Meeting Learners Wherever They May Be

“Making Bunny Ears” by woodleywonderworks (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

“Aim for the middle of the square,” I encourage an 8-year old boy on my basketball team.

 

The power of geometry on full display. Meanwhile, another player kicks the ball against the gymnasium wall, seemingly confusing basketball for soccer.  Two others chase each other in a game of tag. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot another dancing the Macarena.  The Macarena?  Is Tik Tok responsible for the one-hit wonder Spanish song of 1993 being brought back? Reaching for my whistle, I notice another player launching shots from beyond the three-point line.  In wonder I look on, taking a few seconds to just take in the full scene.

  

Weren’t the directions and demonstration clear?  To take shots from 3 feet away, stepping from side to side and aiming at the middle of the box. A timeless backboard drill.  

 

Before I am able to blow the whistle, it happens.

 

“Coach, can you tie my shoe?” one 4-foot tall player earnestly requests.  His large blue eyes match his dyed fringe.  The shrill tone of his voice resembling my 5-year old nephew’s.  

 

I look down at his knotted lace and caught up in the chaos, regretfully do not seize the opportunity to teach this “life skill.”  On the ride home, the moment continued to be replayed. Impossible to get out of my head, it stewed the next 48 hours.  

 

For a veteran teacher, this was a serious self-check.  An invaluable lesson to meet the learner, wherever they might be. A cornerstone of any education certification program, I would have guessed I perfected this lesson.  However, in the midst of “herding cats,” did I forget?  Mere negligence? Simply distracted?  Whatever the reason, I was embarrassed for myself.  A “wrong” to made right!  

 

Grateful to learn from the error, I was reminded how we may have a particular aim for a class or practice, yet of even greater importance than our plan, is that we remain flexible and respond to the learners right before our eyes. Differentiation sometimes a reflex, while at other times requires utmost intention.  

 

The next practice I approached the boy with the knotted laces and on bended knee showed him how to tie his shoe. Singing in a hushed tone, “Over, under, around and through, meet Mr. Bunny Rabbit, pull and through.”  Smiling, he gave it a try, his motor skills a clear challenge. The third attempt a success!

 

During my childhood a poster hung in our home’s laundry room.  It shared advice from best-selling author, Robert Fulgum and was titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Fulgum conveyed the simplicity and power of such adages as, share everything, and to play fair. 

 

Years later, a third grade teacher, I turned to look over my shoulder each time a student called, “Mister…”  I looked for my father, a bit bewildered because from one day to the next I had become a “Mister” myself.  Though the exuberance, joy, and energy of 8 and 9-year olds was a pleasure, middle school became my wheelhouse.  More than twenty years would pass before I would be in the company of third-graders again. 

 

This time, wearing the hat of coach. A chance to improve my well-conditioned skills in patience but also explicitness, assuming nothing.   

 

Not even that all the children can yet tie their own shoes.

Time for Action: Reaching Unity in Diversity

   Photo by Brittani Burns on Unsplash 

I am sitting in a room surrounded by fellow teachers and administrators, mindful of our physical distance.  A grin on my face, not because we just successfully concluded our fifth week of classes.  Rather, I am tickled by the irony.  Distanced as we discuss “togetherness.”  More specifically, intercultural competencies was to be the  focus of our dialogue.  I felt privileged to have the time and space to converse openly because so critical is the work that needs to be done.  As part of an international school, one that clearly is not American-centric, we must first consider our context. With students and faculty cultures representing more than sixty nations, there is credence in remaining cognizant of the influences of the host country culture. Possibly the country power structures may even be more hierarchically structured than egalitarian. Furthermore, it would be remiss to not acknowledge the large degree of diversity representative in the range of people’s experiences and quite possibly, readiness to reflect on privilege, equality, and oppression. 

Over the summer I wrote an article titled, An Authentic Response to Take Action.”  In it I ask, “Might 2020 be the nascence of more leadership from the heart.  Passion hangs heavy in the air, as people imagine a tomorrow they long to live in.  Changes bent on solutions, not blame, as  millions get down on bended knee in silent protest.” The protests have not abated, if anything they have grown more intense.  All this amidst an uncontrolled pandemic and under apocalyptic skies of the Wetern United States. In this same post I introduced Safaa Abdelmagid and her open letter to SEARCH Associates published on June 8.  In it she concludes, “Do better, Search Associates, much much better. Start by being honest…Own your privilege and use it to serve those who truly deserve it.”  For context, this was but three days after the tragic death of George Floyd.

Then, August 26 The Search Associates Team and CEO Jessica Magagna, responded with their own letter.  Addressed, “Dear Search Associates Community,” Magagna cites “tangible actions and evidence of change.”  A move beyond awareness and to greater responsibility.  Clear points outlined by a 3-section plan, where actions are determined immediate, by the end of December 2020, and by the end of March 2021.  

The school where I am employed endeavors to determine measurable action points as well. Thankfully, we too were challenged, most notably by alumni, as they shared their experiences and offered suggestions. The conversations with this invaluable group will continue.  

There is much work to be done.  The issues do not begin, nor end with race.  The move is to reflect, take ownership, and become far more inclusive.  So our school, the people but also the systems, are more fully equitable to all cultures; be they defined racially, linguistically, by gender, sexual-preference, or ability.  Schools must take a stand.  Furthermore, akin to SEARCH associates, a degree of poise but also power must be established. A power which links us as human beings.  Our minds simply will not think the way out of this.  Our hearts are to play a key role as we feel our way into a reality so many have felt, for so long.  

The good news is, the iGen or Generation Z, consistently proves itself to be more accepting of differences than previous generations.  It is us educators but moreover the institutions and broader cultures that need to “catch up.”  A sensible starting point is to begin by having these long overdue conversations, determining our priorities. Mahatma Gandhi advised us well when he said.  “Action expresses priorities.  Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.”  The time for action is yesterday.  

Teaching in Three Dimensions

Self-compassion and seeing clearly of necessity as teachers navigate 3-dimensions.
Photo by: Photo by Nonsap Visuals on Unsplash

The start of a new school year resulted in my taking a bit of a hiatus in blogging.  No doubt, being in three places at the same time has provided some challenge.  Three places?  Live with five classes of twenty-something pre-teens wiggling before me in the classroom.  Getting to know students and  putting faces with names is the first order of “business.”  This year I have a student named Whale and another I warily call Honey.  “Good morning Honey!” just does no’t feel right for some reason.  I remain thankful Honey is not in Sweet’s class, or Sweet Honey might just sit alongside each other.  A colleague has Putter’s little brother, Birdie this year.  Thai nicknames often add  a bit of joy to the classroom and it is quite possible to have a whole fruit salad, with students named Apple, Pear, and Peach!  

 

3-D Teaching

Face to face, or dubbed f2f, often focuses the first days upon building routines and  just putting students at ease, so the classroom is a place each child feels comfortable. A second dimension being explored, is “the virtual.”  Back to Zoom and synchronous virtual learning. While the third space is reserved for the asynchronous and for students  currently out of the time zone.  These learners receive a link to the recorded class and sometimes  the addition of more succinct tutorial videos which teachers create.  So, a start to a school year unlike any other.  Three-dimensional!

Though only two or three class periods in, humorous stories already are being amassed.  Of such things as an unaware synchronous student,  broadcasting inappropriate comments  over the classroom speakers for all to hear.  Or, of the student projected on the screen in front of the whole class.  Only, everyone’s attention is on the mother who is behind her and acrobatically dodges out of sight. Dropped Zoom calls, forgotten recorded sessions, audio input/output incorrectly set.  Whatever the case, even with the fumbles and follies, the first two weeks back to school were a definite success.  One that required teachers both compassion for students and themselves.  

Here in Thailand we consider ourselves lucky to have a chance to be face to face.  This a possibility because of the stellar response of the  nation.  In fact, the end of  July saw Thailand ranked number one in the world out of 184 countries for its ongoing COVID-19 recovery effort.  This,  according to the Global COVID-19 Index (GCI).  Nearly a month later, Thailand remains on top.  As of August 16, the total numbrer of confirmed cases stood at 3,377, where 95 percent recovered and just 58 total deaths recorded.  Further, Thailand had no new domestic cases of COVID for 83 days.

 

New Normal Comes With Some Hard to Reach Directives

Throughout the pandemic, news of COVID stipulations seemingly shifted from morning to night.  However, society was steadfast in being compliant regardless if there appeared to be contradictions. Certain regulations appear to be for perception as the logic is difficult to understand.  For example, in schools students can pass a basketball but not borrow a pencil.  The importance of exercise a priority, while the pencil is deemed a risk that can be mitigated. Keeping account of the dos and don’ts or cans and can’ts can be difficult.  However, more challenging is to break socialization habits learned in kindergarten, where sharing was  “what big boys and girls do.”  First grade began with the importance of washing hands but also that there would no longer be the sharing of anything, toys included.  Then there was the valiant and never-ending  attempt to control for social, or what we call physical, distancing?  Social distancing, a bit of an oxymoron, as we want students to be social, but so long as there remains  1-2 meters of distance between them.  Middle school students huddle around an infographic the teacher probably should not have even printed and handed out.  Yet, the motivation being one of learning, sharing  ideas, and being together.  Laboratory work in the high school can be interesting if physical distance is to be maintained.  Need I even “touch,” no pun intended, what physical distancing might mean to a classroom of 3-year olds who is not yet even proficient in the language of instruction?  

Thai national  schools began the first weeks of July, whereas  the independent international school where I work just wrapped up week two.  However, mid-game (if ever there was a mid-Corona game) yet another measure of compliance was just handed down.  Impossibility absolutely inherent in the “design.”  The Ministry of Education requires all schools to ensure students maintain a daily record of their whereabouts outside of school hours.  The purpose is  to  facilitate any needed contact tracing should a case of COVID be reported (confirmed) in the community.  This means all students need to record where they go daily.  Being a middle school teacher, it often is challenging enough to have a chiild write down their homework when it is written on the board and given as a directive.  

In May Thailand’s government launched a contact tracing app, declaring it vital in reducing a flare up of virus cases. Public buildings required app and temperature check-ins  via prior to entry.  The shopping mall was the first place I encountered this, then the domestic airport.  Unable to mandate the use of the app, because not everyone has a phone, the alternative mirrored how it used to be to make a walk-in restaurant reservation.  A piece of paper on a clipboard and just your name and phone number penciled in. Initially I could not help but question the legitimacy or accuracy of this alternative.  However, Thai culture’s high degree of respect and deference shown to authority likely results in near perfect record keeping. A system like this in the United States would  play host to an array of absurd names and numbers.

 

The Road Ahead

No matter the next edict, law, or measure, Thailand will hurdle, rather than grapple with any ostensible or grey space. There remains a tensile strength in Thailand’s hierarchical structure, one that begets compliance.  Businesses remain shuttered and the entire tourist industry gasps for a breath of fresh air.  Though there is no promise, hope remains and there is conversation about a plan to re-open international borders.  Meanwhile, schools may be in session, but the situation is fragile. Learning could go back to 100 percent virtual at the drop of a hat!  If COVID has taught us anything, it is the importance of flexibility.  This, along with the reckoning of how Thailand’s entire society remains under the auspices of the Kingdom. Yet, herein possibly lies the very reason why the country tops the list of safest places to be right now!

 

An Authentic Response to Take Action

(this is draft 2 and to be published)

Photo by Joe Yates on Unsplash

An Authentic Response to Take Action

I was six years old when I first heard how when one points a finger in blame, three fingers inexorably point back. A sort of stepping one foot forward but three back. This is no way is to rebuff the urgency needed in addressing problems and positively effecting minds, hearts, and hands.  The birthing of more fair systems and societies.  But, in doing so, we cannot resort to being six years old.  Instead it behooves us to follow the wisdom of Cathering Pulsifer, “focus on fixing the problem, never focus on the blame. Problems are only resolved when solutions are sought.”

