Toward the end of each July, I look back on summer break, wondering where it went because just yesterday it was the end of May, and look toward the new year with renewed hope. Schools have been getting questions since March of 2020 about the upcoming school year. Will we be in person? Will we have online options if we prefer to not be in person? Will masks be required or optional? Will there be a list of staff members and their vaccination status released to the community? Will vaccines be required for adults and kids? Will there be community supplies or will my child be toting around eleventybillion pounds of supplies to and from the car and around the school building as they travel from class to class? What’s the plan for quarantines? Will we even bother? What if I want my child to wear a mask? What if I don’t? What if I want to keep my child home if another child makes them feel unsafe because they’re wearing or not wearing a mask? How will you handle bullying for masking or not masking?
I want to begin again. I want to focus on the most important things: the things we know in our hearts are good for kids and have nothing to do with viruses or vaccines or masking protocols. I want to focus on coaching teachers in gifted best practice, relationship building with kids who have been away from their tribe for 17 months, getting to know new members of our tribe, and how to let go of the things that aren’t critical. I want to walk into classrooms that are ready for kids in small groups with options for seating and working not prepared for 3+ feet of distance or more with a stash of pool noodles next to the door and yardsticks between desks.
We’ve had a week or so of teacher PD and prep time for the year and while getting out of bed for work has been difficult (I really do like the ability to move slowly in the morning with no set timeline for anything), it’s getting easier and part of me is happy that we do begin this work so early.
I get to work with some amazing people with varied backgrounds. Some are just beginning their journey while others are coming to teaching from previous lives and still others began their journey eons ago, choosing to stay because education is where their heart is happiest. Last year was beyond difficult for all of us, no matter our roles, and all of us arrived this year battered, bruised, and in some cases just plain numb, but still hopeful that beginning again this year, we might get back to a semblance of normal. We’ve made promised to ourselves and each other to honor the idea of time: time with family, time for fun, time for ourselves, time to downshift, time to relax, time to work on things that bring us joy, and time to create.
Parts of our work together felt normal. Discussion of unit plans, books, strategies, get to know you activities, thinking of ways to create cohesion in classes to empower learning groups that are supportive of one another and self-managing, discussion of ideas and plans and the electricity that collaboration brings. Some parts hurt a little, missing those who will always be part of our tribe…no matter where they are.
Beginning again brings a layer of hope to the coming school year in spite of the continued dissonance over masking, distancing, and vaccines. That excitement of being together, sharing ideas, listening to new perspectives, and bringing new traditions to the table allowed us to focus again on what else this year could be, drawing on one another’s expertise, passion, and willingness to try new things. All of our intensities mirror those our students will bring in a week or so…we are grown up versions of them after all.
Beginning again isn’t necessarily starting over completely, but rather picking up where we left off 17 months ago and moving forward…together.
Back in the pre-COVID days when I was in the classroom, I was fairly adept at determining what success looked like in my classroom. Sometimes I used rubrics (writing or projects), sometimes standards correlation tables (usually for math), but most of the time I watched and observed the kids while they were working. It wasn’t about the assignment necessarily, but how they went about getting it done. The process often mattered more than the product.
There were those who flew through, doing everything exactly the way I’d modeled, and they might be able to speak to one or two parts of the work and explain their thinking. And there were those who took very odd routes (that worked a lot of the time) to get what they needed to done or those who used “It’s in my head” and indeed it usually was. And still there were those who got stuck, not knowing what to do next, or lost altogether because the words were different this time, the numbers different, or the work itself wasn’t something they cared too much about or were struggling to connect with. All of these things told me whether or not we were being successful.
(I say “we” intentionally. My kids being successful and growing toward greater understanding meant that I was doing something right. It was incredibly evident when I had done something wrong, both to me and to them, and being the un-filtered sweet things they were, they also had no problem telling me that a particular lesson stunk…and I was ok with that feedback–as long as they could tell me WHY it stunk.)
Because I had the opportunity to see the kids working, asking and answering questions, pushing back on strategies, reminding of format or necessary pieces, teaching in the moment with “Hey kids, let’s stop for a minute…” I was able to know in my gut, even before they finished, whether or not they’d gotten what I’d intended them to get out of the lesson. And when it was evident that they hadn’t, sometimes I’d have them finish regardless because the process of doing the work was important too, and I’d go back and re-strategize ways I could help them understand or do what would show growth toward mastery.
