I have no control over where I will teach in September, nor the rest of the year, for that matter. I have no control whether I will teach in my classroom, the gym, or my dining room. I have no control over how long I will teach in person, if I do at all.
I have complete control over the experience that my students will have, when we are together, whether it is face to face or through a distance learning platform. Regardless of where our experience together is centered, I am deeply committed to making it the greatest year my students and I can possibly have.
I am acutely aware of our circumstances. A pandemic the world is struggling to tame, let alone contain. Hunger, joblessness, illness and the catastrophic loss of lives weighs on all of our minds. Especially the minds of our students, who need us now more than ever.
This fall, if we are fortunate enough to meet in person, albeit masked and six feet apart, I will ask parents for one school supply, a yoga mat. We will devise ways to move, breathe and stretch safely throughout the day. Each student will be provided with a craft box containing markers, crayons, colored pencils, paint, paint brushes, pens, pencils, sharpeners, glue, scissors, craft paper, marble notebooks and whatever building supplies I can get my hands on.
Students will not hand in papers. But that does not mean students will stop writing on paper, or completing work in their math books. Our distance learning in the spring taught me innumerable ways to use technology and self-assessment to shape pedagogical practices. Students can take pictures of their work and share it with me, as well as their classmates. I can share digital answer keys inviting them to assess their own work, assessing what they know, and what they need help with. Formal assessments can be completed online.
The same goes for work that they dream and build. They can create independently and share collaboratively online. I am already imagining a classroom space that has us creating as a way of channeling our learning, and all of the thoughts my students will be carrying into that space. Just as we have done in the past.
We will go outside, weather permitting, and read, write, listen, speak, stretch and breathe. I asked my yoga teacher if I could pay her to craft yoga classes that we can follow on a computer outside. Together, the class will co-construct a learning environment that makes the most of our small class size, while using technology to build community in and out of the classroom.
The greatest joy in all of this is that should the need to close arise again, or if we are unable to meet in person at all, all of the above are possible. After experimenting with all kinds of distance learning experiences through the spring and summer, I have learned a few things. Whole class meetings are great, but need to be short, designed for community-building. Small group instruction via video works unbelievably well. Kids are far more adept at this than I ever realized. The same principles we use to build supportive in person classrooms are what we need to consider online – kindness and support of taking risks. Collaborative tools like Nearpod, edpuzzle, Flipgrid and Quizziz that give students the opportunity to practice new skills are incredibly useful. Should we work from home, I am eager to provide students with creative tools to think, build and share with our class online. And I will visit each home, as I did in the spring, with “Drive-up Teacher Visits”. Interested families received a two hour window, then a ten minute time slot as the visit became imminent, with instructions asking the family to remain at the door while I stayed in the street.
I have a choice. I can allow my fear, which is certainly grounded in reality, to be my guide. Or, I can lean on the teacher in me who continues to see light, and shine light, on the classroom collaborative space. Wherever that may be. That is what I can control.