Learnings from Distance Learning

Beginnings and endings are wonderful times for reflection.  Maybe you are starting a new job, making a new friend, or celebrating the birth of a child.  Perhaps, on the other hand, you are leaving a country, ending a relationship, or mourning the death of a loved one.  All of these events invite pause, reflection.

How has the last year and a half been for you?  For many, including me, the arrival of COVID-19 brought change: Change in schedules, possibilities, health, and even brought death closer.  I have been teaching from home since March 2020.  Never in my life did I anticipate learning so much about distance learning, Zoom, and Google Docs.  But learn I did!

In the hope of holding on to the good, the silver lining in a difficult situation, I offer the following related to online, distance education:

  1. Relationships are still key.  Building and maintaining relationships continues to be the cornerstone of teaching.  When I know who you are and you know who I am, we can work so much better together.  I love seeing your cats and dogs, siblings and parents wander in and out of Zoom classes.  I love that you notice my haircut or new glasses.  I especially like it when, in the middle of class, you ask, “Can I show you a picture that I drew?”  Maybe the timing isn’t the best, but you feel comfortable and that is worth gold.
  2. Distance learning tools are only tools.  The real learning comes in the doing, the reflecting, and doing again.  We can use all the wonderful apps and programs, but without the purposeful lesson design that gets students doing the work and open to new ways of seeing and doing, the apps and programs are worthless.
  3. Today is enough. Maybe I had plans for more or different, but student questions and interest and worries led us on a useful tangent.  That’s OK.  That’s where we needed to go today.  When I am present to who you are today, right now, to what you need, right now, we will always move forward.  I am not going to assign you the work we missed; I am going to adjust my teaching for the new learning that we will do tomorrow.
  4. There is no learning loss.  Students always learn.  They may learn what we teach, and they always learn who we are.  There are all sorts of unplanned learnings that happen, too.  Always we start from where the students are and move forward.  If they missed something from a previous lesson or year we can sneak it in around the edges, in a small group or one-on-one.  Anyone who tells you that the students learned less this past year and a half is mistaken.  They learned a lot more, just maybe not what the curriculum guide says they “should” learn.  There is always a variety of student learning in a class; there is always a variety of levels of understanding in every class.  This year is no different.  We move forward because students always learn.

Take a moment and think about what you want to take with you from this challenging year (and a half!), and what you want to leave behind.  Move forward knowing that learning moves forward.  We continue to become.  So do our students.

A Year with COVID-19

On March 16, 2020 online, emergency teaching started at my school in Peru because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.  As of right now, we are still teaching online and there is still a global COVID-19 pandemic.  Thankfully, we are no longer in emergency mode.

I call it online, emergency teaching because, well, it was online and it was an emergency.  There were no solid plans in place, no best practices, and we had never used Zoom.  All of that has changed.  We have solid plans, we have learned and honed our best practices, and we are practically experts in Zoom.  I never imagined that I would have a YouTube channel, and that my one Zoom video would have over 2,000 views!

We have been very lucky.  The school where I teach and the families I work with have the resources to make online school work.  Yes, the teachers have worked hard to get up to speed, and the families have been incredibly supportive in the process.  The students have rolled up their sleeves and rolled with the punches–huge learning curve, inconsistent technology, muted microphones, … Yes, the students, too, have been amazing.  I am so thankful for the students, the families, my colleagues, and the leadership at school.  Together we have made it work.  Together we continue to make it work.

After a year of this, what have we learned?  What have we reaffirmed?  I have learned that technology is an amazing tool (when it works!) and there are some amazing technological tools that we can use.  Some of my favorites are Quizlet, Kahoot!, EdPuzzle, FlipGrid, and Padlet.  Technology is still only a tool.  The foundation of all learning is relationships.  This is true online or in person.  When I know my students and they know me, we can learn from and teach each other.  

When I first started teaching reading I knew almost nothing about it.  (I had been teaching middle school social studies and Spanish.)  The literacy coach at my school said to me, “To begin with, just listen to students and watch them.  They will show you what they need.  The theories you can learn later; the students will show you now.”  Brilliant!   Relationships still prove to be key and the students are still teaching me.

I have also learned that less really is more.  Less content, taught more deeply, will actually be acquired by the students.  I will never “cover” the material; I will teach the students.

Finally, we live in partnership with the environment.  When we treat each other and the environment with respect, we all live better.  I think Paul Wellstone said something similar.

A year of challenge has much to teach us.  I hope we continue to learn its lessons.  Thank you to all of the students, parents, and colleagues for keeping on.

Still at Home

As you may have heard or read, the quarantine and curfew in Peru was extended until April 26, 2020.  Online school will continue until at least May 4, 2020.  Those are the dates as of today, and of course they can change.  My guess, as of today, is that some restrictions will be lifted beginning on April 27, but I doubt that schools will open on May 4.

Here in Lima, the presence of many birds, more than usual, and clean air continue to please.  The nights are quieter.  I have seen Orion’s Belt on the cloudless nights, a rare sighting in the past five years.  So yes, there are some positives during these distancing times.  (I am not denying the bad news–I am aware of the huge death toll that the coronavirus has brought to our world.  I, though, do not spend much time taking in the hour-by-hour updates.)

What change will we be when the worst of the danger passes?  What lasting change will we create as we realize that, truly, we are in this world together?

Their challenges are our challenges; their fate is our fate.
Are we listening?  Will we act?