COVID and hybrid/online learning has changed that and now teachers are struggling to determine what success looks like in this alien world we’re living in. Teachers have had to strategize ways to measure progress differently, and they’re moving away from conversation, conferencing, and over-the-shoulder formative assessment, to Google form based quizzes, JamBoards, PearDecks, and photos of completed assignments (that may or may not have been completed by the kids on their own). Teachers can’t observe the process of kid-work from a Google Meet or Zoom Room. It’s just not possible and they are replacing observation with concrete types of evaluation to save their own sanity and lose some of the cognitive load that all of this has caused.
Parents mean well, particularly with their little ones just beginning school, when they offer to help or write for their child for an assignment, but part of a teacher’s measure of progress will always be the child’s own handwriting, coloring, words, and ideas. Part of learning involves the struggle. That’s so difficult for parents and kids to wrap their heads around–particularly the gifted ones who are working with perfectionism… watching kids struggle is so difficult, especially when you know you could make it easier for them.
One doesn’t learn to tie one’s own shoes by watching someone else tie them or switching to velcro or slid-in shoes. We don’t learn to make ramen (because we’re the only one who wants it on soup night) by watching mom or dad do it for us. No one learns to play hockey by watching Miracle on Ice. And we don’t learn to replace bathroom vanities, sinks, and faucets by watching reruns of This Old House on their own. In order to learn how to do it (and when to ask for help or call a professional) we have to actually give it a shot by ourselves.
The most beautiful words a child can utter are “I can do it myself!!” and even if the buttons are all wrong, the outfit is horrific (but would surely inspire some nut at New York Fashion Week), the shoes are on the wrong feet, or the writing is totally illegible to anyone but the child…it’s a win because the child advocated for their right to fail forward and make progress toward being self-sufficient.
The struggle is a valuable piece of learning…and teaching. Some say that writers, artists, and musicians are the most creative people on earth, but I know for a fact that it’s teachers. Teachers right now are doing several things at once: helping the kids in the room learn and observing their work in real time, helping kids online learn and trying to evaluate their work when it shows up in their inbox, and help kids who are trying to learn at odd hours because family work schedules and virtual learning aren’t compatible with no ability to observe or discuss much in the moment. And they’re trying a hundred different ways to do all of those things every day, and sharing what they learn with the other teachers in their world
So our measures of success have to change. It doesn’t mean working harder, longer hours, or putting together multiple sets of slideshows or finding more engaging videos for specific students. It doesn’t mean evaluating all the kids using a google form assessment for which there are definite correct answers. It doesn’t mean working yourself to death providing 47 different learning opportunities in one day and trying to grade them all, agonizing over holding Georgie accountable because they only did 30 of the 47 opportunities you worked so hard to provide.
Measures of success right now might be that you are able to identify the most important thing you want the kids to understand and grow toward mastery of in that lesson. It might be that you notice you have to change something in your presentation format because you forgot to teach how to use it…or really aren’t sure how to use it yourself but it sure sounded good in the moment. Measures of success might include that James is showing up to class and is fully present…that he’s healthy and happy and has something good to share during class. Success is that when you talk with Mary, she can tell you her story and show you with pictures (that may or may not look anything like what she’s telling you) how it goes…when before she didn’t know about beginning, middle, or end. Might be that Ciaran whispers to his mom who is off camera that he can do it himself during class and finally turns in a writing assignment in his six-year-old scrawl written at a diagonal despite lines on the page. Perhaps success is that LeDarius asked for a book about dogs to read for fun, when before he wasn’t willing to read at all, but because you gave him tools like audio books or LearningAlly, he feels comfortable asking for more…he is a reader now.
And sometimes, measuring success is simply a note from a parent acknowledging that they see what a teacher is doing and is thrilled that their child is happy at the end of each day, excited to go to school (whatever that looks like for them), and takes over dinner conversation talking about what they learned that day, or a sincere thank you from a teammate for an idea you mentioned in passing that worked really well for their kids.
Sometimes the measure of success isn’t something you can add to the gradebook that ties directly to a standard, but the little things that keep you going…the tiny bits of progress you get to see every day and the encouragement to try something else tomorrow.
Look for the little things. A flower doesn’t magically appear out of the ground one day…it takes time and noticing the little things like a bump in the earth or something green poking through is what shows growth is happening. The process of growth matters more than checking off boxes. Seeing the process play out ought to be your measure of success.
I’m over strings of emails with one sentence responses and overlapping questions because we can’t just walk down the hall and have a damn conversation to fix a problem.
I’m over discussion of yet more education budget cuts and possible layoffs and hybrid in-person and distance learning and maintaining social distancing with five-year-olds and memos put out by people who last saw a classroom when they were in elementary school telling educators how school should look next year.
