In many ways, with the COVID-19 outbreak, I felt very comfortable being asked to transition to distance learning. Much of what the ARCTIC Zone is built on is required within a learning platform like the one teachers across the globe are now being asked to use with their students. The program is built on providing students flexibility and freedom within their day, choice and voice in their learning, and supported independence.
We use an online classroom called Canvas every single day like many classrooms do. However, our online classroom has mapped out content for every “power standard” we have established based on content-specific state and national standards.With our project-based learning environment, while students work through a quarter or passion project, power standards from all areas are tagged to each project, which leads them to predesigned modules in our Canvas classroom. Nothing about the way our project process is designed requires students to be in a classroom.
It has been interesting seeing, hearing, and reading about other educator experiences throughout this unique time that have led me to believe we were better prepared for the shift in learning requirements. On the first day students were kept home, as teachers throughout our building hurried to learn how to use the online classroom or to design altered lessons or to develop a new learning model, my teaching partner and I were very relaxed in comparison. As our district continues to work to decide on essential “power standards” for secondary teachers to focus on for the remainder of the year so as not to overwhelm themselves or their students, we continue to use the power standards we have already established. And more than once, I have read articles or heard podcasts suggest to educators that now, more than ever, might be the best opportunity for them to try their hand at project-based learning.
I feel good about our preparedness for transitioning to a distance learning model, but that is not to say our students are any more prepared for the challenges of working from home, especially during a never-before seen pandemic outbreak such as this. In the first few days of at-home learning, I felt a surge of excitement every time I saw an online submission from a student or heard the ping of a student email coming my way. It was working! They were doing it all from home! After just a few short days, though, that excitement wore off as it became clear that, though many students were accessing and engaging, many were not.
I know there is a level of stress and worry in some homes right now that far outweighs the need for some students to be concerned with school expectations at this time. I know there are parents who are braving the dangers of leaving their homes daily to head to their essential jobs. I know there are students babysitting siblings and cousins during normal school hours. I know there are many home scenarios I DON’T know about right now. I want to be sensitive to the home dynamics that are causing genuine struggle for some students right now. I also know, though, there are students laying around their houses playing video games, watching YouTube, and creating Tik Toks all day.
There are going to be leniencies with grading expectations for this quarter, no doubt, though our district has yet to determine what those might be. There are going to be no students hindered from progressing to the next grade level based on their performance this quarter. So tell me honestly, with no grades, no suspensions, no threat of retention, and no teacher hovering over you, what reason do you have for doing anything school-related for the next eight weeks?
I realize the items I listed above are only external, negative consequences that might serve to motivate some students to do well in school on a normal day. This is exactly my point, though. Are these the things that should be driving students toward success? Let’s remove those factors for a moment – or for an entire quarter thanks to COVID-19 – and see what our students are really made of. For what have we actually prepared them? In my mind, this is the ultimate test.
What have we prepared our students for? Have we developed in them the desire and ability to do what’s right just because it’s what is right? To tackle their schoolwork from home despite the lack of consequences for not doing a darn thing? To reach for success and growth in themselves just because they want to?
I told many of my students this week that this is the ultimate test. In the ARCTIC Zone, they have a lot of freedom and flexibility with how they choose to use their time. They have a lot of independence in directing their own learning compared to their peers down the halls. This is a whole different ball game. They are being trusted with complete independence, freedom, and flexibility within the comfort (perhaps too comfortable) of their own home, complete with distractions galore. Some are rising to the occasion, and some are crumbling.
My feelings of calm while transitioning to distance learning were replaced last week with feelings of concern. Concern for how to increase intrinsic motivation within my low-achieving students over the last two weeks. However, that concern was quickly replaced with a new calm when I was able to remind myself of our best tool: reflection.
No one wants to fail. No one wants to disappoint themselves or others. No one wants that. This is an extreme shift for all of us, regardless of our preparedness ahead of time. So the start of a new week will begin with reflection for all students. They will look back at the last two weeks, their successes and struggles, and make decisions and plans regarding the next two weeks. And already, I am able to breathe easy because I know they will rise. I have seen it so many times before. If given the chance to reflect and reset, they will find success on the other side.
My dad was a writer and had a memory like a steel trap when it came to words. This was especially obvious in his joke-telling, but once in a while he would recite an excerpt from a book or a poem that resonated with him, and you just knew it had meaning because Dad had chosen to know it and say it. Something I heard him say on more than one occasion is a quote I have seen and heard in many places:
“Character is who you are when no one is looking.”