The 2020-2021 school year came to a close for students on June 9 and for teachers on June 10. Needless to say, this was the most welcomed closure to the school year as everyone…I mean everyone…was tired.
Although I give props to my colleagues for persevering and to parents for sticking it out during a crazy, tumultuous school year—truth be told, it’s the students who truly deserve the props. After all, adults are better skilled to handle tough situations. We’ve learned from experience that with enough effort, grit, and a strong support system, we can and would survive tough situations. Children, on the other hand, do not have that experience within which to draw strength. And although many of us were dumbstruck with what was happening to us, around us, and outside of us during this pandemic, at least we were better equipped emotionally to weather this storm.
So, what was amazing to me was the depth of resilience within which my middle school students drew their strength. Their world, already topsy-turvy from being an adolescent, was completely and wholly shaken with the pandemic. As several of my students alluded to in their journal entries this past spring, they have not set foot on a school campus in over a year.
Over a year.
Although about 55% of students eventually returned to in-person instruction starting in March 2021, a huge number still opted to continue with distance learning. Learning encumbered by wifi and device issues as well as finding a spot conducive to studying (i.e., quiet) was an everyday battle for the majority of my students.
Our school deployed devices and hotspots until we ran out. And, if you’ve ever used a hotspot, you know how clunky they are. Add to the fact that we were using Zoom (bandwidth hogger) as the platform and you may have just an inkling of the barriers many students had to endure just to make it through the school day—let alone the entire school year.
I am sure many of my students do not realize the magnitude of their accomplishment.
But I do.
My dissertation research focused on the barriers of technology integration into classroom practices. So, I am well aware of the barriers that challenge and, in some cases, prevent teachers from adopting technology as a medium of learning. First order barriers such as devices, access, infrastructure discourage teachers from integrating technology into their classroom practices (Ertmer, 1999). Second order barriers include beliefs, efficacy, skills, knowledge, and value to learning (Ertmer, 1999). Without overcoming the majority of these barriers, technology adoption is dead in the water.
However, due to the pandemic, technology served as the main medium by which teachers and students could connect. Thus, teachers had little choice but to quickly up their technology game, and students were met with the same dilemma.
Teachers worked diligently to prepare an engaging learning experience for their students. Parents rearranged their lives and homes to better serve as a makeshift learning space for their children. And the children logged in every day to their classes. Well, maybe not all of the children and maybe not every day. But most of them logged in every day to all of their classes—despite the wifi and device issues—in spite of the noisy shared work- and learning space—no matter how confusing the technology tools seemed to be—they logged in anyway.
If you are looking for examples of how to instill grit in students, look no further because the students learned it—they didn’t have a choice. The pandemic may have forced them to grow up much too quickly, but it also taught many of them that they have what it takes to come out on the other side.
We made it.