While I focused on my #oneword for April throughout the month, my blog post detailing the word and my reflection from the month before was delayed as I spent additional time focusing on me. Before I move onto my new word here, I want to reflect on April’s word. In my April post, part of focusing on “me” was going to include taking the Leadership Part 2 Course offered through our Board. Unfortunately, moments after I pressed “publish” on this post, the course was cancelled. What could I do instead? Maybe my biggest addition to my April plans was choosing to get vaccinated. April turned out to be a great month to focus on “me.” I know that my experiences are not like everyone else’s, but when we pivot to online, I actually find that my workload is substantially reduced. We can’t document as we do back in the classroom, and our other alternatives, are not as time-consuming. All of this being said, I actually really miss the Instagram, Twitter, and class documentation blog posts that are our usual classroom reality, and I would switch back to these in a second if possible whether more time-consuming or not. But I’ve used the extra time to get some additional sleep — eight hours is quickly becoming my new norm — read more books for pleasure, enjoy more educational blog posts, connect virtually with friends, and even get some additional minutes on the exercise bike. All of this has been good for my mental health, and I know that the “better me” that I can give to kids and families, the better the positive impact on all of them. This then leads to my new word for May: us.
This new word came to me thanks to my amazing teaching partner, Paula, and some fantastic, passionate conversations that we had at the end of April that have continued since then. It all started one morning shortly after our first meeting time began. After making our plans the day before, I had everything ready on the computer to share with the class. It was shortly after 9:00, and almost our whole class had logged in. I had the same meeting open in MS Teams on my iPad, so that I could let in other students as they arrived, even if I was sharing my screen at the time. All I needed was the sign from Paula to start our Brain Break, but it never came. What? She was just sitting back and watching. Should I say something to her? Ask if we should get started? I’ll admit now that I was feeling on edge and tempted to comment, but I didn’t. Instead I waited, watched, and listened, much as Paula did. This is what all of us overheard.
Since then, we’ve both been privy to other wonderful, child-initiated conversations as our meeting time starts each day. Knowing if/when to stop these discussions can be a challenge. This often quickly becomes the ultimate exercise in wait time. But I’m really glad that we’re waiting.
I was thinking more about this as I observed yet another one of Paula’s morning Brain Breaks. This is one recorded at the end of April, but there are many other similar ones that she does each day.
Watching Paula lead the class in these Brain Breaks has me thinking about the many ways that she connects with students. No matter what she’s doing, you can hear her say, “hi,” to kids, praise children for their participation, and just let students know that she’s there. This takes me back to a guest blog post that Paula wrote almost a year ago now about online learning and relationships. I was thinking about this post as Paula and I reflected together after one of our virtual meeting times the other day.
Relationships serve as the backbone for all of our learning in the classroom, and I think, the same holds true for us online. While we might plan our meeting times with some expectations in mind, more than that, we plan our meeting times with kids in mind. What do they need? What do their families need? If our plans are not meeting their needs, what has to change? Yes, we are very aware of those few students that might not be meeting benchmarks yet, and while we want to continue to support their academic growth, we’ve also been thinking a lot more about what else these students require.
Our families did not choose remote learning for this school year, and although, all of our parents and students have pivoted (gosh, I dislike this word) incredibly well, we’ve been watching our children closely. In this latest round of remote learning, our kids are looking for social connections: with us and with each other. Just before we left for our April Break, the relationships — even from a distance — developing in the classroom and outside were incredible. We know that supporting these relationships online might be different, but we also know that our kids need these opportunities for independence, problem solving, and risk-taking that all come via this child-initiated socializing. Learning happens as we also support these important skills.
In the past week, our desire to prioritize socializing remotely, had us changing our approach to our afternoon playdates.
- We are turning off our cameras and watching and listening to students more.
- We’re encouraging students to talk with each other and not just with us.
- We’re creating breakout rooms where kids can connect more with their friends.
- We’re letting some things go — including even a few reading and writing opportunities (not all, but some) — in an effort to give kids what they might need beyond just academics.
- We’re becoming even more aware that academics encapsulates more than just reading, writing, and math. Oral language, socializing, and problem solving all align with important expectations in our Kindergarten Program Document.
Here’s what these changes have led to so far.
They’ve also led to us thinking about how we can clearly communicate our intentions to parents — and the “why” behind them — while giving kids the social opportunities that they need. This led to a change next week from an afternoon playdate to a gathering around the virtual water cooler.
None of us know what the next month will bring or if a return to school is in our future anytime soon, but regardless, will these additional opportunities to connect lead to richer play, deeper thinking, increased joy, and better friendships? This month is about all of us — as a remote, classroom community — and seeing what might be possible with new connection possibilities.