The last two months have been a blur. On a beautiful evening in early March, I was eating dinner with my daughter in Portland, Oregon when I learned that my professional development training the following day was canceled due to the developments of COVID19. It seems that each day since that evening in March we have plunged deeper and deeper into a surreal world of steep and urgent learning as we try to transition our educational practices in a world that is uncertain and rapidly changing. In the past two months we’ve left our brick and mortar buildings and have recreated our learning spaces so students can access them from anywhere. What schools across our nation have accomplished to ensure all are learning is truly remarkable. The learning has been arduous and laden with obstacles, but the true heart and soul of educators is shining brighter than ever in this time of adversity to find new ways to connect and support students in learning. As the school year comes to a close and we start anticipating what the Fall educational landscape will look like, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged. However, I’d rather choose to have a Walt Disney mindset and believe that, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible”.
Collectively as educators we have accomplished what we would have considered impossible eight weeks ago. In this pivotal moment in our history we have the unique opportunity to push forward in this crisis to not only reimagine education; but actually make it happen. As we pull back the layers of education as we know it, we must take an honest look at the needs of all of our learners. Learning is going to look different in the days ahead, so let’s take this opportunity to make it better. As we’ve navigated this season, many discoveries have been made. Students who once felt invisible in our schools are now finding their voice in a remote learning landscape. We have developed a greater appreciation for the relationships with students and colleagues and the everyday interactions we once took for granted. Inequities in the educational system are coming into light. Whether we call this surreal world we are living in the “new normal” or “new temporary normal”, I think we are all beginning to see that as we live out this unique moment in history a new era is emerging.
In my role as a Tech Integration Specialist I’ve had a chance to support, problem solve, and collaborate with incredible educators within my district and beyond. I also have had a wonderful opportunity to chat with amazing thought leaders and educators from across the nation on my Make Learning Magical podcast. We’ve discussed the various ways they’re navigating teaching and learning during this pandemic, their hopes for the future, struggles, and magical moments. So many thoughts have been swirling around in my mind as I reflect on my learning, conversations with others, my passion for education, and how we can take this extremely challenging time in our history and reimagine what learning could potentially look like as we move forward. We no longer can remain comfortable in the way things were, we must be willing to push past what we have always known and explore new ways of teaching and learning that will better meet the needs of all learners and prepare them for a world that is constantly changing. However, as we begin this work to reimagine, we must never lose sight of our why.
I keep my “why” statement taped on my journal and in various places so it can remain visible and help me focus on what is most important in my work.
Today as I read my “why” I found myself pondering all that has changed in education in a matter of weeks. Never has my “why” been more true to my calling and purpose.
The words sprinkled throughout “my why” hold a special power. They contain the magic that made learning come to life in my classroom and I also believe they hold the magic that will make learning beyond COVID19 come to life as well, wherever that takes place. Whether students are learning in a brick and mortar school building, from home, or a combination of both, my passion and purpose is what fuels me. As I thought about this it made me think about my MAGICAL acronym:
Memorable Beginnings The saving grace in this emergency remote teaching world has been that teachers already had established relationships with their students. They were connected. Some of the teachers I talked to on my podcast taught quarter-long classes where they had either just met or hadn’t connected at all with their students face to face. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be to be thrust into remote teaching without having any prior connection with your students. Whether we begin Fall in classrooms, virtually, or in a blended situation, taking time to foster relationships and create memorable beginnings is going to be vital.
Authenticity and Agency Now more than ever we need to let our true selves shine through. This time of remote teaching has brought a whole new level of authenticity as our students have had a window into our homes; seeing our pets, our kids, and maybe even our piles of laundry. On the flip side, we have had a glimpse into our student’s worlds as well giving us a new perspective of what “home” looks like. I think this authenticity has actually been refreshing for us all and allowed us to be a little more real and relatable with our students. It has also allowed us to create authentic learning experiences. What better time to take the skills that we teach them and have them apply them in real world situations.
