, and your letter will be emailed to you on a date of your choosing. It defaults to one year, but you can opt to have it sent sooner or later. Also, you can choose to make the letter "private" or "public but anonymous." Public letters will be published on the website. It's sort of like a time capsule. I tried it over a year ago when I first learn of the site and when the email came in a year later, it was a wonderful surprise. I encourage you to check it out if you haven't already.

So, I wrote a letter to my future self to be delivered on December 21, 2020, at the end of the first semester.  I chose for my letter to be private on the site, but I am sharing my letter below.
Dear FutureMe,

While I embrace all the technology that goes with remote teaching and learning, I didn't realize how challenging it would be. Everyone in my department quickly took off running and did whatever it took to ensure learning was uninterrupted. We ended well, but it wasn't ideal. We have all been affected in some way by economic, health, social-emotional, and/or relational instability. Although many learners overcame challenges and thrived, too many were minimally or not engaged. 

But we press on. We move forward embracing the new normal – whatever that will look like. While I can't speculate on how we will achieve social distancing, I believe that much of what we implemented during remote teaching will stick. Here's some of what I expect:

•    Screencasting and videoconferencing tools will become staples in our instruction. There are lots of tech tools that can work both on campus and online, but those two are a must. I’m looking forward to helping teachers at my school and district implement them in their courses.
•    Canvas will be a life-changer. I think by the end of the first semester, teachers will be rocking it and it will grow on those who hated it.
•    More voice, more choice, more buy-in. One size does not fit all. From classroom teaching to professional development sessions, I think we will see an increase in personalized, learner-driven instruction.
•    There’s more to learning than grades and GPA. While those are important, they are not the purpose of school.  I expect to seen an increased focus on feedback for learning. Grades alone don’t bridge gaps. The challenge will be finding ways to provide effective feedback without quadrupling a teacher's workload. I think we need to start small and look at what can be eliminated.
•    Authentic assessments will be on the rise. We've learned that many of our CTE courses will no longer have state-developed multiple choice tests, but will either use an industry credential or a performance assessment. Regardless of how a course is summatively assessed, I think we will see fewer multiple-choice exams. I'm also curious about the future of AP testing, after this year's at-home testing that consisted solely of portfolios and/or free response questions.
•   No more silos. From sharing lesson plans to sharing tips and shortcuts, the best PD is often found in the classroom next door or in the teacher's lounge. I have a feeling that social distance has made our professional hearts grow fonder. Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but I think not.

I sense there will be lots of surprises and curveballs, but keep the faith, Anabel, and believe the best is yet to come.

Cheers to a bright future!