Six Days

it be like that sometimes

On November 12, my school re-opened for in-person instruction.

On November 20, we received word that our school was moving back to fully distance learning.

We lasted six days.

Our hybrid model allowed parents (and students) to choose whether to attend school in-person or continue with distance learning. At the beginning, our in-person students comprised a little over 50% of our school’s population. By the time we received word that our county was moved back to the purple tier, the number of parents (and students) choosing distance learning was over 55%. We had changes almost on a daily basis.

The numbers in the zip codes for my school have been going up exponentially (in line with many areas in our state and country). But in one particular zip code (where more than 50% of our students live), the case rate doubled in one week’s time.

Double digits.

Yikes.

My administration (especially our new rockstar principal) has worked tirelessly to get the school ready for the teachers and students. He has been nothing short of AH-mazing. Our custodial staff has also worked diligently to get our rooms configured to allow for six feet of physical distancing. They moved furniture to two storage units; they installed plexiglass shields on student desks; they put together and delivered plexiglass shields for teachers. The amount of money poured into purchasing hand sanitizer, paper towels, gloves, face shields, masks, thermometers, signage, portable hand-washing stations, touchless water bottle refill stations, plexiglass (of all shapes and sizes), external monitors, and cleaning supplies was probably astronomical. We also hired more custodial staff to clean the quads and bathrooms between passing periods. I don’t know the entire cost, but I know it was A LOT.

And now our school has closed for in-person instruction.

We lasted six days.

I have no words.

But…I am upset at the fact that, once again, I was unable to speak directly to my in-person students about moving back to fully distance learning. We were told wait until the district sent a message to all families at the conclusion of the school day. I felt like a fraud all day on Friday knowing that this would be the last time my kids were going to be able to see each other and their teachers for awhile and they had no clue.

I’m kind of glad I had to wear a mask so that they couldn’t see what my face was likely portraying.

But I hated that I had to post an announcement after 5PM on a Friday to let them know that everything was going to be okay – instead of assuring them of that fact in-person.

It sucked. Just like it sucked March 13.

Six days.

T-Minus 6 Days

March 13 is a day that will forever be seared into my mind as it was the last day I spent time with my students in the physical classroom. Since then, along with many dedicated teachers, I have worked tirelessly to provide meaningful learning opportunities that hopefully established a sense of “normalcy” and camaraderie online. I cherish the moments I had with my students last spring as they were a neat group of kids.

Fast forward to today, November 3. Last week, we were given word by my district that our school was among the Tier 2 Schools (not to be mixed up with the tiers used by the State of California to determine covid infection rates) which would be opening for in-person instruction on November 12. In spite of my concerns, erratic emotions, and general disbelief at having to return while cases are increasing in my school’s zip codes, I have to admit that my current administrator (he’s new to us this year, but he is certainly not new to this position as this is his 35th year in the public schools) has worked so diligently and thoughtfully on our behalf to ensure (to the best of his ability) that all teachers would feel safe when returning to in-person instruction.

Full disclosure: I am not comfortable returning to in-person instruction. Not only do I worry about my husband who has a compromised immune system, but I also worry for my own general health. The data and reports about the severity (or not) or the longevity (or not) of the symptoms are big red flags for me.

Working at a Title I school, I am sensitive to the needs of our most vulnerable students. I have heard too many heart-breaking stories about their homelife and the day-to-day struggles that many of their parents face. I know that many of my students do not have their own devices let alone reliable Internet connectivity. The push to close the digital access gap is real, folks. I mean, it’s been around for far too many years, but this year…the gaps are glaringly obvious. So, yes, I get that my students would benefit more if

  • They were in a physical classroom so that they could receive immediate support from their teachers
  • They could easily have access to two hot meals a day (breakfast and lunch)
  • They could interact with their peers to develop important social skills
  • They had reliable access to technology devices and the Internet
  • They had a safe place to be while their parents worked
  • They knew an adult was readily available if they needed help
  • They had the opportunity to be with their friends and make new ones

Yes, I realize that this is but a short list of benefits for my students.

But, I also know that more than 50% of our parents do not want their child to return to in-person instruction at this time. In fact, today I found out that more parents and students are opting to continue with the distance learning option out of concern about their health and safety.

So why are we going back to in-person instruction at this time? Well, it’s certainly not because the students will receive more instructional time (in fact, they are going to receive less instructional time than if we had stayed with the fully distance learning model). It’s also not because returning to in-person instruction will give students the opportunity to develop social skills–how is that possible with wearing masks and maintaining six-feet a part at all times? Students are not going to eating lunch together, they are not going to hanging out after school with their friends, they are not going to be engaging in many of social celebrations and activities that we used to have pre-March 13.

