We had inservice yesterday which allowed opportunity to connect and collaborate with our department colleagues. Though the date for the inservice has been on the calendar all year, the way the day was used was, no doubt, different from the district’s original intent. We began the day with a mini course on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) for both students and educators alike. This was followed by small group discussions within our department teams, considering seven essential questions regarding what has happened this quarter and what is to come in the fall.
The first part of our discussion was spent reflecting on how we tackled the sudden school closure and transition to emergency remote learning. Not surprisingly, our conversation included a lot of talk that connected to our early morning course about SEL. The primal needs of our students include safety, reassurance, comfort, and connection. Beyond that, our goal this quarter was simply to motivate, engage, and empower students as best we could.
The remainder of our discussion was spent on determining priorities for the fall, predicting varying student needs after being home for so long. I was sold on the glaring need for personalization in the classroom before we were all sent home. Let me tell you, though – observations of my students and those around me over the past few months has made this even more obvious.
It’s not often everyone in the world is able to experience the same exact phenomenon at the same exact time. I have friends in Australia who are under social distancing restrictions just like we are, and though I know we are facing a pandemic, global in nature, reading their posts on social media that I can so closely relate to, still feels strange to me. It’s affecting us all. And yet, how differently we have each responded.
I see it in myself when I talk to my friends and family. I see it in my students when I connect (or don’t) with them via email or video chats. Everyone is responding in their own ways. Some are riding some awesome highs while others are experiencing some daunting lows. Some you might expect to take it all in stride are struggling while the ones who can’t seem to keep it all together on a typical day are thriving. It’s odd and fascinating, but without needing to understand all of the moving parts that go into what creates a person’s reaction to an experience like this, it reveals one important detail: we are all very different. Our needs are unique to each of us.
Some students will return in the fall (hopefully), ready to take on the world, craving challenge and opportunity. Others will struggle to walk through the school doors. And they might be interchangeable from day to day. But what I have come to realize more than ever is that the reality of this situation has nothing to do with a virus. This is every day. Every day students walk through our doors with differing backgrounds, experiences, hours of sleep, calories consumed, social interactions, you name it. That goes for adults, as well. All students deserve a personalized approach to learning based on the ebb and flow of their wants and needs each and every day.
I just finished my third book of the quarantine called Future-Focused Learning: 10 Essential Shifts of Everyday Practice by Lee Watanabe-Crockett. I strongly recommend it to anyone in education as it not only offers insight into what should be made important in classrooms today but provides numerous activity ideas for immediate implementation.
An idea introduced early in the book is one I have read over and over – that we are no longer living in the industrial age where we are preparing students for a limited number of occupations and societal roles once they graduate. What resonated with me from this book, though, is this: we need to prepare students with just in time learning versus just in case learning.
“For example, they don’t require knowledge just in case they want to become scientists, mathematicians, or historians, but rather they need knowledge that is just in time to give them what they need to continue to do what they are doing in the moment, a moment that may require scientific, mathematical, or historical knowledge.”
I see two things in this quote right now. First, all students do not need to be taught the same exact things in all content areas but instead should be exposed to all areas and able to explore them in their own ways and at their own paces. Second, isn’t the current crisis we find ourselves in the perfect example of just in time brought to life for some businesses and organizations??? Employees all over the globe have had to think on their feet, to creatively problem-solve, to concoct new methods and practices out of thin air to stay afloat in recent months. Look at our local restaurants suddenly advertising on FB live for their curbside pick-ups! Heck, Twitter recently told all of their employees they never have to return to work because they have suddenly realized it can all be done from home anyway!
For reasons related to the virus, school cannot and will not look the same in the fall, but we have an opportunity staring us in the face. When social distancing restrictions are eventually lifted, regardless of how far away that might be, we must move forward. We must look at the personal needs of each individual student and be able to respond accordingly. We must prepare students to problem-solve in real time, just in time, with creativity and diligence. We must make learning future-focused. To quote economist and professor at New York University, Paul Romer, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”