I was having a great year. One of my best years of teaching to date. My students, their families, our student teacher, my coworkers…everything was going so well. But then March 2020 began and everything started to change.
I know at this point you are likely in the same position as I am: trying to teach at home via your computer, not able to see your students except through brief conference calls, missing everything about your classroom, going stir crazy, and trying to stay healthy and keep groceries in your fridge amidst this global pandemic.
Nothing seems to make sense anymore. We are going through something that no one in our generation or even the generation before us has gone through. We are building the plane as we fly it. Distance learning wasn’t even a phrase that people used until a few weeks ago, yet here we are, teachers all over the world, actively teaching our students and providing little moments of normalcy for them using our webcams, read alouds, and hands-on activities.
While I don’t want to spend the majority of this post lamenting about the fact that I won’t be going back into room 515 this school year to teach one of the sweetest classes I’ve ever had, I will say that this really sucks. I don’t want to be in my living room right now, I want to be walking my class to lunch after a morning of math rotations, phonics with Mabel, recess duty, and writer’s workshop. I want to hug them and hear them laugh when I mess up a song at morning meeting. I’m safe, I’m healthy, I have food, but I’m not where I’m supposed to be.
|Where I should be right now….|
I’m writing this post to talk about what’s worked for me so far, what I’ve already abandoned, and what I’ll make sure to do more of in the future. I’ll also talk about some things that I’ve come to realize are so unnecessary in the teaching profession and wonder why I’ve spent so much time in the past worrying about them.
Distance Learning: What’s worked
While we haven’t officially started teaching new content via distance learning, we have had 3 weeks to experiment with platforms and methods of delivery. When I say we, I’m talking about my teammate and myself. Being at a small school is great, but it’s really nice right now because there are only 2 of us to convince of anything.
No surprise here, Seesaw is winning at Best Platform for Distance Learning for Kindergarten (no others even compare). I’ve used Seesaw for about 3 or so years, so I knew that our transition to DL wasn’t going to be too challenging because we had this incredible resource in our toolbox. We are able to assign activities to our class, either whole group or differentiated, give real-time feedback with voice comments, share read alouds, and keep our students engaged with a tool they already knew how to use. Winning all around.
I’ve posted a daily read aloud at 11:30, our normal read aloud time. I’ve been able to assign activities to specific students and let them try again if it was too tricky. Parents have been able to see their child’s work for everything that we do “in class.” I really can’t say one negative thing about Seesaw’s capability for DL.
What else has worked? Being understanding and flexible. I’ve learned that there is a) no realistic way to replicate a 5.5 hour school day and b) no way for every child in my class to equally access resources. While we did send laptops home with families who told us they needed them, I still can’t assure that my students are all able to see, complete, and reflect on their work in the same ways. So I’ve metered my expectations for what DL is going to look like to be more equitable and flexible.
We are assigning a weekly schedule of activities. Students will see it on Monday in Seesaw. They have 1 activity per day in math, reading, writing, and science/social studies. They have daily phonics extension activities, too. They can do everything as scheduled or they can do it at whatever pace they need to. We aren’t grading things, checking for completion (although we will keep an eye on students if they haven’t been able to submit any work), or overdoing it on how much kids need to submit to us. Some activities are hands-on with no visible work to be shown. Many activities are family-involved.
This weekly schedule will allow us to see how we can differentiate for students. If they submit everything by Wednesday, we can give them more extension activities. If by Friday they haven’t submitted anything, we can jump on a Zoom, FaceTime, or phone call with their families to see if we can support. It mirrors the typical classroom: you have kids who finish everything quickly and easily and you have kids who need more support. So, you differentiate. We can do this during DL, we just need it to look a little different.
Something that is working well that has always worked well for my teammate and myself is cohesion and joint planning. We are sending out the same schedule for both K classes, planning our weekly Zoom meetings for similar time frames, and chatting regularly about what’s happening. This wasn’t anything new for us, and I’m so thankful for that. She helps me so much, and we find what each of us is good at and help in that way. Teamwork is making this all come to fruition.