 

The month of June was a wellspring of anger.  In the first week alone, hundreds of thousands of protestors chanted, “No Justice, No Peace,” on three continents.  The boiling point surpassed, no more tolerance of or for “the system.”  Institutions steeped in societal problems and rooted in inequity. By the middle of the month, the protests only gained momentum, giving no sign of yielding. 

 

On a more molecular level and within the scope of international education, on June 8 an article titled,“Black Lives Should Have Always Mattered: An Open Letter to Search Associates,” caused reverberation.  The sort felt all along one’s spine when fingernails drag across slate.  Ironically, even the blackboard replaced by the white board!  The author, Safaa Abdelmagid, was compelled to respond after Search Associates published a letter saying, “we are passionate and determined to continue asking the right questions, joining in the conversations, and striving to be a part of the solution.”  Abdelmagid said she felt the words were neither genuine nor sincere.  Instead there appeared, “borrowed, designing and frankly, audacious…They seem to be an afterthought; the reactionary stance of a traditional, predominantly white male organization that is scrambling to jump on the bandwagon.”

Abdelmagid proceeded to portray Search Associates in the darkest of lights, punishing with blame,

“For thirty years you have helped white male administrators bounce around
the world exchanging headships, uninterrupted, some with heinous scandals
trailing behind. You stood by watching white privileged teachers getting hired
for being in the same fanbase of a football or hockey team as the head of the
school, or the familiarity of shared white cultures, hometowns and cities.
You have witnessed schools operate as mid-twentieth century colonial schools
in order to keep their local expatriate populations happy…”

Before closing Abdelmagid offers a ray of hope, though embittered by her experience.  She asks Search Associates to start being honest and to acknowledge their shortcomings.  In closing Abdelmagid implores, “Ask for feedback and answers from those who know, those who have been crippled by your lack of responsiveness towards them. Own your privilege and use it to serve those who truly deserve it.”

Serendipitously, or not, the international school where I am employed issued a similar statement. The motivation for the titled statement, “The Responsibility of an International School,” feels entirely authentic. In the first quarter of the 2019-20 academic year, I remember being a part of a professional development session where the head of school himself spoke from the heart about how we as an institution needed to better understand the experiences of others but also to ensure far greater diversity of our faculty.  With the feel of a manifesto, it reads, “We are committed to adding our voice and to confronting racism, wherever it exists, through education and advocacy.” A clear focus upon solutions.

 

However, within days if not hours, there was backlash.  This time by former students. 

 

Having taught social studies for over two decades, I am passionate about empowering students to be active and engaged participants and to commit to the ideals of democracy.  Their pointed response a beautiful outpouring of passion.  An honest plea to begin a conversation about how the school might “dismantle systems of oppression that feed into continued racial inequality.” A barrage of questions, 17 to be exact, were issued. For example, the second question challenged, “What steps can the school take to move beyond its Eurocentric social and curriculum focus in order to encourage a more diversified understanding of society that does not stem, explicitly or implicitly, from white superiority?”  White superiority?  Eurocentric social and curriculum focus?  If anything, the school is challenged by maintain balance in demographics as a result of privileged host nationals.  As for the curriculum, parents pay a high price for the International Baccalaureate so students, akin to the authors of the letter, are prepared for next steps in the U.K. or the U.S.  Furthermore, how does Chinua Achebe’s, “Things Fall Apart” Eurocentric?  If anything, it is diametrically opposite, as students examine the effects of European colonialism from an entirely different perspective. Or, how about “Beloved,” Toni Morrison’s masterpiece which earned a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988? I would genuinely be interested in how themes of pain and the psychological effects of slavery, might fall under the claim of such literature being Eurocentric. Nonetheless, student voices are rightly being listened to and we all, as individuals and as an institution, can and need to be better.

