When I was in the 4th grade, our teacher came back from a trip to Europe with an awesome idea — our class was going to have pen pals in England! She had met a teacher from there and they talked about having their classes learn to write letters while making new friends from one another’s country. I was so excited when I got the first letter from my pen pal, Tanya. She actually sent a picture of herself — she had long red hair, freckles, and blue eyes; so different from what I and most of my friends looked like. For the life of me, I can’t remember what was written in the letter just the thrill of receiving one from another young person who lived in a different country! Our class wrote back but unfortunately after the one exchange of letters from each side, we didn’t receive more letters. It was a great idea with the potential for so much more but just seemed to fizzle out. Clearly, something went amiss in my experience. This isn’t the case for many educators who have endeavored to introduce their students to different cultures, experiences, and values while integrating valuable learning skills through letter writing.
Neil Armstrong and landing on the moon. The space shuttle Challenger. The International Space Station. Pictures of ice from the Mars rovers. These are the different things that come to my mind when thinking of space exploration and education. These are topics that have probably been discussed, researched, and studied in classrooms everywhere. But how often is space exploration a part of student learning?
You’ve probably scrolled through countless social media posts of teachers and students engaging in remote learning. There are posts with teachers dressed up in costumes, really working to get their students engaged. There are posts of students in pajamas, bodies contorted in different ways as they try to make it through a virtual lesson. There seems to be a nice mix of the positive and negative in this new normal of teaching and learning. Although it seems that more schools and educators have prepared for distance teaching, it brings up another concern — distance teaching burnout. With remote learning a reality for many, it is important to recognize the warning signs of burnout and move towards its prevention. But first, what is burnout?
Coming into this new school year has been a mixed bag of emotions for everyone: anxiety, disappointment, frustration, excitement, sadness. Because many schools are starting the year with remote learning, add stress and hopelessness to the list especially for those juggling more than one child in school, work responsibilities, and maintaining some semblance of balance at home. There are quite a few social media posts of children trying hard to be excited for learning online but struggling (haven’t we all seen the little boy lying across his chair out of view of his teacher during a virtual session?!). Understandably, this leads to concerns of substantial learning loss for our students.
I take lots of notes. Notes for projects at work. Notes when I take a training. Notes when I’m in a meeting. Notes for things I need to do at home. So many notes! But I have discovered in my [fill in the blank] years of taking notes that if I don’t immediately go back and review them, highlighting what I seriously need to do and/or remember, those notes are just words on a page stored in a notebook (of more pages of notes).
Many of you have tiptoed into the new school year, testing the waters of teaching knowing that things may change as quickly as last spring. You’re building up your confidence with teaching using different tech applications and tools, either because you are facilitating learning using a blended model or are fully engaged in remote learning. You are doing this while getting to know your students, planning and presenting curriculum, and making sure your materials are organized. In the back of your mind, you may be wondering (as most teachers do) — Am I doing all that I can for my students? Are the tools that I have available being used to the extent that they should?
I love feedback. I appreciate how feedback has helped me to improve in different aspects of my life. I believe in giving feedback that makes someone feel good about a job well done. For me, feedback is essential to growth! Yet, I can remember countless afternoons struggling to write feedback on all my students’ essays before the next class session. I wanted to be thorough and write about all of the points I’d reference in the lessons but my hands would cramp, my brain was mush, and by the last student’s paper I was barely writing a sentence or two that I hoped would help them improve. It wasn’t until a colleague showed me what she did — quick notes on each student’s work as she walked around and observed them during independent work time — that I began to feel like my time was being used more effectively and my students were able to implement recommendations as they worked. I also found that because I was saving time, I could talk with each student and really understand their comprehension and academic needs. Those quick convos with each student were some of my favorite times as a teacher.
Talking about math is more than merely describing the steps in solving a problem (“First, add the ones, then the tens. If you need to regroup, do that.”). Math discussions are focused on the process of working towards a solution, understanding how others’ think about that process, and developing a plan for similar problems. Students should be pushed to think beyond an explanation of steps to an explanation of process, including making errors and how those were resolved. They should also be encouraged to use different methods and tools when solving a problem, then sharing these ideas with others to build a bank of strategies. In a physical classroom, this can be challenging so how can it be done while distance teaching? More than that, how can it be done successfully?
When I was in first grade – back when teachers used chalkboards and ditto machines – playing a game in class was the BEST! In SoCal, it was unusual to have rainy days but when it happened our teacher would have us play Heads-Up, Seven Up during indoor recess. I can remember hoping someone would put my thumb down so that I could guess the mystery person at the end of the round. We would play this game the entire time and groan aloud when recess was over. Playing that game was a welcome break from the months of circle time lessons and worksheets. Did I learn anything from playing Heads-Up? I didn’t think so at the time but looking back with my “teacher eye," there was communication, engagement, and reasoning involved. Of course, I doubt learning those skills was intentional but it taught me two important things when I stepped into my teacher shoes: 1) children will remember the experience of a fun and engaging game, and 2) children can learn concepts and skills, solve problems, think critically, collaborate, follow rules, communicate thinking, etc. while playing a game!