We have also had to consider various learning options for students to meet the diverse needs of our learners. Many districts are using choice boards (learning grids as our district calls them) to differentiate and provide multiple options for students with diverse needs. As we reimagine learning in the future, student agency is going to be increasingly important. When students have choice in how they learn and how they share, they become invested and empowered learners. What a powerful combination when we combine authenticity and agency together to provide real, relevant experiences, with an abundance of choice and voice.
Gamified Experiences I have been thinking a lot about the gamified experiences that were created in my classroom and what that would look like in a remote or blended learning environment. It excites me to think of all the possibilities for creating a storyline and game mechanics that can live in both the virtual and physical worlds. Finding ways to engage students in playful learning has never been more important.
Innovation I’m not sure that there has ever been a time in history where educators have been shoved out of their comfort zones more violently than they have during COVID19. We’ve had no choice. Like it or not, we’ve all had to learn new ways to transition to life outside of our school buildings. Granted, not all of the new ways have been better than what we did before. How could it be when we had to pivot so fast and in a crisis? However, I think most would say that growth has happened for all of us and we’ve discovered new teaching and learning strategies that will continue far beyond this pandemic. Reimagining education requires us to get uncomfortable and to keep learning and growing to find ways to address the needs of all of our learners. It may seem like education is unraveling, but think about how beautiful it will be when we knit it back together with a combination of the best of the old and new.
Creativity, Curiosity, and Collaboration The degree of creativity, collaboration, and curiosity that I have seen emerge as a result of this season has blown my mind. In education and beyond, I have seen people tapping into their creativity in unique and imaginative ways to make the most out of a difficult situation. Virtual field trips, scavenger hunts, Bitmoji classroom adventures, and Zoom cooking experiences are just a few of the learning experiences educators have shared. I have also seen a rise in curiosity. When faced with uncertainty we are continuing to research and explore new ways to solve the problems we are faced with. People across the globe are collaborating on social media platforms to share ideas and resources. Connecting virtually across districts, regions, and states on Zoom and Google Meet has become the norm. As educators begin expanding their professional networks, I think they will begin connecting their classrooms too. This time has made us realize we truly are better together. What a powerful combination when creativity, curiosity, and collaboration come together in learning.
Authentic Audience When I began providing students with an authentic audience to demonstrate their learning, it changed the learning landscape in my classroom. Students shined when they received feedback from local experts and staff members that they respected. As we think towards the future of education, providing our students with an opportunity to connect and demonstrate what they've learned to an authentic audience will be even more important. How can we expand beyond our classroom walls and connect with authors, experts, and classrooms in different parts of the world? How can we partner our students with others to collaborate, share ideas, and solve problems? How can we provide opportunities for students to create together. As we reimagine learning beyond our classroom walls we must begin thinking about how we can connect and collaborate with people of varying backgrounds and perspectives. We all need connection and unity more than ever!
Legacy This pandemic has rocked our worlds. Many have felt like first year teachers again trying to figure out how to teach in a completely different way. It’s highlighted our insecurities and fears and made us feel vulnerable. We’ve felt grief, loss, and anger because moments were taken away from us that we can’t get back. As a mom of a senior, I have felt all of those emotions in a big way. What I have had to hold onto is the fact that though moments have been stolen from me, magical moments have also been created that will last forever. I have had more meals and heart to heart conversations with my son. We've spent lots of time playing games and watching our favorite movies. Though our students have felt loss and heartbreak just as we have, this season will forever be etched in their memory. They have lived a part of history that will be talked about for years to come. No one will forget the class of 2020. We are leaving a legacy that will last forever. We have to remember as we move forward and reimagine learning for our students that we will always hold the magic. Embrace the unique and special ways you connect with students and bring that into whatever learning environment you are faced with in the Fall.
Under extreme stress and global crisis we completely shifted our teaching practice within a matter of weeks. Educators have proven that the impossible is actually quite possible. Now it's time to reimagine an educational system where MAGICAL experiences exist for ALL students! Let's reimagine the impossible.
Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and author of Make Learning Magical. I'm passionate about finding innovative ways to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom.