It has been 3 weeks since I welcomed a group of 5th grade students into our classroom. We have been connecting, getting to know one another, exploring our identities; all the critical tenets of building a classroom community. Meanwhile, the threat of another period of remote learning lurks in our corners. While my mind is filled with thoughts such as, “I have to make sure every student feels confident using Seesaw and Google Classroom”, these past few weeks have reminded me again and again what really matters in teaching and learning. Here are a few insights from our first month back to in-person learning.
1. Bring it back to building relationships. Always.
It’s the end of the day. Students hang out as they wait to hear their bus called for dismissal. I peek at the paperwork on my desk and feel the urge to begin organizing it. But then, I look over at my students, many of whom I am still getting to know. I walk away from my desk and join a group as they chat about the latest video game craze. I keep coming back to the central lesson of Covid: relationships matter. They ground and sustain us and our students NEED us to be present in their lives right now. So as much as I would like to get a head start on the next day’s plans, I recognize that there will always be work to do but not always moments to share with my students.
The same can be said about families. I have the good fortune to be a parent who teaches in the district where my children are students. Therefore, I can witness this new normal called school-during-COVID-19. For most families, it is unsettling to be unable to see where their child goes each day. So I devote time to creating regular Smores newsletters with pictures of our classroom so that families get a sense of what school is like for their child. Additionally, I privilege calling home to check in over making sure my lesson is just right for the next day.
2. Dedicate time to the data that counts
While I have started administering running records, the data that is of true value to me is my conversation with students. Hearing about students’ preferred genres for reading and writing, and their interests and aspirations allows me to create a responsive and caring curriculum and classroom culture. My conferences focus on how and whether students see themselves as readers and writers and from there, I support them in setting goals. They know their strengths and needs, all I have to do is ask and listen.
3. Community is magical
A culture of reading is buzzing in our classroom. ALL students, regardless of reading levels, are drinking the juice! They are talking books, setting goals and eagerly waiting for books to come out of the required week of quarantine so that they can crack them open and dive in. Their enthusiasm is contagious and keeps me on the hunt for books they might enjoy. I can’t stop myself from buying books and reading everything I can so that I can recommend them to students. After months at home reading in isolation, they thrive on this community of readers.
4. Now more than ever, students need CHOICE
Inspired by Matt Glover’s book, Craft and Process Studies: Units that Provide Writers with Choice of Genre and Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write: Cultivating High- Impact, Low- Stakes Writing, I launched writing workshop with an open genre unit. I found that giving students choice not only of topic but genre revealed their strengths and identities as writers. Whether a striving writer who published a Google Slides book about the meaning of her family members’ names or a writer who wrote a 6-page story about the imagined life of her cat before she picked her up at the shelter, all writers have a space at our writing table.
5. Keep it real: Bring it back to reading and writing
The beginning of the year can feel like an endless to do list. Set up notebooks, folders, digital notebooks, Google classroom and the list goes on. There have been moments this month when I felt the pressure to check off these boxes, especially with the possibility of a return to full time remote learning. One day a period went by and I realized that I had not allowed time for students to read independently. This went against everything I believe so the next day, I put the “to dos” aside and took the class outside where they could relax on the hill and read.
Relationships, community, choice, authenticity: this is what truly matters during these uncertain times. I know I will be the best teacher I can be if I continue to show up, be present and be open to receiving the lessons of this historic period in our lives.