I don’t think I realized how much others relied on me until I couldn’t see them anymore. It was so drastically unpleasant one day being torn away from coworkers and students for a phenomenon that I never thought I would see in my lifetime.
When COVID-19 came to light, I was enjoying my spring break in Orlando, Florida. I never heard of it and was oblivious to the fact it had been rampaging our world for quite a while before reaching my home soil. When schools began to close, I began to fear. How would students learn? How would they receive the same support and guidance in their education as they did in the classroom? Would they have the same constant stability at home as they did in their daily routine in the classroom?
I have been blessed to have the opportunity to teach elementary and college-level courses simultaneously throughout the ’19-20 school year. The impact on the students was actually very similar despite the large age gap. The new norm that we see arising today due to these undesirable circumstances shows how ever-changing and valuable educational professionals truly are.
Teachers were forced to rapidly and urgently change their entire teaching practice while still grasping onto the hope of being a solid role model in their students’ lives. When I first began co-teaching online, I could see the frustration and anxiety the teachers had as well as the students. Everyone was thrown into a new place of change altogether while being concurrently isolated.
At first, I was distraught thinking this can’t be done, I was worried about students having instability at home, or being pressed with more responsibilities. As the meetings began and I heard how diligently everyone was working together to address this dire need for appropriate change, the main topic was always the same:
"Address each student’s needs and your needs first."
Every time we began class there was a time to share something personal or special that has happened, or have a warm welcoming conversation with students at the beginning of class to allow them time to reach out and speak freely about any troubles or grateful experiences they have had. I felt how teachers and students were both expressing the value of relying on and supporting each other even though we couldn’t be physically near. The educational community has pulled together and preserved through this time. The Date and Fluency Project has legitimately shown me how having an educational “family” and support system is irreplaceable.
I feel so blessed to be given so many opportunities to listen and brainstorm with teachers and administrators from various school systems in our different states. Especially during this time with so many unknown variables, each professional heavily relied on each other. When they had questions, they would turn to the community. When they needed encouragement, they would turn to the community, and finally, when they needed assistance and support, they would turn to the community.
MaryRose Creedon graduated from West Liberty University in 2018 with a major in Elementary Education. MaryRose is working toward obtaining her master’s as a Reading Specialist while working at West Liberty University as the Data and Technology Fluency Project’s Graduate Assistant. MaryRose has been engaged in many collaborative meetings and projects for the Data and Technology Fluency Project and currently is a member Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Her special interests include yoga, writing, and reading.
“If you have great people around you, they will take you higher than your dream will. Leaders are never self-made. Those closest to you determine your level of success, so choosing the right companions as partners in pursuit of your vision is an important decision.” - John C Maxwell
This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Zachary Shutler
This weekend I delivered a few words of inspiration to our class of 2020 during their graduation “ceremony.” As I stood on the stage staring out at an empty gymnasium (aside from the videography team), I reflected on the abrupt ending of their high school career. There would be no heartfelt goodbyes with their teachers and their classmates in the school halls, the dream of a successful spring athletic season with the friends that you grew up playing tee ball with vanished in an instant, that last slow dance at the prom with your high school sweetheart that you have dreamt about will remain just that, and the words that I am about to speak at this graduation ceremony will only be heard weeks later, in the absence of a crowded gym filled with the graduates surrounded by their friends and family.
The COVID-19 Pandemic drastically altered our world and shattered our naivety that pandemics are something that only happen in the movies or events that we read about in our history books. The world suffered a staggering loss of human life and nearly 40 million Americans had their careers upended due to the economic fallout. I want to keep that in context as I share the story of the Class of 2020. While what they lost needs to be placed in the proper perspective, for a seventeen or eighteen-year-old, it was still an emotional loss. If we are truly here to hear student voices, to be authentic in our practice, and to be compassionate during times of calm and chaos, this is a crucial moment to listen to our students and to understand the challenges that they have faced and will face as they enter into an uncertain political and economic time.