Distance Learning: What I’ve Abandoned
To be honest, I haven’t changed much about my instruction besides the location where it’s taking place and the amount of technology I’m having to use in order to provide it. There isn’t much that I’ve needed to abandon because my teaching style was pretty simplistic and straightforward anyway. I will say, though, that what I have abandoned is the most heartbreaking and not by any choice that we have. I’ve had to abandon the good morning hugs, the laughing during play centers when they bring me “coffee and cupcakes” that I pretend to eat uncontrollably, the GoNoodle dancing, the energy that comes with a classroom full of kids.
It’s not our choice right now, and letting some of these things go really hurts. It’s part of the reason I teach kindergarten. I feed off of their energy and silliness and laughter. Having to walk out of school on March 16th and leaving all of those experiences behind in my dark classroom was gut wrenching. Being told I won’t get that back until August (best hope) gives me heart flutters in the worst way. But there is nothing we can do about it besides reminisce on those memories. We’ll be back in our classrooms eventually, see our students in person again one day, and give the biggest, longest hugs ever.
Didn’t mean to get so sappy there, but dang I miss my students and my classroom.
Distance Learning: What I’ll Do More of in the Future
It’s hard to really pin down how I’ll change my instruction and philosophy after this whole DL situation is over, but I can already see how my approach is changing. In the future, I’ll do more to connect with families to make sure they have the tools they need to support their kids at home with learning. I won’t assume as much. I’ll do a better job of reaching out to families throughout the year with little check-ins about their child’s growth, to share small moments, or just to chat. I won’t pretend that parent un-involvement or unanswered emails mean that they don’t care as much (a very harsh thing to realize that you’ve done before). In the future, I’ll make sure families know that I am a resource for them as much as I am for their children.
Also, I’ll do a better job of differentiating. Rotations have helped me get to the point I am now with being able to provide more specific instruction and activities to students, but there is still more I can do. Families and kids are having to get creative right now with how they show what they know. They’re making up their own science experiments (the classic erupting volcano has already happened in one of my student’s home), doing more art, and practicing math skills using household items. If families are teaching me anything, it’s that their children are highly capable in their own ways. I can’t go forward assuming that if a child performs poorly on one type of task that they don’t understand that concept. I need to be more flexible and willing to provide multiple opportunities for students. It’s something I thought I was doing, but now I see how much growth I can make.
Distance Learning: What is Unnecessary
I haven’t been a fan of the “fluff” of elementary teaching for a while. I’ve been a pretty low-key kindergarten teacher for years. I don’t do the typical craftivities, the cutesy charts, the bright decor, etc. I don’t dress in costumes when we’re learning about fairy tales or make my classroom look like a jungle during our animal unit. I’ve always been passionate about the WHY behind all of these decisions and making sure that I help teachers realize that they do not need to do any of this to be a successful teacher who reaches their students in meaningful ways.
So, of course, I’m not doing any of these things while trying to replicate my instruction at home. There are a lot of DL teaching ideas being shared on social media right now, from simplistic, utilitarian ideas to over-the-top extras. While I’m not really one to be swayed from how I do things, I can see how it could easily affect newer teachers or teachers who feel really uneasy with our current situation. I just want to make clear, though:
There is no such thing as a distance learning playbook. There is no one right way to do it.
This DL experience has shown me just how unnecessary some of these things are that teachers spend so much time on. Your students don’t *need* some of the things that you think they do. Or, they don’t need the things we see on social media and feel like we *need* to replicate.
Here is a list of things that I will either continue not to do or will do way less of:
- Make anchor charts for every standard/concept (Where does one even hang all of these??)
- Worry about how organized and pretty my classroom looks (Doesn’t matter when there isn’t even a classroom!)
- Have special rewards for kids (They don’t need a piece of Astrobrights to tell them they’re a good reader.)
- Create scenarios that look good for a social media post (Embarrassing to admit but it happens all over Instagram. The staging and creating of classroom paraphernalia to get likes is rampant.)
- Care about what other kindergarten teachers are doing enough to let it make me feel bad that I’m not doing it (Are my students getting shafted? No. Do they know how much I care about them? Yes.)