 

While much of the world appears to be unifying in the spirit of creating a more just world, I look on in wonder as countries begin to open their borders to certain nations but not others.  Where I live, the provincial borders slowly lifted but cautiously international borders remain closed.  Yet, there is talk about countries entering into bilateral “travel bubble” agreements on tourism. The local economy severely depressed as a result of lost tourism revenues.  Moreover, amidst the pandemic it is  paramount xenophobia is not allowed to sneak in.  Instead, a surplus of compassion is what the world needs now.  

 

COVID-19 forced us all to hit the pause button. As we begin to push “play,” might our humanity surface, as leaders are poised to make difficult decisions but based in virtue and solidarity. Seldom do the headlines portray China in such a positive light, however a colleague living and working in China shared how the government graciously continued to extend visas under what was called the Chinese Humanitarian Visa.  A 24-hour hotline, in English, also was available to answer any questions. This, but one example of solidarity.

 

Might 2020 be the nascence of more leadership from the heart.  Passion hangs heavy in the air, as people imagine a tomorrow they long to live in.  Changes bent on solutions, not blame, as  millions get down on bended knee in silent protest.  As if to say, “United we stand,” or unabashedly “kneel.”  Yet, beyond renunciation or humble reverence, a groundswell of people is rising up, set on creating a fairer world for all. 

Pandemic Confirms Consideration of Three Ps (people, possibilities, promise)

“The thing that lies at the foundation of positive change, the way I see it, is service to a fellow human being.” – Lee lacocca

 

Teaching is as much about being of service, as it is about making a positive change.  The pandemic of 2019 and hopefully not beyond 2020, as it will surely go down in history books, continues to generate opportunities to reflect and surely to wonder as information shifts and unanswerable questions multiple.  Some people early on were tired by cliched yammering of “silver lining this and silver lining that.” All of our lives were turned upside down, some more than others.  Undeniably, misanthrope or not, the corona virus did incubate possibility.  All systems are being reconsidered, from health care and justice to food supply chains and education.  Behind every system is people.  Which heralds a consideration of what I like to call The Three Ps~people, possibilities, and promise.

 

People

Even the hermit would be stretched to tell a story about the pandemic.  How Italians serenaded each other from their balconies.  Or, the applauding of health workers putting their lives on the line.  Regardless, the thread throughout would likely be the humans as protagonist and the virus?  Predictably, corona the antagonist.  That is, all but possibly the stories abounding of how the natural world was provided a sort of break, while humans were locked down.  The key word being “down,” and not “up.”  And because humans were not locked “up,” plastic consumption continually rose.  More shopping was done on-line and restaurants catered to home delivery.  But it goes beyond this.  Think about the countless millions of surgical masks and gloves.  Or grimly, the body bags.  In a rush, not entirely unlike the space race, governments competed for respirators.  Similarly, some of these same governments rushed to stockpile supplies before their citizens.  In early May, Amazon had to put the clamp on, removing hundreds of thousands of listings where sellers jacked up prices on health related items, all either containing or contained in plastic.  People. People. People!

Then, there are people like prime minister Ardern of New Zealand.  A leader who did exactly that, effectively led!  A poll by the market-research firm Colmar Brunton found that 84 percent of Kiwis approved of the government’s response to the pandemic.  Why?  Ardern led with compassion, clearly communicating throughout as she helped navigate the course of the country.  This example of a person, segues nicely into possibility.  I just finished listening to a book called, “The Art of Possibility” by a husband and wife duo, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.   Possibility?  What do you think of when you hear this word?

 

