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.

ABCs of Mindfulness

A few of my students struggle with self-control.  Their impulsive behavior leads them into difficulties that they blame on other students (and teachers). “The other kids don’t understand,” or “The teachers take it too seriously,” are common comments that admit no personal responsibility.  Indeed, there may be responsibility beyond the personal- other students may be baiting, trying to get a good reaction; perhaps there are structural issues  that would better support the students who are struggling.  Right now, though, I am going to try a quick ABC with them.

A- Awareness
Notice yourself.  What are you doing? feeling? thinking?  Don’t judge those actions, feelings and thoughts just notice them.  Can you name them?

Notice others.  What are they doing? feeling? thinking?  Can you name what is happening around you.  This is a great place to use those inferring skills.

B- Breathe
When you came to awareness, were you aware of your breathing?  Do that now.  Breathe in.  How long did you inhale?  Hold your breath for that same amount of time.  Exhale for that same amount of time.  If the first time you inhaled for a count of three, try for a count of four.  As you do this, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Be purposeful in your breathing.  Try this 5 times: inhale- hold- exhale.

C- Choose
Choose your actions.  Will you stay quiet or will you speak up?  Will you stay still or will you move.  We do not choose our feelings but we can usually choose how we express those feelings.  If you are happy at a stadium, you may stand up and cheer for your team.  If you are happy at a quiet church service you probably won’t stand up and cheer.  At this moment, is one way of acting better than another way?  Make your best choice for this moment.

Maybe this will help some of my students.  Maybe teaching them will make me better at doing the same.  I’ll keep you posted.

‘Twas Almost Vacation

Written for the teachers at my school…

‘Twas almost vacation and throughout the school
While kids were frenetic, the teachers were cool
A few students traveled but most were still there
To finish December with ganas and flair.

Assessments completed and conferences done
This last week of learning was different, was fun
ManageBac housed all the comments, each grade
The teachers drank coffee. The children?  They played-

They argued at 4-square, though no one was mean;
They gossiped of summer- The beach! What a scene!
They played (it was recess), they hadn’t a care.
They knew their escuela would always be there

Then one of the students she noticed the time
The teachers were missing, the bell didn’t chime.
The counselors, Katie and Rox, disappeared
With Sandra and Rosi and Victor.  How weird!

“Should we be worried?”
“Or should we be scared?”
Some started screaming but mostly they stared.
When up on the bridge there arose such a noise
That it grabbed the attention of girls and the boys.

First Flores, and, Dierkes then Reeves and Bené
Ms. Mincha and Uchi, Ms. Wiley, Ms. Lay,
Ms. Delia, Wellner and Page, Hollowáy
Ms. Emily, Fuller, McGlothin and Rae.

They stomped on the bridge and they stomped really loud
The rest of us teachers we joined in the crowd.
We sang for the kids and we danced way up high
They applauded for us then we chanted goodbye-

“The time is 12:20, it’s time for vacation
“Go travel! Go Read!” we sang with elation.
“Your work is now done here we’ve journeyed quite far
“Don’t’ stop and play 4 square, Go get in your car!”

The children all cheered as they said their goodbyes
They raced to their rides a bit older, more wise.
We waved to each bus as they drove out of sight-
Great vacation to all and to all a good night.

Heading Towards…

A writer who wrote had a dream:
Tell stories to feel, think and scream.
“I’ll motivate reading,
Young minds I’ll be feeding,
With wonders that aren’t what they seem.”

I have known “writers” who don’t write and folks who say they are not writers but who, in fact, write.  Me?  I like to tell stories about kids who are similar to my students, typically 4th through 8th graders with dreams and worries, hopes and inhibitions.  Soon I will join the legion of writers who take up an MFA program in writing.  It is a low residency program at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota that focuses on writing for children- it is a perfect fit for me… and they accepted me.

In order to complete the program I will travel twice a year to Minnesota from my home in Lima to learn, write, reflect and revise.  My previous studies in the last 20 years have been to find or keep work.  I have enjoyed earning each of my teaching licenses and the learning that came with them.  This one, though, is for me and my students… and I am really looking forward to it.

If you know of any sources to assist with funding please send them my way.

In the meantime it is almost November and that means NaNoWriMo.  But who needs an excuse to write?