I’m going to start out by giving a shout-out to virtual teachers everywhere! Those of you that have been doing this since September, wow! You amaze me. As I’m getting used to the idea of teaching into a screen, I’m amazed by how you are able to do this day in and day out. At the end of the day, I sometimes walk away unsure as to the depth of our work; my eyes hurt; and if we didn’t have Phys. Ed. or if I haven’t had a chance to walk yet for the day, my back hurts. I was amazed by you before but experiencing this first-hand, you deserve much more credit than has been given!
In the last 4 weeks, I have learned a lot about myself and my students. In this post, I’ll share a few of the “lessons” that I have learned. While they may not be new “lessons”, they are certainly reminders for me when I head back into the classroom. Here they are:
- Flexibility is fundamental;
- Reflection is required;
- Connections are crucial.
Flexibility Is Fundamental
Every day I head into our Meet or Zoom with a plan of how the day will go and almost always that plan gets completely changed around. While I know that it’s the same in the classroom, I find that so much more comes up in the virtual classroom. Our check-ins last longer. Tech issues arise. We need more or different support with a question or task since the way in which we “move around the room” is quite different. Where I thought I would be and where we actually are, are two different places and I’m learning more and more to not feel as though I’m failing my students because we can’t get to it just yet. As a teacher, I know that I can’t get to everything and for years now I’ve worked on the philosophy that my students will set the pace of where we go. However, somehow when we started in January, I found myself planning out and feeling the need to be moving along faster. I found myself getting frustrated with not being able to support my students in the same way and it has taken me some time to figure out different ways to accomplish this. Small group meetings or peer review sessions. I’m learning to be gentle with myself and understanding that flexibility is needed in my plans and where I imagined we might take an activity considering we’ve moved from in the classroom to virtual.
Reflection Is Required
At the end of the first week, we took some time to reflect on the week and while I thought we did a great job, the feedback was brutal! In the classroom, a lot of the work and conversations are student-led with me as the facilitator. Being online, I found – and sometimes continue to find myself – in the seat of being the person who is speaking the most. Sure, we ask questions and there are discussions but it’s definitely not like it was in the classroom and the students feel it and have commented on it! As such, I’m getting over my fear of controlling the online space and my notion of making sure that it’s “safe” for all and we have ventured into breakout rooms in Zoom where I pop in from group to group as they work to solve problems, offer feedback to each other and lead workouts for Phys. Ed. It’s in these times that I have seen that they are “themselves”. That is to say that they’re the leaders I saw when we were in the classroom who are in charge of their own learning and helping their peers along with their learning. The small groups resemble the collaborative learning we’ve grown accustomed to over the past few months. They’ve asked for more opportunities to lead each other in Art activities or other areas of interest and I need to listen to their feedback and work with them to weave it into our day. Next week is another feedback/checkpoint for us and hopefully, we’ll be doing better in some areas and learn even more ways to make virtual learning more effective for my students.
Connections Are Crucial
A couple of weeks ago, a colleague reached out to me to check-in via email. This colleague also happens to be the parent of one of my students. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated them checking in with me to see how I was doing and to also share how they felt their child was doing. It came on a day when I was actually struggling. I was frustrated with the fact that our return to school was being extended and knowing that the current way of teaching really isn’t sustainable. I’m grateful that all of my students are in everyday and learning but this really isn’t learning as we have known it. As I read the email, I started to feel very emotional. It wasn’t about what I could do better but it was sincerely thanking me for what I had been doing and for that I will forever be grateful. I share this to ask, who are you connecting with during this time? Are there friends, colleagues, or family members who are checking-in on you or with whom you can check-in? Since this colleague checked in on me, I’ve tried to pay it forward. I haven’t checked in with as many people as I have wanted to but as I connect, I realize just how crucial these connections are, as we are so isolated at this time.
These are just some of the lessons I have learned in the last 4 weeks. While virtual learning continues for the next while, I know that more lessons will come. I’m ready to accept them and learn as I continue in my teaching practice. What lessons are you learning during this time? How might they help you in your practice? What might you leave behind when we are back in person? What might change when we return? I hope that you are staying safe and taking care of yourself.
ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.
ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.