Possibilities

For me, I cannot help but think antagonistically. About what might some may deem impossible but a hero’s journey arises. Stories of men and women where odds were tremendously stacked against a person but how an individual overcomes, earning a sort of legendary status.  Chief amongst these is Ernest Shackleton and how his iconic leadership led all twenty-seven members of the Endurance to safety after being trapped on the icy south pole for nearly two years. At one point Shackleton was quoted, “…even the remotest possibility had to be considered and exploited to the fullest.” His leadership showcased how Shackleton lived and breathed, but also thought artfully.  Anything was possible.  The authors of, “The Art of Possibility” consider a latent potency of being present.  Shackleton undoubtably operated in the present, doing everything in his power to live in the moment so as to safeguard a tomorrow.  To maintain morale but also some semblance of normalcy, the crew was expected to continue daily tasks.  Routines included playing games after dinner and holidays were even celebrated!  It is difficult to imagine what it might mean to live in the present when your home, a boat, is crushed by ice and it appears you are forever trapped.  Yet, Shackleton and his men did. Their belief in the possible, kindred to the eternal flame of the forgotten soldier.  Being present with the way things are is incongruous with acceptance.  You may not accept the conditions, yet zero tolerance can be provided for resistance to take root. Battling only fills in the space necessary for discovering what is possible.  The non-battle a sort of meditation with transformative power. The wind in the sail merely a question, “What CAN I do?”

Did we not ask ourselves this very question during lockdown? People responded, sometimes surprising themselves even.  Seemingly millions of people found their feet during this time, walking turning into a favorite pastime.  Others turned to baking. Many found solace in binge watching YouTube videos and Netflix.  Time became a relative concept as suddenly there seemed more of it.  And we looked for what we could do when we what we considered “normal” was no longer.  A final assignment I invited 7th grade students to what was called, “Quaranthings, an idea I borrowed from a teacher named Heather Clark.  The challenge was to gather up all the things that acted as supports throughout quarantine.  Then, create an artistic display along with your portrait.  Again this was about what was possible.  For me, some of the experience was about reading, guitar playing, and just being with our cats.

 

During the height of the pandemic I thought back on an important lesson I remembered learning in my early 20s.  It was my second year of university and transferred to Oregon.  The autumn was delightful but by early November, winter set in.  “Wasn’t this the West coast?”  I remember wondering.  The cold and wet unanticipated.  Well, at least not to the degree that it rained every day. In Corvallis, Oregon it is not unheard of to receive upwards of 15 inches of rain in a single month. Moreover, the chill was enough to set into even my youthful bones.  What did I do?  Changed course, going from my fraternity to class and back.  The fraternity is another story, one where “What can I do” didn’t bode well with the “brotherhood.”  Shuttering myself in, and waxing friction of being an underclassman or “pledge” in an “animal” house with 75 other dudes, it’s easy to see where I may have been a wee bit unhappy, or even depressed.  However, that next winter life drastically shifted when I made the unconscious decision to not let the weather dictate what I would or would not do.  I cut up a plastic 2-liter bottle, fitted my bike with DIY fenders.  I also invested in a Gore-Tex jacket.  I’d bike in the rain, stand in the rushing rivers and fish in the rain, walk joyously to class in the rain.  Embracing all that was possible because I was willing to live life.  A valuable lesson for anyone at any age!

 

Promise

This takes us to the final “p,” promise.  No doubt the world needs a lot more of this.  As an educator it is the education field I feel most comfortable discussing, relative to it being replete awash with promise.  Like the acrid clouds suspended in an airport smoking room, promise hangs in balance.  Though so much is uncertain, one factor we do know, is that we will not return to how things were in November of 2019.  Nor would it be sensical to desire this, as education systems are rife with inequity, and ineffectiveness.  The pandemic thrust us into a chaos that allows for the surfacing of long overdue opportunities for change.  Commissioned to co-exist with COVID-19, 20 and possibly 21, educators can anticipate change.  Some shifts simple modifications, others more revolutionary.  With this likely will come a mélange of emotion.  Teachers, administrators, students, and parents alike may grapple with change as promise or punishment.  With exhilaration or trepidation.

In the international school where I teach two overarching principles guide any adjustments and are clear from the beginning:

  • The health and safety of students, staff and our community are paramount, and
  • The educational and social emotional needs of students are best provided in a face to face environment on campus.

Who could argue with either?  These two principles push beyond the base physiological needs, a term Abraham Maslow utilized in his infamous Hierarchy of Needs.  Yet, how we support students in fulfilling their unique potential, their self-actualization needs, must continually come into focus we navigate new and fecund frontiers of teaching and learning.

