A couple of years ago, our oldest child got his driver's license. I was SO nervous and a complete wreck knowing that he would be on the roads...alone. I remember asking him to drive me on the interstate in Dallas because, I knew if he could handle Dallas traffic, he could certainly handle the small highway he would use to get from our home to work and school. He agreed but soon regretted that decision. As soon as he began to drive, I had all sorts of advice. "Slow down, use the blinker, how fast are you going, are you using your mirrors?" I was like a parrot in his ear just chirping away. Finally, he pulled over and said he couldn't drive with me providing constant direction.
Wow! 2020 was definitely a year to remember (or not). While it went quickly in so many ways, it also went by so slowly. It's easy to focus on all of the negative because, let's be honest, there was SO MUCH of it. However, there were also many positive outcomes that will change the way that we do things from here on out.
We've all talked about sustainable change in education for some time. We've known that it was important for technology to become a priority and realized the importance of collaboration. However, knowing the importance of something and actually prioritizing those actions are two different things.
2020 had a way of leveling the playing field. Let me explain...there was no district, campus, or classroom that was totally prepared for what we've experienced. There were no best practices, no blog posts, no YouTube videos, and no podcasts that you could listen regarding emergency remote learning during a pandemic. I would go out on a limb and say that no one knew how it could be done in those first few days. And then...magic began to happen. Teachers began to try new things, experiment with new ideas, and share their experiences. Some things worked, some things didn't, but the reality is that we will never be the same.
Learning looks different right now. Knowing what students truly understand is difficult but more important than ever before. In order to differentiate and make learning meaningful, we have to be able to "see" what is being learned. Documentation of learning is something that should be carefully considered and done in a way that is both manageable for educators and meaningful for our learners.
So, what does that look like? How do we encourage documentation of learning and how can we do it in a way that makes sense for both in class and at home learners. First of all, I think we have to consider what we are looking for within the documentation of the learning. Below are some essential pieces of learning that I consider to be very important...
PBL, Project-Based Learning, has a big impact on learners. Edutopia describes this way of learning as "a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge." Sounds like a good idea, yes? Definitely sounds like something that might result in true engagement from our learners. I often say that completing work, paying attention, or logging into an LMS is not engagement. That's compliance. Engagement is a willingness to invest in the learning. In my own experience, I have seen more of a willingness to invest when I made project-based learning a priority in my classroom.
I was recently asked why, with all we know about the benefits of PBL, this type of learning isn't more of of a reality within our current educational landscape. Several things came to mind with the first being time. Planning and implementing project-based learning requires time to plan, time to collaborate, and time to provide feedback. It requires a different planning mindset and can seem quite overwhelming.
Self-Assessment is super important right now as it's a great way to know where your learners feel like they need support. Being able to honestly share what you do and do not understand encourages the social-emotional skill of self-awareness and will be important beyond the walls of the classroom. There are five important questions that should be asked as part of a self-assessment opportunity...
"The adventure you're ready for is the one that you get." ~ Jeff Probst
So, I'm a huge Survivor fan. I absolutely love watching every season, every episode. As I was watching recently, I began to realize some of the parallels between the show, Survivor, and what educators are experiencing right now...the elements are rough, the challenges are difficult, and every day brings a new set of circumstances.
As I watch, I can't help but realize that there are two types of people that play the game. Some come into the experience with the intention to thrive and some come simply to survive. Let me explain.
The definition of survive is to manage to keep going in difficult circumstances. But, what if we could do more than just keep going? What if we could go actually grow as a result of these unprecedented circumstances? The definition of thrive is to grow or develop well. However, in order to grow and develop well, we have to be intentional about our perspective.
I never want to suggest that this year will be easy or predictable. In fact, just the opposite is true. The reality is that this year will be difficult and uncertain. Things will happen that are out of our control and there will be challenges that seem almost impossible to overcome. But, if our perspective is to grow through the difficult circumstances and develop as we overcome challenges, everything changes. As Jeff Probst said, "The adventure you're ready for is the one that you get."
Here are three suggestions for moving beyond simply surviving and into thriving throughout the 2020-2021 school year...
It's the end of July and so much still remains unknown. Administrators and educators are continuing to work so hard to do what's best for learners while following the recommendations and limitations put in place because of our current circumstances. So much changes every day and it feels like we are all just trying to keep our heads above water.
As I meet with both teachers and administrators, I find myself coming back to two questions regardless of what we are considering. We might be talking about...
I could go on and on. The reality is that regardless of what we do right now, we should be considering sustainability. Intentionality will provide the opportunity to continue to use so much of what we are putting into place for years to come.
So, what two questions do I ask in every single planning meeting, professional learning experience, and conversation that I have with educators right now?
There are still many things that remain unknown about the upcoming school year. While it can be super scary and frustrating to lack so many answers, there are several things that we do know...
Simply, knowing these things provides enough clarity to move from the reactive state that we have been in to a proactive state as we begin to prepare for and think through what learning will look like moving forward.
I just can't stop thinking about what the Fall might look like and how we will have to think so far beyond what we've always done to make any of this work. Regardless of what I think about or the conversations that I have, I always come back to this idea of Collaborative Experience Design. Now, stay with me...this isn't new. In fact, it's something that you've probably done at at some point in your career if you've been in the classroom for some time.
The idea involves creating teams of teachers to come together to design cross-curricular experiences for learners that will be meaningful regardless of where the learning happens. I don't think it's fair, realistic, or sustainable for educators to be expected to design different experiences for at-home and in-class learners. Instead, I think every learner should be given the opportunity to learn through the experiences are designed by a team and given the support that they need along the way.
Weekly, blended, cross-curricular learning experiences make sense right now. Here's what I'm thinking...
Digital equity will require so much more than additional devices and better access to wifi. Instead, it will require a fundamental shift in how we see learning. Let me explain.
There is a difference in remote learning and remote teaching. I'm not saying there isn't a place for both but we have to understand that it's the remote learning that will likely have the biggest impact on our learners. Remote learning involves the connections that are made beyond the walls of the classroom. It transfers ownership and requires action from the learner. Technology does not have to be involved in order for remote learning to happen. Remote teaching is the act of delivering information whether that is done through a video, discussion board, or learning management system. I think of remote teaching is the delivery of content from the educator to the learner.
I completely understand that technology makes communication easier and provides tools that can make learning relevant and meaningful. I'm not suggesting that it's not important to consider ways that additional devices and better connections can be achieved. However, the reality is that this is not a solution that is coming overnight. Instead, many districts will have to work toward better access and additional devices over a period of time and it's that period of time that I'd like to address.