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Finding Our Why Again

Although this pandemic has brought so much “new” to the teaching world, it has also brought us back to the basics of what’s important in education and why we do what we do.

May 14, 2020

This is my first blog post. After listening to the amazing impact that blogging and creating a virtual portfolio can create by George Couros, I leapt into the journey of blogging and writing my learning process down. I originally started this blog as a result of the twitter group #blogginthruit to reflect on this pandemic and what we have experienced as educators.  I’m excited to start on this adventure and write with the amazing educators I work with while also connecting with others. 

As I watched my children play today, I became frustrated that my two year old constantly asks the question “why?” over and over again. Some of the questions she asks, I certainly don’t have answers to and some I do. Why can’t I leave the driveway by myself? Why can’t I eat marshmallows for breakfast everyday? These were some. And then there were other situations in which she asked why about ten times after I explained an answer (or what I thought was an answer). Although these obviously represent a two year old mind, it made me realize that everyone needs to understand the why answers in life. Whether it is my daughter wondering why she can’t dump the sand out of the sand table or students wondering why they’re learning certain lessons or staff finding their why and purpose in their career, that question is always important for people in their own learning.

If there is one thing many people have learned during this time, it is their “why” in life. We have shifted our thinking to what is important and why we do what we do. After speaking to some teachers, they have described this time as stressful but also as a rejuvenation in their teaching. I found this really interesting and it is something I’ve heard numerous times from many people. This idea made me think of the Future Ready Podcast led by Thomas Murray that I’ve consistently listened to. The second podcast below really helped shape some of my own ideas to focus on the why we do what we do as educators, especially in a time that is so challenging.

In January, I started a new job as Director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology. After transitioning into this environment of remote learning, I have been trying to support teachers in creating curriculum, provide resources, and work together to best instruct students. However, while this pandemic has overloaded us all in everything new (new resources, new technology, new styles of teaching, new curriculum), it has also brought us back to the basics and reinforced what our priorities should be in teaching and in our schools. For me, these are some them:

  1. Connecting, caring, and considering the kids first. The staff is doing everything they can in an intentional way to connect with the kids. Some great ways they have been connecting with students and families are: Inviting in guest speakers, creating daily morning shows, doing daily check-ins, seeing their teachers’ and friends’ faces on video chats every week, calling home often, using different apps. Teachers and staff are working tirelessly, trying to connect in every way possible so that we don’t lose kids in this new environment and because we genuinely care for their well-being.  This reminds me of an article I read entitled, 12 ways to connect with kids and prioritize relationships while teaching remotely. I realize how our staff is doing so many of these. Letting kids see our faces (an idea that was out of MY comfort zone at the beginning of this) has become an everyday activity for so many because the importance of connection trumps our discomfort. Our elementary principal and her teachers eat lunch and play games with students every week. Last week, we played a game on Zoom and it was so engaging for the kids. Spirit days in our elementary and middle school have had more participation than ever expected, showing the connection that students are craving.  Also, we have all realized that asking kids for their input in their own process has helped all of us. As the high school principal sits with students to plan big events for our seniors, they have a seat at the table to plan their own events that they will remember forever. The middle school principal and I have created a Thursday Night Live Show to connect with kids live while also teaching them. This is our last one pictured below. Building relationships and connections with students must be our focus to build a team and learn together in a pandemic or not.
  1. The Importance of a Teacher- This sounds like I didn’t realize the importance of a teacher before this and of course, that is the furthest from the truth. As an educator, I always knew the importance of teaching and being with your students to guide and care for them. However, this pandemic has stressed the importance of how personalized teaching can change the game so much. An article from the Edsurge Podcast guide called a Researcher Behind ‘10,000-Hour Rule’ Says Good Teaching Matters, Not Just Practice argued that when really reaching mastery of certain content or a certain skill, it’s not just practice that matters; it is individualized, personalized instruction from a good teacher that makes the difference. While practice and intrinsic motivation are of course important, a teacher who personalizes goals and pushes each specific student in ways they need is a key intervention for students to succeed. Effective, personalized teaching makes the difference. We must help each other learn technology that personalizes feedback for students, encourage students to study topics and do projects they are passionate about, and lead students to find their “why” when learning new material. If teachers and other staff members share with each other some of the positive ways they are personalizing instruction, they reach more kids. I have seen what teachers do now to push each student in unique ways. Teachers spend their days conferencing with individual students to give personalized feedback and differentiating lessons via technology platforms to reach learners at their level.
  2. Taking risks and giving students the opportunities to CREATE- This idea is an extension off of personalized instruction for me. As teachers find it difficult in this environment to teach as they normally would, we have all found this change stressful and difficult. My conversations with colleagues often center around the major loss in not being able to engage with kids in both academic and personal conversations, but the idea that this change has broken up some of the monotony of doing things the way we always did has also come up. Change can also bring innovation. I have spoken to people at length over the frustration in not being able to sit next to a student and guide them through their work. So, we are forced to think of ways in which they can create more and we can do this together. We have also been given the time and the break from state testing to feel more comfortable in trying new ideas and going more in depth, rather than covering all the breadth. If part of our “why” is to encourage life long learning in students, then we must take the risks so that becomes our focus. When kicking off a book study with a group of colleagues last week, educator Tom Murray challenged the group to take the risks NOW for the kids. He posed the question to the group, “If this isn’t a good time, then when is?”
  3. Slowing Down. Reflecting on our learning.I’ve always tried to reflect as much as possible but this pandemic has changed the structure of our days and our boundaries so much that I often have to tell myself to slow down. Slow down for my own self-care and to spend time on important relationships (the “whys” in my life outside of work). Perhaps, this is part of the reason I’ve started to write here. I’d like to reflect on my own learning while finding a therapeutic place to SLOW DOWN as the world changes so much, so quickly around us. The same goes for us all. I hope we prioritize the idea of slowing down when we go back to “normal” and the importance of reflection.

As I was becoming comfortable with a new job, new office, and new projects in March, we entered this time of remote learning, a time in which I knew I would have to work really hard to understand and share all the new ideas in teaching. But what I realized is that this has brought a lot of us back to the fundamentals of what’s important in the education field and it has been a reminder of what should underlie effective curriculum and instruction. So while it has been so challenging and stressful, it has also brought an appreciation and a fresh mind to our work. These awful circumstances have really highlighted the importance of always finding and focusing on the “why” in all that we do.

2 replies on “Finding Our Why Again”

This has certainly given me some food for thought. Distance learning has given educators time to reflect on what is truly important, and to brainstorm ways to readjust how we approach teaching and learning.

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