Protocols? What protocols?

I have mentioned this to a number of families over the past week, but I don’t know that I have used the world protocol more than I have this year in our return to campus.  There are so many processes and procedures in place that to ensure the safety and health of each individual; yet, I remain in wonder of our devoted faculty who have done so much to transcend the limitations placed upon their pedagogy and relationship-building in order to make the day fun, challenging, and most certainly engaging.  There are a lot of changes in our daily program, and we are constantly analyzing the way we do things in order to consider improvements and alternatives.  I think of the phrase “final draft” when considering our middle school program.  In truth, these two words are oxymorons.  There is nothing final about a draft; there is always an opportunity to enhance or adjust even the smallest component of the schedule or program to make things better for the benefit of the child(ren) we teach.

As we all negotiate the reshaping and restructuring of this school year, I recognize that there are diverse approaches to managing the inevitable (yet sometimes unforeseeable) changes.  How does your household manage change? This week, I read through an article that serves as a support to the journal and calendar that I keep (BestSelf – it’s awesome, by the way).  That journal offered an intriguing graphic on the different ways that people manage change as it appears in the day to day.

As you can see, this graphic approaches the ability to manage change based on the ability to see beyond the comfortable.  Sometimes, we find that living into the uncomfortable can get us to a level of growth far beyond imagination. The benefits for stretching into new places in order to try new things allows us to live into that best version of ourselves that my school calls confidence in every child. The ability for an individual to move “into the green” of the above graphic requires significant trust in the constructs and people that care for us. This trust, for some more than others, may be easier in a challenging assignment or project. Everyone that I know is living through their first pandemic; thus, moving “into the orange” can prove incredibly daunting. The maximum amount of trust in each other to follow those previously mentioned protocols (temperature checks at home, masks that fit properly, hand washing, social distancing whenever possible) will allow us to tiptoe into new zones of comfort and growth.  It is my hope that my school can remain a dependable place with practices that allow you and your child to come to school with confidence and a willingness to grow. I am grateful for the trust that our families have in our institution. Our team of educators continues to work hard and remain transparent with regard to changes or adjustments. We will confidently provide an innovative, fulfilling experience for each student.

Reframing the Vision: Online Learning

This blogpost was created by me with the editing assistance of Dr. Mark Carleton.

There has never been a more interesting time to assess and improve the way learning occurs in the hearts and minds of every child. Many schools already succeed in developing school-wide programs that imbue intrepid, independent learners with confidence and passion. The secret to these inventive opportunities rests in the hearts and minds of experienced teachers working to shape the wonder and creativity of eager students.  Today, Online Learning programs have been designed by these teachers with these students in mind.  Through its growth and evolution, we seek to tap into the wonder and creativity of our children, in different but no less lasting ways.  Below you will find lessons learned from that experience as well as a glimpse of how we must commit to improve every child’s day-to-day experiences. 

In full disclosure, much of this blog post is credited to the thinking and development of vision inspired by Jennifer Gonzalez’s most recent post, 9 Ways Online Teaching Should be Different from Face-to-Face. If you haven’t yet read or listened to this installment, stop reading my blog and move to that one first. The whole blog/podcast, and specifically this single post, is gold on paper.

Teacher will begin to create moments that allow for sharing stories, interests, and dreams so that we can begin to know, love, and challenge each child to become more than ever before.

A Trusting and Inspired Environment

Above all else, teachers value the relationship a child and family will cultivate with caring, charismatic educators.  Especially in Online Learning, we must ensure that the teacher-student relationship remains at the heart of every interaction.  This year, in the days before Online Learning begins, teachers will reach out and make contact with every child. Whether it’s a phone call or a drive-through-and-wave event at school, I expect that our teachers will invest in building a positive, constructive relationship with their students and families. They will begin to create moments that allow for sharing stories, interests, and dreams so that we can begin to know, love, and challenge each child to become more than ever before.

Direct instruction—things like brief video lessons and readings—will happen mostly in asynchronous (anytime) form, using checks for understanding like embedded questions or what educators call “exit slips.” These “flipped lessons” will lay the groundwork needed to build something that is truly inspiring. Further, this asynchronous approach allows us to use synchronous (real time) meetings for more interactive, engaging work that is focused on capturing the attention of the learner with practical activities to enrich their understanding.  Working creatively with class material, categorizing it, organizing it, sharing further thoughts on it, having a discussion about it–all of these are great things to do live and even in small groups.

Teachers will continue to focus on the individual needs of each child. However, Online Learning doesn’t universally connect in consistent or even beneficial ways with each student.  In that of that imbalance, we must build creative assessments that demonstrate applied and practical learning, we should explore new technologies so that children have improved access to their adult mentors; and we need to reflect and offer feedback as essential components of the learning environment so that teachers can analyze how a student has learned and what he or she can do to improve.  We must retool our grading practices to focus on growth and grace as we acknowledge the demands on children who are trying to succeed in a socially constrained environment.

Consistent Communication and Active, Productive Dialogue

Whether a child is in Kindergarten, 4th grade, or somewhere in the Middle School, families should expect easy access to the following: (1) ready knowledge of the learning opportunities children will explore, (2) ease of access to these opportunities, and (3) an up-to-date understanding of each teacher’s vision for assessing growth through these opportunities along the way.  We will devote the resources and time needed to educate families on how to use the learning management systems associated with our school so that children know where to find their online school community and parents know what to expect when they get there.

With regard to internal communication, the setting has changed the way we must execute our collaborative effort. In the years before the pandemic, teachers would have frequent structured and unstructured meetings throughout the day. These in-person conversations developed our curriculum, allowed for course corrections, and ultimately enhanced the teacher-student relationship.  With Online Learning, those collaborative meetings can be challenging to schedule, so when we are in this platform, we will be intentional about carving out time for teachers to use their collective experiences in and out of their virtual classrooms to hone and develop authentic, high-quality learning opportunities. 

Strong partnerships are developed through transparency and trust.

Lastly, and with equal importance, is the extrinsic and essential value of including family feedback in as much of our program as possible. When it comes to setting goals for a school year, the opportunity to finish on target depends greatly on our ability to make course corrections along the way. By keeping a predictable line of communication open, students and their families can have a voice throughout the learning experience. We will encourage every person in the community to contribute when called upon to offer feedback as we bravely navigate this new path together. Strong partnerships are developed through transparency and trust.

In conclusion, faculty and leadership in my school have spent considerable time reflecting on the program we offered last spring. Throughout all our discussions, one expectation is clear: a school is a place of innovators that should offer a truly unique experience for the learner. In order to do this, we must work harder and build a united mindset. When we can achieve this effort, we will take control of this pandemic narrative, harness our collective intellectual capital and create a phenomenal learning experience for every student, parent, and teacher. We are determined to make tomorrow better than today, so we must continue to learn from our past decisions to make the coming year more meaningful, valuable, and joyful.

Throughout all our discussions, one expectation is clear: a school is a place of innovators that should offer a truly unique experience for the learner.

Featured image created by nurun