Is Happiness Possible?

Last weekend, I blogged about our evolving style online. At the end of the post, I shared these thoughts around our ideal distance learning classroom, and the possible problems with making this vision a reality.

On Monday after our online meeting, a discussion with my teaching partner, Paula, had me re-thinking these concerns. During our meeting, she led an interactive mini-lesson around constructing items out of recyclable materials. Things went well, and students left with some ideas to try and some construction to do,ย but where could we go after this? Our back-and-forth discussion had us wondering what would happen if we invited children to bring along paper, recyclable materials, craft supplies (if they had them), and/or various building materials to play and create with us. We wouldn’t have a specific lesson, but we would show and discuss some provocations with the kids, hear about their projects, and then support them in what they were doing. We’d even play alongside them.ย This is what learning would look and sound like in our physical classroom.ย Could this happen online?

We both had some reservations, but we’ve tweaked our distance learning approach over the past six weeks, and this seemed like the next logical step. We had to try it.ย And so we jumped in — two feet, without a life preserver, but with an optimistic view of what would happen!

And it was worth the risk, as this next tweet sums up our amazing experience.

Yes,ย I realize and fully admit that we’re in a privileged situation here. Paula and I do not have young kids of our own at home. We have the time to plan for this experience and to support this learning online. We have a wonderfully supportive parent group with access to the Internet, devices to use in this online learning environment, and the ability to be there to help their children login and assist them when needed. I know that this is not the reality for everyone. In fact, I’ve taught at some schools where getting online could be a challenge, even with access to devices at home, as sharing with siblings and having parental support when parents are also heading off to work, would be the reality for many. But even coming from a privileged experience and teaching in a largely privileged community, problems still exist.ย 

  • There are still many students sharing devices with siblings.
  • There are still parents working — inside or outside of the house — and/or having other commitments at our online class time.
  • There are still wifi and connection issues that sometimes cause children to freeze and families to leave the online meeting.

But in the midst of this, there are also moments of wonderful! I need to capture and celebrate these moments, for in such an uncertain time, it’s nice to find a reason to smile. Tuesday was one of those reasons. We even noticed that some students that tend to struggle during these online meetings seemed more relaxed, maybe from being in an environment that more closely resembles their school reality. With children able to choose their materials and listen, play, and converse far more seamlessly (Paula and I still helped facilitate the conversation so that students were not talking overtop of each other), they were less stressed.ย 

  • They smiled more.
  • They interacted with us and with their friends more.
  • They responded to questions and shared ideas for where to go next.
  • They got excited about learning again.

Not only did Paula and I have lots more opportunities to converse with each of the kids, hear their ideas, and make suggestions for possible next steps, but the time flew by. For the first time in over six weeks, I didn’t end an online meeting with a headache.ย Could feeling more at ease have reduced everyone’s stress?ย 

Everything felt so right that we decided to extend this play on Wednesday.ย Why do things never stay perfect for long?

As great as things were on Tuesday, we noticed that our numbers were slightly smaller than usual.ย Hmmm.ย On Wednesday, they were even smaller. Now I realize that this could be from any number of things, including,

  • sunny weather,
  • burnout,
  • other home plans,
  • and work commitments,

but when numbers stay consistently high for over five weeks, and then fall suddenly, you begin to wonder why. Could play be the cause?ย Paula and I wondered if parents wanted a more structured lesson as part of this online learning time, so we decided to combine play with a lesson, and see what happened.

On Thursday, I was even more unsure about how to interpret things. Our numbers stayed lower, and while a few kids came with materials for the more guided lesson, most children that weren’t playing on Tuesday and Wednesday, showed up ready to play on Thursday.ย Now what?

We’ve been asking for feedback since this distance learning began, but we decided to try a different approach and create a two question, anonymous survey asking for parental feedback and suggestions. This might have been the way to go all along! Now about 1/3 of the parents have completed the survey —ย much more feedback than we’ve received in the pastย — and with some great suggestions. Paula and I are now looking at …

  • a few different small group options,
  • other ways to blend play and mini-lessons,ย 
  • and different ways to elicit feedback and thoughts from kids.

As grateful as I am for supportive parents, I’m also grateful for a willingness to share insights and new ideas that we might not have considered before. Both my Twitter reflections and this survey process reminded me of something important:ย perspectives vary, and hearing different perspectives help us not only vocalize our thoughts, but see the world through a different lens.ย Thanks to those parents and educators, who helped me further think through why we do what we do, but also how we view our choices based on our life experiences.ย 

Iโ€™m now thinking back to my teaching experiences from the past, and wondering if I was still at one of these other schools, would I attempt to do what we’re doing now? Maybe then, what I’m considering smaller numbers, would be our daily reality … or even on the higher side. Perspective. That said, I keep returning to a Twitter conversation with Lisa Noble about her first synchronous learning experience.

For these couple of families, Lisa made a big difference. I’d like to think that even if only a few of our children attended,ย for those that did,ย we gave them what they needed. Then for others, we try a different approach:

  • maybe through some phone calls,
  • maybe through some home learning suggestions,
  • and/or maybe through our own version of this Cougar Curbside Fitness …ย for this honestly might be one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen! (What about Eagle Roadside Phonological Awareness … would that get people out?!)

Our current reality is not one that we could have anticipated. It was not discussed in the Faculty of Education, or focused on during any of the learning sessions that I’ve attended in the past 19 years of teaching. Just as teaching in the classroom comes with the need for reflection, change, more reflection, and more change, the same is true online. Our move to online play came out of some of our reflections, and our modifications to this play approach will come out of some more. But in this crazy world that we live in right now, it’s nice to look at a computer screen, see making, see excitement, see smiles, see learning, and find our own little bit of happy. What might yours be?


2 thoughts on “Is Happiness Possible?

  1. Beautiful reflection! You are always so careful about staying child-centred.

    I feel like weโ€™ll never have this completely worked out, but I also feel like weโ€™re getting there. Iโ€™m scheduling some 1:1 meetings this week. Iโ€™ve been doing whole-group and now I need to start thinking about reports so I need everyone to talk to me with few distractions. Iโ€™m excited and wary at the same time. You mention having a plan for the meetings & Iโ€™ve noticed my own plans evolve just as they do in class – depends on who is there, what they bring to the conversation, and so many other variables. Iโ€™m especially interested in who is not showing up and why, but itโ€™s hard to figure that out!

    • Thanks for the comment, Lisa! I think that staying focused on the children really help as we do some planning and also revise our plans. While Paula and I plan before each meeting, our plans also seem to evolve during the meeting depending on who comes and how kids respond. We also need to plan how weโ€™re going to share the microphone, so that weโ€™re not talking on top of each other. Weโ€™re better with this now.

      I like your idea of the 1:1 calls, knowing that report cards are also coming soon. What a great way to also check in with kids and families. Youโ€™re making me think about Growing Success and the power of conversations.

      Like you, I tend to think the most about those that donโ€™t come. Why? Is there something we could change to help them come? If we donโ€™t see our kids at least once a week, we reach out to that family to just check in. This doesnโ€™t always explain why the child isnโ€™t coming, but it is allowing for connecting, which is good. Maybe our survey will tell us more about why kids come and why they donโ€™t.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation!

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