COVID-19 has turned everyone into a first-year teacher. It doesn’t matter how many years of experience you might have, because this year is unlike any other that we have ever experienced. All of us are re-imagining new ways to connect with students, whether you are learning together on-line or in-person. It is a very humbling experience to be starting from scratch.
I have chosen to teach in-person because I crave community and collaboration. The weeks leading up the first day of school were frustrating and stressful. Everyone was scared and nervous as we struggled to create new routines and protocols. As soon as the students arrived, I began to relax. There is still so much that is unknown and unpredictable, but I know how to play and learn with children.
Here are some of my insights from the first few weeks of teaching Grade 2.
Wearing masks makes it very difficult to communicate clearly. We cannot read each other’s lips or facial expressions, and it is hard to hear each other. For those of us who are teaching outside, our voices are struggling to project. I grew up with a father who was deaf-blind. As a child, I learned about barriers, disability justice, and how to communicate with my hands.
I worked with my students to develop simple signs that we can use to help us communicate. We have symbols for: turning up the volume, sharing the same idea, making connections, asking to use the washroom or get a drink of water, and letting someone know we are smiling underneath. I made a short video, which I shared with my families after the first day of school. Send me an email if you would like me to share it with you.
I also bought myself a voice amplifier, which helps everyone to listen, and makes me feel like a rock star!
Drama and Play:
Drama is a powerful way to teach and create community. I have been using role-playing and charades to practice and reinforce new routines, and problem-solve different scenarios. I believe in the possibilities of play, and I am holding space for us to play together. After months of isolation and loss, we all need to connect and have fun!
Every morning, after pre-screening and sharing our connection to land, we play a few cooperative games. We have been learning each other’s names by clapping out syllables, using gestures or wordplay, such as “Very Velvet”. We ask questions and “Step into the Circle”. We change places with someone else “When the Big Wind Blows….” and we try to guess who is leading the action in “Follow the Leader”.
All the educators at our school are trying to spend as much time outside as possible. We know that learning outdoors is safer, and we are transforming our pedagogy by teaching and learning outdoors. There are many challenges to overcome, including city traffic and construction noise, carrying the materials you need everywhere you go, the lack of shelter and easy access to washrooms, etc. We are embracing the “big ideas” of change and adaptation and using our imagination to co-create new possibilities for education.
Kindergarten-Grade 6 students have been exploring measurement and mapping, as we connect with the different areas of our school yard. Inside our “portable desks” are materials we can use for documenting our learning. We are all learning how to keep our knapsacks organized and take responsibility for the extra masks and layers, hand sanitizer, “sit-upons” and school supplies.
This year, we will be deepening our understanding of land education and collaborating with Doug Anderson, who is one of the co-authors of Natural Curiosity 2nd edition: The Importance of Indigenous Perspectives in Children’s Environmental Inquiry. We will explore a pedagogy of relationships, and honour land as first teacher.
There are extensive resources that connect Outdoor Learning to the Ontario Curriculum. These Kindergarten-Grade 8 activities were created by the Peel District School Board Field Centre Instructors. Please share other resources that are supporting you to do this work.