Of course, there will be changes some may be leery or even displeased about.  Teachers having to adhere to a 1-2 meter physical distance requirement when interacting with adults and students, sounds dystopian or in the least, not personal.  Or the expectation to wear a mask at all times. An added challenge to connect with students, possibly understand their words and even facial expressions. But be as it might, people will adapts to these changes.  Of weightier importance is how schools exactly plan to roll-out the scenario they select to open schools with in the Fall.

Blended learning models are really the only option.  Just what this means though needs to be made clear to all constituencies. An approach combining components of an online education with more traditional place-based classroom methods.  Yet, how exactly this looks depends upon the design.  The form following the function, results in smaller class sizes.  Something teachers are likely to celebrate.  Schedules change too.  A shortened school day?  Also, it is reasonable to consider teaching may become more thematic and possibly project based.  Conceivably, teacher and student autonomy might increase but also empower as paths intentionally are paved for personalized learning.  Further, as already witnessed, a departure from high stakes testing will only gain steam.  Paraphrasing Zander and Zander in the “Art of Possibility,” abundance rather than scarcity is to be the context.  It is about what we now CAN do that before maybe we could not.  Education is being infused by promise.  The hope that administrators and teachers motivate, rather than manage. That learning builds on curiosity and is infused with joy.  Undeniably, the days and months ahead are teeming with promise.

Empowering Students to Own Their Experience

Thankfully few questions strike with such indelibility but two recent ones by a seventh grader landed hard.  Foreign at first, I was patient and let the seeds germinate, even though possibly sown with jagged teenage hormonal dissent.

“What’s the minimum?’ she asked with disgust.

and…

“You haven’t answered my question in chat!” (during Zoom class meeting)

“Oh, sorry. I was busy explaining what we are doing.”

 

On more than one occasion a student (actually, probably 5 different students over the course of virtually learning), either asked aloud or put in the chat,  “Can I go to the bathroom?”  I’m unsure if ever a question could wreak more of compliance.  This certainly is something I endeavor to move away from.


Important to revisit purpose of learning (not to get a grade) and also timeliness in taking advantage of 2nd learning opportunities.  Not to be overly focused on grades but to pay close attention.  I received this e-mail two weeks into summer:

“Hello mr.piercy I got two beginning approaching and I want to improve my grade so can you explain to me what kind of things I need to improve on?”

 

 

COVID’s Theory…A squared + B squared equals?

Just for Now
Sleep less and commute more.  These are not exactly selling points.  However, lockdowns are being broken and the migration back to places of work is to commence; if it hasn’t already.  Anxiety pours thicker through people’s veins, the anticipation lackluster to say the least.  Lists of “What I’m Not Excited About” being scripted in invisible ink.  Less time with family and more  social pressure.  Yet, chief atop my list, is not an aversion to “rules” and regulations, rather a mental fatigue as a result of  attempting in good faith to keep everything straight.  To abide, surely even more difficult than to even understand what schools and governments want.  To return to some semblance of “normal,” but maintain distance, wear a mask, and don’t use athletic fields.  All that seemingly makes us human, stripped down.  The dependable formula seemingly changed.  A squared plus B squared, for some reason now equals I squared.  Might the “I” variable represent “illogical?”  Or does it stand for “irrational?”  Regardless, I find it helps to remind myself of three words, totalling but 10 letters.
“Just for now.”  A sort of mantra.
A preliminary list of dos and don’ts
I Want to Be a YouTuber
I’ve been thinking a lot about the way how things panned out with “emergency learning,” a term I recently heard to replace “virtual learning.”  We’ve done the best we can, yet even before it is over I reflect on how I might be more effective come the Fall and the start of another school year.  With near 100%  certainty elements of learning remotely will still be offered in addition to the traditional face-to-face.  For families not yet reassured that schools are safe and for others that may be in remote locations.  Chief amongst my endevourings is for compliance to be substituted for engagement.  This leaves me with several ideas of what next to pursue, relative to methodologies that might prove more appealing to today’s learners.  The intentional use of more video, including videos of me, as I emulate compelling strategies employed by YouTubers?  Not only might this be more alluring, but it also is aligned with the evolution of learning anytime, anywhere and from anyone.  Only in this case, from ME and asynchronously.
Michael Wesch, professor of cultural anthropology & world religions, is my inspiration in this.  Breaking down the 4-walls of classrooms and taking learning out into the world, Wesch offers university students something a “little” different.  His most recent video is titled, “Teaching Online by Going Offline: The Adventure Lecture.”  
I Just Need to Finally Do it (Students and Digitally Portfolios)
More than 20 years ago I made a professional portfolio as part of my Masters work.  It was in binder form, as this was before the widespread use of personal computers.  From time to time I’ve considered picking back up on this idea, knowing the great benefits of a digital portfolio.  I also knocked around the idea of students creating theirs too.  However, like that box of stale cereal in the cupboard that we reach past, always for something tastier or fresher, I continually looked past the portfolio idea.
But not anymore.
Already wading waist-deep into the water, I continue to explore how I professionally can utilize the portfolio process.  Further, finding it a definitive high-impact practice, it is something I want for students.  The role it might play in empowering students is clear.  Students  are decision makers, as they curate their learning.  It screams out, “Ownership!” as passivity morphs into action.  Digital portfolios allow for authenticity, reflection, and an opportunity to showcase learning over time.  My guru for all things digital portfolios is George Couros.  He can found here:  George
Maybe it makes sense for my first YouTube video to be on portfolios.  Let’s see, how to make that combination memorable?

