Thursday, March 19, 2020

Time to rethink your digital tools and lifestyle priorities

In the early days of online teaching and learning, people were sharing ideas online and in real time regularly. It seemed like almost everyone was learning to navigate these new tools together with countless ideas and a fair amount of freedom. Then, many settled into patterns with a few trusted tools and a number of systemwide or school rules. While some continued to venture into new tech realms, others were satisfied with the tech integration they utilized in their educational and home settings.

The worldwide coronavirus, in my opinion, has reignited conversations about digital learning and digital tools. With so many educators and learners at home seeking to use tech tools to best develop and exchange knowledge, we find ourselves in a ripe environment for innovation and change. How will we react to this?

Online Learning Menu
My first reaction was to join colleagues in my school system in setting up a fairly simple daily learning menu for the students I teach. The menu included all subjects with multiple activities students can engage in to continue the learning. This cannot, and is not meant to, replace the rich daily learning environment we have at school, an environment where multiple professionals including educators, special educators, specialists, therapists, guidance counselors, para professionals, and administrators work together to meet the varied needs and potential of many students in countless hands-on, face-to-face ways. But, this is a good alternative for the challenge we face with the highly contagious coronavirus pandemic.

Regular Contact with Learners
As systemwide educators dive into this new reality with online learning menus, the next challenge is choosing the best ways to stay in touch with our learners and the frequency of contact. Our grade-level team is committed to sending out a weekly newsletter, responding to parent/student email, fostering ongoing online "conversations" and contacting individual students and their families when advantageous. For example, we have a tech program we hope every fifth grader will complete during the school year. I can easily see the stats related to that program and noticed that 43/69 have already completed it, and all but about 10 are still working to complete the program. I contacted the 10 students who have not been active, and asked how I might help them to practice their math each day using that program. As soon as I wrote, about five students started practicing. I'll likely follow up with those that still don't practice with a phone call as I suspect they may be facing some connection issues with their computers, and the system has solutions for that which I'll relay to them.

Providing an Engaging Learning Menu
Systemwide leadership created a document for all educators' learning menus. We have the chance to look at what teachers across the system are doing to support their learners. This share has been helpful because when I look at the other menus, I get some good ideas about how to best support my fifth grade learners. In the weeks ahead, I want to make the menu more interactive and responsive to the students' interests and needs.

Reorganizing websites, learning menus, and files
I'm making the time to re-look at the online tools and files I use. I've sent many companies to spam as my private email has become a haven for unwanted outreach. I also deleted countless documents that have no good purpose anymore. The next step is to place the best of what I've saved online into easily accessible folders and websites. Believe it or not, this is the first time in almost ten years, that I've taken a deep look at all the tech-connected work I've done. So this time at home is a good time to rethink and reorganize that work.

The Future
Since I will retire from classroom teaching in a few years, I want to leave the good work I've created well organized should the person who takes my position wish to use any of the materials. That includes science and math websites with many activities and links that teach the standards. Those will be helpful to a new teacher if well organized and easy to access and use.

I also want to keep some of my best creations on my private file, should I want to write a book or use those materials in another position. My time at home has demonstrated to me that the work I enjoy most is work that helps children, teens, or families learn and accomplish goals that better their lives--I like that one-to-one or small group teaching/learning work that empowers and engages people and helps them to see and develop the wonderful potential they hold for good living and learning. I don't want to manage people or work for money alone, but instead I enjoy being part of something that makes a difference in meaningful and positive ways. So I'll seek that position after I "graduate" from classroom teaching. I will miss the synergy and camaraderie that occurs in schools, but in two years I'll be ready to move on from the tireless schedule and the endless needs that classroom teaching presents--it's a big job that equals about 50-70 hours a week.

In the days ahead, I will be very discerning about the tech I use with and for students. Clearly, some tech venues are invested in developing and improving programs to best support student learning while others are glitzy, but not that valuable.

Building Out: Community Focus
This pandemic has demonstrated the value of strong communities--communities that connect well and support each other in positive ways. I believe that this pandemic has demonstrated to Americans that the school cannot be the hub for healthcare and nutrition, but instead that we have to make schools part of the greater child-friendly community that includes nutrition programs and places, vibrant learning environments, beautiful parks, bike paths, and well-supplied, staffed, and accessible health care agencies and hospitals.

We have to move away from communities where Industry is the king, and instead move towards communities where people come first. We can do this by re-looking at who gets the best properties, buildings, and service--do people get to live in the most beautiful spots or does industry own those areas? I remember that long ago I wrote a fictional story about a city saving the best lands for schools so students could learn in beautiful places. I would still like to see this happen. I would like to see community development put people's needs, services, interests, and potential at the center rather than mostly focusing on those with big money. Yes, we need an economy and have to support businesses big and small, but not at the expense of not serving all people well. We can do bother, and I am committed to that.

The Days Ahead
So in the days ahead, I'll nurture and work with the communities that I belong to including my school community, family community, and neighborhood community. I'll update the learning menu, respond to students' efforts, and "converse" with colleagues, students, and their families via online documents and venues. I'll organize my home, plant seedlings, and do some yard work. We'll enjoy good movies, healthy meals, music, games, reading, and outdoor activities while respecting and partaking in the advised social distancing.

Later On
I'm planning a couple of road trips when this passes. One will be to visit my son who lives in The South and another will be to travel north to some of my favorite forested and seashore spots. I'm also planning to partake in a beautiful wedding ceremony that is planned for just after we believe stage one of the pandemic will pass. Those are bright lights to work for and plan for as we shelter-in-place during this unusual, unexpected, and challenging time.