As we continue to mentor the students that are graduating and embarking on the next leg of their journey, we must also begin to focus on the students that will be returning to our care in the fall (in some capacity). We are well aware that there is a heaviness of uncertainty in the air and that uncertainty has the power to fuel anxiety and fear. I sense this when speaking to teachers, parents, and students. To be honest, fear of the unknown is an internal battle that I fight daily. But here are the facts, the future is always uncertain, even in the best of times. These are not unprecedented times in human history. While they might be unprecedented for us, our ancestors have faced greater uncertainty, horrific plagues, unspeakable treatment based on their race or their religion, and wars that literally spanned the globe. We have the opportunity to learn from their successes and their failures.
Focusing squarely on the role that we are entrusted with as educators, we have the opportunity to gain perspective from the past and innovate education while helping make the world a more equitable and accepting place. Think about being in a position where your daily actions have the opportunity to impact generations to come? I think it is an awesome responsibility and who better to lead this wave of innovation and change than educators!
In closing, I will share the advice that I recorded for the seniors during our virtual ceremony. I thought the best advice that I could give them is the same advice that I share with myself and my children on a daily basis. These are five basic principles that I have internalized during my 40 years of life that have allowed me to have the courage to face challenges and uncertainty.
I think that it is so important that we share our aspirations with others. I encourage every young person to take the time to write down your values. Your list of values will most certainly look different than mine, and that is great! We all have our own unique interests, skills, hopes and fears. The important thing is that you place them on paper and share them with people you love and care about. It allows our family, friends, and colleagues to hold us accountable in a productive way. If you share what you want to be about from a values perspective, you will find that people will lift you up when you inevitably fall short. That is what a great team, what a family does for each other. That is what I want for my children, for all children. This is the support that we all need right now.
Zachary Shutler earned his Master's Degree in Academic Administration from Franciscan University of Steubenville and began his career as an administrator at Triadelphia Middle School (Wheeling, WV) in 2007. He is a former district superintendent and currently serves as the principal at Union Local High School (Belmont County, Ohio) and as an adjunct professor at West Liberty University. He is currently working on his doctorate degree at the University of Findlay.
This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Tom Daley
As we are all wrapping up the 2019-2020 school year, our minds collectively fast forward to the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year and we begin to think, “Where do we go from here? What’s next?”. It is important to remember that none of us have all of the answers to these questions and we must rely on one another to navigate the “new normal”. Being part of the Fluency Project and having access to so many great minds is a major advantage as we plan for the future. I have found that as we attempt to answer these questions, there naturally arises more questions. So, I would like to provide you some of my thought process over the last few weeks……..
We are not hitting “reset”
The students we serve have not been in school since mid-March. Therefore, we cannot expect these students to just come back and pick up where we left off. School will not be the same at the end of August as it was prior to the pandemic. So, we need to think about our expectations for the coming year and then adjust them to the guidelines and requirements established by our governing agencies. We also must consider what the experiences of our students have been like since we last saw them in the classroom. What has their remote learning experience been like? What has their home life been like?
Focus on relationships and routines
We will need to consider the types of relationships our students have had. Have they interacted with their peers? Have they been in loving and caring environments? Have they experienced trauma? The answers to these questions will have a huge impact on the type of student who will enter our school in the fall.
It is also imperative that we set up routines and focus very heavily on teaching the routines and expectations of school in its’ new format. The majority of our students will not have had a routine in some time. Many did not have expectations for their academic performance or behavior during quarantine. We must expect difficulties and consider when students last had demands placed on them.
We must establish positive relationships and simultaneously communicate our expectations for routines. Only then can we begin to think about our academic approach. How long will it take to build these relationships and establish routines? We don’t know, this has never happened before. But, we definitely cannot go from 0-60 and immediately start panicking about covering every standard. We need to meet the basic needs of our students first.
