Volume XVIII Issue II
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If There’s a Silver Lining
The inspiration for the title for this month’s newsletter comes from Education Week author Madeline Will who wrote, “If there’s a silver lining to the heavy emphasis on remote learning and hybrid instruction during the pandemic, it is this: students are getting more opportunities to work independently and at their own pace – and in the process, they are becoming better problem solvers.” In her article entitled, “6 Lessons Learned About Better Teaching,” Will itemizes the different ways educators have adjusted their teaching habits to focus more on personalized learning:
- Giving students the option of choice to demonstrate their learning
- Providing short instructional videos for students that can be viewed on their own time
- Zeroing in on individual students and providing extra support with specific skills and content
- Coaching appropriate students on time management and completing assignments in a timely manner
- Taking advantage of community resources and/or parent volunteers to deliver much-needed supplies
- Providing chances for learners to converse with fellow students, thus improving their collaborative and teamwork skills.
Her article motivated me to seek out other positive aspects or bright spots that have occurred over the past year despite all the hardships and roadblocks that teachers have experienced.
The pandemic has resulted in many frustrating and difficult situations. But not everything is gloomy or unfavorable; how one views things depends on a teacher’s individual perspective. Too often we “beat ourselves up” when things don’t go as planned. But there is another way to think about our circumstances. Paul F.C. Mundy reminds us, “You cannot be all things to all students. But sometimes, just sometimes, you will be the right teacher at the right time; you will be the exact teacher that one child needed more than anything.” Take time to reflect on your day. You may be surprised at the difference you made.
Many instructors have adjusted their practice by integrating feedback into the learning process, rather than waiting to provide feedback after work has been submitted, or not providing any feedback at all. As Edutopia writer Joe Mullikin has concluded, “Students shouldn’t have to wait for confirmation that they are struggling with a concept until they get a bad grade; they should get it as soon as we see evidence of it so we can correct, support, and redirect students down the path to learning.” In order for feedback to be effective, it should be timely, clear, and specific. As Mullikin writes, “In the end, when we leverage feedback as the driving force to move students forward in learning, our conversations with them are transformed from rearview mirror assessments to proactive plans for next steps.” Feedback to students done well results in hopeful thinking on their parts.
There is no doubt that educators have learned a great deal about teaching and learning during 2020. Who would have ever thought that we would be physically separated from our students? But we are. Recently I was reminded of a workshop I conducted prior to the pandemic when I was talking about both teacher and student expectations. I found myself spontaneously saying to the participants, “Our students should believe that once they step across the threshold into the classrooms, they should know that this is a place where success is not just a possibility but a probability because of the way my teacher thinks and acts.” My explicit point was that a good teacher can set students up for success by the time their learning is assessed. Regardless of whether there is a physical threshold or not, as educators we will have much more fruitful and uplifting experiences with learners when we continually focus on ways to help our children experience success. And if that’s the message we convey to them, then they will enter our learning environments with open minds and optimism, ready to learn. All it requires on a teacher’s part is positive thinking.
Undervaluing oneself is totally unwarranted during these troubled times. As educator Angela Watson has stated, “Showing up every day and giving your best as you work to meet the diverse needs of every student in your care is enough. You are enough. Your students are enough. Learning is a life long process, and we all get better with time and experience.” Keep your head up and always believe that you are of great value and deserve to be treated with respect.
As I read about the impact of remote learning on educators, I find myself looking for some indicators of hope. Although teachers may be exhausted, their hard work during remote instruction may have some payoffs for students:
- Online instruction has resulted in some educators becoming clearer and more coherent about what they want to achieve, and explicit about what they want students to take way from a lesson
- The flipped classroom – lectures as prerecorded homework – reduces the load in a remote class and focuses synchronous time on collaborations between instructor and students as well as among students when they work together
- Some students have not missed the social pressures and anxieties of in-person schooling
- Shy students have learned how to participate more fully in class via chat functions, and some learners have benefitted from small group interactions in breakout rooms
- Many teachers are building stronger relationships, having more frequent check-ins, delving into relevant curriculum topics, and designing tasks that give students more voice, choice, and purpose
- Individual students are less distracted because their emotions are not triggered by gossip or social issues
- Teachers have found that students can ask for help without embarrassment
- Students do not have to worry about following school rules because they are working from home
A recent Education Week survey from January 6, 2021 reports, “The news is not all grim. Overall, students in our survey express more hopefulness and resilience than their teachers – a heartening takeaway for the grown-ups who are worried and stressed about the pandemic’s long term negative effect on kids. And we do know there is a small but meaningful subset of students who are thriving as full-time remote learners – a phenomenon that can’t be ignored when things do return to normal.”
In his latest book, ‘Teaching in the Online Classroom: Surviving and Thriving in the New Normal,” author Doug Lemov has learned that as virtual classes continue, teaching experts are willing to share their best online learning experiences. He sees this occurrence as a great strength of the teaching profession since the new learning will stay with teachers forever even when they return to a brick and mortar setting. As Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews states, “The book pulses with enthusiasm for sharing with fellow professionals. I find that more common in teaching than in other kinds of work, such as journalism. Educators aren’t by-line hungry.”
Writer Arianna Prothero reports on a common occurrence that may be happening in schools she calls “toxic positivity.” In an attempt to provide teachers with encouragement, some leaders can actually make morale worse.
Statements such as “Look at the bright side, “ “It could be worse,” and “Everything happens for a reason,” can actually have a negative effect on teachers, according to Marc Brackett of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. As Brackett notes, “People can be made to feel guilty for not being more positive. Ignoring negative emotions doesn’t make them go away.”
Prothero posits that the best posture for teachers to take is to reassure their students that the pandemic won’t go on forever, but at the same time, acknowledge real emotions and that things are tough for all of us right now.
I came upon a quote from Nikki Banas as I was looking for possible “silver linings” that I thought is worth sharing:
“If you carry one thing throughout your entire life, let it be hope. Let it be hope that better things are always ahead. Let it be hope that you can get through even the toughest times. Let it be hope that you are stronger than any challenge that comes your way. Let it be hope that you are exactly where you are meant to be right now, and that you are on the path to where you are meant to be. During these times, hope will be the very thing that carries you through.”
© 2021 Just ASK Publications & Professional Development
Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “If There’s a Silver Lining.” Just for the ASKing! March 2021. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development.