This morning, I read a great blog post by Dean Shareski about the purpose of school. The post really resonated with me, as it speaks to so many of the recent conversations that my teaching partner, Paula, and I have had around engagement and programming in the past couple of months. Now I feel as though I need to highlight something before I delve any deeper here: yes, learning is still important to me … to both of us. I am a proud “curriculum nerd,” and have an uncanny ability to memorize curriculum documents. I’m not sure why, and I know that this talent won’t win me any prizes at community Talent Shows 🙂 , but it’s true. Even for grades that I taught years ago, I can remember expectations and big ideas. This is hardly a brag-worthy skill, but as we delve deeper into other topics here, I don’t want to confuse anyone in thinking that I don’t believe learning matters. It does. But when we start thinking about “school” right now, and maybe reflecting on what’s missing, I wonder if we have to go beyond the learning.
In Shareski’s post, he states that,
When I think about our virtual classroom, it’s these parts of school that we really try to create. I’m not going to say that this is easy to do, and various family experiences and student realities mean that our virtual school is certainly very different than our in-person one. But Shareski’s point here got me thinking more about the conversations that Paula and I have each day. While we definitely touch on expectations and learning as part of these discussions, far more time is spent looking at how we can build and facilitate community, connections, and just being. Here are some things that we’ve tried to make these three things possible.
Making Our “Virtual Classroom” A Family Affair – There are many parts of the Kindergarten Program Document that I love, but this quote on page 10 is one of my favourites.
While we have a few children that attend our daily meetings on their own, we have invited family members to be a part of this process from the very beginning. Sometimes siblings join in. Sometimes parents stay and participate. We love seeing the younger and older siblings that partake in our Fun Fitness Fridays, and even the parents there to exercise along with the kids and our fabulous phys-ed teacher. There are also a few parents that might be in the background, doing their own work as the kids connect online, but all of a sudden they will chime in with an idea or share something that they’ve tried at home. It’s the community feel and connections here that make me smile week after week!
Giving Water Cooler Time – I think about those movies and television shows that I used to watch, where people in the office gathered around the water cooler … to chat, to connect, and just to be. When we were in the classroom, this water cooler time was always first thing in the morning, as children came in and grabbed a snack to bring outside.
We don’t have this same space to connect right now, but we’re finding that by joining our online meetings a little earlier, we can have a virtual water cooler connection. This is what happened the other day, as we watched some unexpected social connections form in this virtual classroom space. The conversation here had nothing to do with academics, or a conventional impression of school, but it was so very powerful as it gave kids a chance to truly socialize. I love how a six-year-old made this connection happen, and for a small snippet of time, everyone could just be.
Paula & I reflected on this after the meeting time today. Could our 8 straight weeks of meetings, with the muting & unmuting practice, have led to this? Is it the routine that made this possible? I wonder. In our big group, online, social skills happened. 💕 @GSmith_ @moojean_seo https://t.co/CmHkX2spfY
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) May 27, 2020
Finding Ways To Play Together – This week, we decided to try something a little bit different, and we invited kids to bring some food items (their choice) to our meeting time. We created food art together, inspired by some work shared by our Teacher Librarian. Then kids enjoyed a snack with their friends. While a few children decided to draw their food art instead, during this Food Art Session, we were able to virtually connect around food. It was wonderful to have parents and siblings there to “make” with us, and even helped build a community feel to this meeting time. Yes, there was learning here, but the focus was far more on the connection. We also had a child that couldn’t attend, but did her own Food Art at home, and then mom shared her creation with us. Connecting is starting to extend beyond real-time connections to those that happen over time.
While I wish that we could make this child’s suggestion work …
As we were making this food art today, Paula mentioned we could enjoy a snack together. “It’s been so long since we have.” One child unmuted & said, “If we can’t go back to school together, we should just go to the park & have a picnic together.” 💔 I wish this was possible. https://t.co/1aw3NTpVCh
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) May 28, 2020
… in the meantime, I’m glad that we could find some way to connect as we once did.
I realize that none of these connections may be ideal. My heart aches for what school once was and hopefully will be again. I would give anything to safely get back into a classroom and teach as we used to do so. But for now, this is the safest option, and I’m glad that a little bit of the wonderful of school can still exist online. How might you support community, connection, and just being in your virtual classroom (whether synchronous, asynchronous, or both)? We are coming up on the last month of school, and in the classroom, this can be one of the hardest months. Engaging kids during this time, when thoughts of summer are at an all-time high, is a challenge. Now this challenge is multiplied in our virtual world. But maybe thinking about school through Shareski’s lens will help during the next four weeks. As we connect, will learning then happen … and not just academic learning, but also social-emotional learning? It might not be perfect, but it could be our best, and maybe right now, this is good enough.
I too have wondered about how we can help kids connect with each other more. As I reflected on my class meetings over the past couple of weeks, compared to my small group meetings (that Center around guided reading and writing), I realized how much more comfortable the kids were in chatting with each other in the small group… and just how much of my own voice was present in the larger group sessions, which now seem to have moved into math talks. So last week I offered a drop in meeting hour where I encouraged kids just stop in at any time and chat with their friends. I consciously worked on listening in and closing my mouth. I only had 5 drop in and they were quite shy and didn’t really know what to say… even though in a class setting these were my most vocal ones. With a few prompts, they started to chat with each other rather than with or through me. I tried leaving some silent pauses to see if they would fill the space… even though I found this very uncomfortable, it did spur on someone to take the lead other than my self. I tried a second drop In meet this week but no one dropped by… however it was during one of the most beautiful days we have had weather wise so I’m assuming that they took advantage of that!
I won’t give up… on a survey I did, 8 of 11 replied that they might take part. So we will see in the next few weeks if this fills a need for kids. It might just be something that takes a while to establish and feel comfortable with, like everything else.
Thanks for sharing Joanne what you’re trying! I could relate to so much of what you shared here, especially around those silent pauses. You’re also making me think about something that Paula reminds me of often: the need for TIME. Seeing how things evolve after giving this a little more time might help you see if more changes are necessary. Curious to hear about what you find out.