Once we have built solid relationships and established new routines and expectations, we need to think about what are the most important things to learn and how can we make it relevant? How can we incorporate meaningful assignments and assessments (projects and products)? How can we incorporate and maintain collaboration and communication in a setting where distancing is expected? Is the work being done capitalizing on the unique skills and talents of those individual students so that we are cultivating their skills and talents for their future success?
If the relationships are there and the material is relevant, it will not matter what the format for learning looks like. It will happen regardless.
This thought process leaves us with a number of questions. It can be overwhelming to try and answer them all by ourselves. There are a number of individuals (Eric Sheninger, Brad Johnson, Angela Duckworth, Matt Miller and Weston Kieschnik) whom I follow on social media that are great resources. But, some of the best answers have come from right here at home. I am lucky to have been part of the Fluency Project and I and thankful for my Fluency Project colleagues who provide inspiration and guidance as I attempt to find the answers to these questions.
I will leave you with a Tweet from Dr. Brad Johnson, “Relationships before Rigor, Grace before Grades, Patience before Programs, Love before Lessons”. As I always say, it must start with the administrators and work its way through the staff and into the student body.
Tom Daley graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2002 with a major in Biology. Upon beginning his coaching career, Tom also began substitute teaching and returned to complete courses to obtain his licensure. He started his teaching career at the Jefferson County JVS in 2005 as a science instructor. Tom received his Master’s in Education from Franciscan University in 2009 and completed coursework for his Principal’s License through Indiana Wesleyan University in 2017. He is entering his fourth year as principal at Bridgeport High School. Tom is a member Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Tom’s special interests include sports and travel and spending time with his wife Julie and daughters Grace (5) and Lily (2).
This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Eleni Nardone
I know that I am passionate about teaching. I feel it inside of me each and every day when I am lucky enough to go to work and, simultaneously, love my job. I see this passion inside of so many of the amazing educators that I work with and in every single person that I have been lucky enough to meet within The Fluency Project. However, recently I read Dave Burgess’ book TEACH LIKE A PIRATE, and it left me wondering- What else am I passionate about?
The word PIRATE in Burgess’ title is actually a very clever mnemonic device that explains his philosophy of teaching, and I have to say, after reading his book I couldn’t agree with his philosophy more! The mnemonic device he uses is:
Within this blog post I would like to focus on the P(Passion) and E(Enthusiasm) sections of the PIRATE mnemonic. In his book, Burgess explains that, as educators, we can feel different types of passion for different aspects of teaching. The three types of passion that he describes include Content Passion, Professional Passion, and Personal Passion. The Personal Passion section of the book leads with the question Completely outside of your profession, what are you passionate about? It was then that Burgess’ point hit me! As educators, when we lead with passion AND enthusiasm, I think we would all agree, we receive the best results. If we can incorporate the things that we are passionate about OUTSIDE of school into our lessons, there is absolutely positively NO WAY that we cannot be enthusiastic about what we are teaching. Every year we try to figure out our students’ passions and incorporate them into our lessons (and of course we still will do that!), but why not incorporate our own, as well, and let them learn a little about us through our personal passions while learning content concurrently?
So, what did I do? I made a list! I forced myself to sit down and really think about my passions outside of school. I forced myself to write them down. I forced myself to be intentional. My list looks something like this right now:
DIY Home Renovations / Interior Design
Then, I looked at my 4th grade standards and wondered, “where can I fit my personal passions in?”. I will admit I was skeptical at first, but by just writing these things down, ideas immediately started to flow! Seriously... Make. A. List. It was magically freeing. For instance, I can use photography to take pictures OR have students take pictures to use as a prompt for our mentor sentence each week and create the sentence together or have students create their own versions of a sentence based off of the picture! I can use my passion for running by taking my class outside to do an activity to discuss relative sizes of measurement within our Measurement and Data unit. I can use my passion for DIY Home Renovation by having students create their dream house using a design program to learn about area and perimeter. I can use my passion for football by using analogies to discuss gaining or losing a fraction of a yard on the football field to teach adding and subtracting fractions to/from a whole number. I can use my passion for baseball to talk about angle measurements and the angle in which a ball was hit during a game. I can use my passion for music to teach metaphors and similes by strategically selecting and playing songs that contain these types of figurative language and having students identify them from the lyrics. I can use my passion for travel by taking my students on virtual field trips all over the world. All of these thoughts occurred to me because I decided to write my passions down! I have even started playing around with some ideas for another personal passion of mine- shopping on amazon! Ha! If I am being completely honest, I know for a fact that I will be more excited to teach these lessons than some of the other lessons that I teach because a true part of me will be reflected in them! Not only will we be learning together, but my students will be learning about their teacher, which will enhance the single most important factor in education within our classrooms- relationships.