I’m tired of virtual happy hours and webinars.
I’m tired of being mentally and emotionally exhausted every day before it’s even begun.
A friend said it best this week when we were texting to find a time for a virtual happy hour. She said some days are better than others, but she hated having to be socially and physically distant from others. And she hated having no control over her future. That’s exactly it. That’s the crux of what is wrong for so many of us right now. I see my neighbors more (not altogether a bad thing) but never see the people I love. I don’t know what the future holds and that’s scary.
We’ve released from school, and technically summer break has started though it doesn’t feel, once again, as though it’s a break. My heart hurts, literally, for all the unknowns we’re left with and the lack of control that any of us have on our future. I can’t design what I want coaching to look like with people next year because I have no idea what my position will look like in the fall. I can’t plan marketing because who knows how we’ll be allowed to interact. All of the possibilities being discussed are mind-boggling and I can’t wrap my head around how any of them could actually work.
Small businesses and restaurants and breweries aren’t sure how much longer than they can stay afloat without in-person sales without restrictions and dine-in/drink-in options, and employees don’t know if they’ll have jobs to go back to when they do open up completely–on the one hand, they don’t want to take another position but on the other they need a job. Parents who have already been laid off or furloughed are worried about finding work, and unemployment will only last so long. Whole industries have been impacted by this, and those who don’t need financial support have managed to get their hands on it with no trouble, while those who do need it can’t even get an application to ask for it. Seems the rules change for those who have, and those who have not are again, stuck having not. And I hate that inequity.
We have little control right now over much at all and it’s frustrating. You can’t control the unknown, especially when you aren’t the one in a decision-making position. I got to choose wall colors for my office this week (Pollen Powder and Yam, for the record) and for a moment that was enough. Then a thousand other things I have no control over spilled out over the past few days and so much of what I feel is…sad, I guess.
Someone said in a virtual meetup that liquor sales have gone up significantly since all this began and I believe it. I know I have a fairly good part of my fridge dedicated to my liquor of choice. I say I drink socially (which generally is the case), but when you can’t be social…well, one crowler has to be consumed at a time (I will not be my mother and put tin foil over my beer to “save” it for tomorrow.) and I can say I’m supporting a small business.
And then there’s existential angst that comes up when you’re alone so much and you begin to doubt your worth. The beer does not stop the thinking.
I have four fairly big projects going for the summer, all of which have their own unique set of unknowns, and my ability to complete them successfully is a huge concern. Do I know enough? Am I doing it right? Was I really the right person for this?
Imposter syndrome is real, and it shows up in the gifted population with significantly more frequency than that of neurotypical people. I’m sure there’s statistics…but I don’t want to hunt them down right now. Everyone has doubts, but those in the gifted population run deeper and are more complex. I’ve watched it happen. I’ve experienced it. We worry less about how we’ll be perceived than how our success will impact others and the greater good. I think about my kids who have graduated both high school and 8th grade this year, and cannot even begin to imagine what they are going through right ow with all the unknowns on their plates.
I get so angry when I hear or see people spouting complete untruths about the impact of this virus on people. When they go on about how it’s all a hoax. When they say that masks are unnecessary. When they say that we’re all overreacting. So let’s assume it’s all a hoax and we are overreacting–that doesn’t mean the impact of it has changed or lessened. Families have been destroyed through the death of loved ones. How we view our society has changed. How we view education has changed. How we support our students and families has changed. And how we support one another has changed…and that hurts most of all.
I got caught up watching Jersey Shore over the past several weeks (no judgement…it’s as mindless as one can get and I’m fully aware I’m losing brain cells.) One of the people on the show left for a time due to anxiety, and when he came back, he was sporting a tattoo that said “Let Go, Let God.” He got it to remember that he is in control of his actions, but not the outcome. I’m not a really religious person by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to believe that something greater than myself is at work here.
Things I know are that I get to work with a brilliant team of educators who want only the best for our kids. I get to partner with others in a variety of organizations who want the best for kids and their families. I have wonderful mentors to rely on when I don’t know the answers. I have friends and family I can lean on when it hurts too much. Eventually the clouds clear (unless you live in the PNW and then it’s a crapshoot if they’ll clear or not). Everything has a season. People come into your life for a reason or a season…every interaction is a lesson of some sort and if we need more practice, the interaction continues to be presented.
I can’t control the unknown, no matter how hard I try. I have no intention of giving up, but I can mellow out about it a little and let go… The clouds will clear. And the storm will pass.