Is Lilliput the “New Normal”?

What might we expect for the 2020-21 school year?  With the endless possibilities, stringent measures, and unavoidable conservative changes being considered, one word encapsulates what I am feeling.  An omnipotent word that wakes me up at night and during the daylight hours, blinds my mind’s eye.  Lilluput. A fictional island of Gulliver’s Travels, Johnathan Swift’s timeless satirical classic. Lilliputians, symbolic of the excessive hubris we humans often exhibit.  A pride that in effect shrinks our very existence.  Where structure and bureaucracy become too thick to even wade through. Impossible 10-point plans schools hurriedly are designing, so learning can be brought from on-line to in-person once again.

Opening Back Up
The motivation to open schools back up is driven largely by a a desire to allow students human connection.  Some schools even consider an in-person finish to the 2019-20 school year, even if for one or two weeks.  A risk some declare is worth taking, if this means children (families and teachers too!) might feel good about the world again.  Safety of course driving any decisions being made.  There are considerations of student numbers on campus, possibly just 50%.  Question whether or not to utilize cafeterias.  Hands on learning, but only if items are manipulated by single individuals and also disinfected at night.  What type of masks are best?  On-site COVID-19 testing, data protection and self-declaration forms.   Of course, agreed upon social distancing requirements too.  The list goes on.
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Is this how classrooms are going to look?
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Confronting the Pervasive Uncertainty
One cannot help but wonder what this might not only look like, but what it will feel like? Though for many the motivation is to recover their pre-COVID life, a clear recognition of a changed world is imperative.  One that we MUST embrace.  No matter how strange it might feel for a teacher to keep her distance from a pupil, or try to read facial expressions covered a mask. So much is out of our control.  Yet, what is, is how we might respond.  Determinedly, as teachers we have a moral obligation to confront the pervasive uncertainty.  To run full speed ahead in vulnerability.  Trusting leadership.
Next Steps
Lemuel Gulliver, the “gullible” narrator, had several redeeming qualities.  I would argue that chief amongst these was that he expected others to be honest.  Amidst the current pandemic, we might benefit from a similar mindset.   Further, we might add fuel to the fire, by simply envisaging the irony all around us.  Gulliver was a prisoner to men no larger than six inches tall.  What imprisons us?  And, can we move beyond this and positively put our energy to use?  Possibly, even to pursue levity?  An upturned grin?  A chuckle?  No doubt, the world could certainly use a lot more laughter right now!