In fact, what awaits our students are desks measured six-feet a part or tables with a plexiglass shield down the middle. Their expressions are going to be hidden behind masks which they have to wear the entire time while on campus. Our students have to abide by one-way hallways. No short-cuts allowed. They are limited on what they can do during the passing period as it’s no longer about hanging out with friends in the quad. Students are going to still be served lunch, but it’s grab-and-go. No socializing over food for them.

No club activities.

No after school sports.

No enrichment programs such as robotics or photography.

Oh, and did I mention that they will have reduced instructional minutes with their teachers?

So, I guess I’m not seeing the overall benefit to returning to in-person instruction at this time especially when taking into account the added stress of possibly contracting the virus with the increased number of contact between people. This is not only a concern of mine, but for my students as well (yes, I have surveyed them multiple times so far this year).

I am a career educator. This is my 26th year in the classroom. I love my students. I love my colleagues. And I love teaching. But in light of the limitations we have to work with at this time, I do not see how the benefits outweigh the costs of returning to in-person instruction in six days.

Someone needs to get me off this roller coaster called 2020.

Learning Fast to Implement Well

Aside from teaching a doctoral course called Research on Effective Professional Development this summer, I think I would have immersed myself in research on the learning sciences anyway. Number 1: It’s how I geek out. Number 2: It makes me a stronger learning designer when working with children and adults.

The phrase “learning fast to implement well” is from Anthony Bryk and colleague’s (2015) book Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools can get Better at Getting Better. When I first read their book several years ago, I don’t think (actually I know) that I didn’t get as much out of it then as I have these past few months. I’m always looking for ways to make me a better classroom teacher, but I’m also looking to improve and hone my skills as a researcher. 

Needless to say, this book has become a good friend lately.

In light on the shifts we’ve had to make in how we approach the new year, I think teachers are going to need to learn fast to implement well. We don’t have time to take things slowly (on our end) since we have 100+ students who need us right nowIn fact, I’ve met with my department twice so far (we’re still technically on summer break) to discuss how we can use technology to facilitate learning for our students. We discussed ways to scaffold the learning for our English language learners and special education students. We brainstormed synchronous tools so that learning would be more engaging for our students. We still have ways to go, but I’m happy with our progress thus far. 

The technology skill and knowledge level in my department varies, and I think coming together early enough before the start of school was the perfect way for us to begin discussions on how we can hit the ground running as technology is the medium by which we are going to build connections, facilitate learning, and assess understanding. There will be mishaps (of that I am sure), but if we learn fast, we can implement wellthe next time around.

Please know that I am not saying that we are going to be throwing things at our students at a fast pace. In fact, I’m not advocating that we begin the school year at a sprint for us either. What I am suggesting is that we will be more effective teachers for our students if we have open conversations about what worked last spring, what has worked in the past (pre-COVID-19), and how can we take those experiences and make learning meaningful for our students now. We need to internalize the lessons learned to figure out how we can best serve our students—learn fast to implement well.

I will echo a comment from a colleague who said, “I’ve been doing this for 16 years, yet I feel as if this is my first year all over again.” Amen, brother! This is certainly uncharted territory for all of us. 

So, I was thinking about my big take-away from last spring, and I believe the best place for me to start is by intentionally creating activities around building a warm and supportive learning community. I just finished reading both EduProtocol (Hebern & Corippo, 2018/2019) books, and it’s already given me some ideas on how to start the school year by building and layering foundational skills for long-term success—more on that in another blog post.

What I’m thinking might be a good way to approach the start of the school year—and it doesn’t matter if you’re starting in-person, hybrid, or virtual—is to think of ways to bring humanity to the forefront. Think of it, many of our students have been isolated from friends since March; they likely haven’t been out playing in the summer like they used to; they have not had the same level of social interactions with peers, family, and other people (in general); they are probably freaked out about school starting up again (first day jitters don’t disappear even in the online environment); they are likely worried that they are somehow falling behind the academic curve; and they are probably thinking “Will everyone like me?”

To hopefully alleviate some of these fears, while also slowly introducing them to the technology tools and foundational skills they need, I created activities for my students based on several of the EduProtocols from Hebern and Corippo (2018/2019). In the forefront of those activities are ways that my students can build relationships with each other.  

This past spring posed a huge learning curve for me. But I am here…and ready to start the new school year. 

I am ready to learn fast to implement well

Bring it on 2020.

Reference

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. G. (2015). Learning to improve: How America’s schools can get better at getting better. Harvard Education Press.

Hebern M., & Corippo, J. (2018). Eduprotocol field guide: 16 student-centered lesson frames for infinite learning possibilities. Dave Burgess Consulting.

Hebern M., & Corippo, J. (2019). Eduprotocol field guide book 2: 12 new lesson frames for even more engagement. Dave Burgess Consulting.