Blog

Opportunity and Empathy in our New Learning Landscape

Categories: Distance Learning
March 23, 2020

In “Ana’s Class”:
She has begun using Google Classroom in a variety of ways to keep her core practices intact. She begins with a whole group lesson that is live video for those that can participate early in the week. Others who cannot interact at that time may watch later in what she considers a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning. The lesson that is associated with that video is then practiced in “work time” over the next few days. Ana follows by hosting small group “conferring sessions” in real time with 3-5 students to talk about the work, share ideas and build on each other’s learning.

Ana is holding “advising time” a few days a week via Google Chat to talk with students about their work, but more importantly to see their faces, hear their voices and to have them share about their experiences so far. This advising time focuses on whole child and individual connection with only a part of it being about their content learning.

Lastly, Ana is encouraging families to host the most important learning of all. She reminds them that they can cook, play board games, read aloud, go to the garden, create their own schedules and hold the home environment as a very real learning environment. This is “their own time” as well and that can be powerful learning with intention, too.

In “Jana’s Class”:
Jana did some heavy lifting before the social distancing began. Jana put “gazillions” of books together for students, set up their writing journals and other resources that would otherwise be part of her workshop model in the classroom. She and her teaching partner provided a schedule that would be used in a classroom for parents to reference, but not necessarily to follow. She is uploading images, but also shaping ways that parents can stimulate writing in context to books students are reading and environments they are experiencing. She has provided the routines for students to use workshop models for their reading and writing, but to do in the ways that are going to work at home. Her intentions are to help students have the resources they know and are familiar with as they begin to interact in this other environment. This allows students some predictability and continuity to their learning day. This also puts parents in a support role and not a direct teaching role.

It is fair to mention that Jana is also using the online tools like Google Classroom to support remote learning. She is just getting those elements set up. She is also emailing each family to personally connect with them, the student and their unique situations. “I want students and families first to feel safe and happy.” She went on, “I want them to find value in the things around them, not just the assignments I provide.”

A few things that stood out in their sharing:

  1. Communication is going to the parents, yes. But this process is about keeping the learning, thinking and interactions mostly in the hands of students. The underlying belief is that students are capable and have agency. I equate this to the many Science Fair projects that are more representative of parents than their kids. Now is a time for teachers (and parents) to believe in students’ capacities to continue routines, hold their learning space and persevere with some support.
  2. They both see this as opportunity and/but…. There is opportunity here for lots of teacher learning. New tools, new methods, new relationships and partnerships, new environments and resources to promote learning are all coming to the forefront right now. For everyone involved, they see the possibilities as something valuable. However, that learning opportunity has to be taken in context to a much broader and deeper perspective and challenge. Empathy is a huge key to our interactions with families and their interactions with their kids. Accountability to the “assignment” is far less important to them than finding peace, joy, engagement and patience with one another during these unprecedented times.
  3. As we would in the classroom, we must strike the fine balance between high expectation and gentle sensitivity. As teachers in this environment, we are supporting, providing, empowering and connecting. When that support, however, straddles over to overwhelming or frustrating, we must check ourselves and reassess. There will be formative feedback all along the way if we are listening. As great teachers, we then adjust with all of our values, practices and understanding to guide us.

We’ve always said that learning is a journey, not a destination. It is one the necessitates vulnerability and mistakes to promote true discovery and growth. This may have never been more true than now.

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