In conclusion, Dave Burgess wrote, “By lighting yourself on fire with enthusiasm, you can become a beacon of bliss amidst a bastion of boredom and banality. Your attitude carries with it your single most powerful tool to influence your classroom.” In addition, he states, “It’s fun and exciting to share what is uniquely “you”.” It is when we mix our personal passions with our content that we will truly be able to be authentic in our enthusiasm. I would like to end by saying... trust me, in no way am I an expert in incorporating my personal passions into my classroom and in no way am I pretending to be. I have not done it intentionally yet. However, what I can tell you is that I am SO sincerely excited to try.
Eleni Nardone graduated from West Virginia University in 2018 with a degree in Elementary Education and certifications in mathematics, science, and pre-kindergarten. In 2020, Eleni graduated with a master’s degree in Literacy Education. She began her career at Warwood School as a mathematics interventionist and is currently a 4th grade teacher at Middle Creek Elementary School. Eleni is a member Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University).
This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Leslie Kosanovic
While driving to work this morning, I arrived at a turn in the road and saw a very large bird approaching the double yellow line. I immediately and, seemingly simultaneously, looked in my rear-view mirror to check that no one was behind me and I hardily engaged my brakes. Well, it was none other than a beautiful female turkey. Following so very closely behind her were the sweetest eleven baby poults (yes – I “Googled it” and that is the name for a baby turkey ). But wait, the story gets better. For some reason, before hitting the gas, I double- checked and looking to my left, sure enough, number 12 was struggling to keep up. He was running at full-out baby poult speed to catch up with the others. Good news, he did “cross the road.”
This event is quite the analogy for our profession of education – is it not? This is a vivid visual for equity, compassion, authenticity and agency – is it not? This is a moment that also made me curious – Where do they live? - Will they all survive? - Where were they going in such a hurry? - Would they be moving that fast if they were not crossing a road? - Could they really be that smart? - Is this many poults typical? - Should I feel guilty in November? - What do they eat? - How fast do they grow? - Could I turn this one moment of curiosity into a lesson? – Oh, YES, I can!
Now, to share my moment with a classroom of students. I would kick it off with the description of my encounter. I would do a version of a KWL to pre-assess our collective knowledge and to solicit other experts in my room on the subject. (Note: In two prior teaching positions, I had many students that were very knowledgeable regarding fair/farm animals. I learned so much from them. So, I stop here to “thank” them one more time). We would generate more questions for which we would want to seek answers. We would have choices and perhaps divide into similar interest groups to find the answers in order to satisfy our curiosity. We would seek out our resources. We would add to our questions, as we all know that when we find an answer, we typically also generate an additional question or two. We would be using low-tech and high-tech tools for our research/presenting. We would maintain the sense of urgency in pursuit of answering our curious questions!
As a former science teacher and a current curriculum supervisor, I would never “pass up” the opportunity to tie many standards to this lesson. For example, if I used this moment and the Ohio Standards for Grade 7 in the areas of ELA, math, science and social studies and with the understanding that the exact numbers would depend largely on the questions that my students posed, I estimate that I could address from four to six ELA standards, several writing and speaking/listening (presentation mode) standards, multiple math standards focused in the statistics and probability domain, two areas in social studies (one in historical thinking and one in economic resources), multiple standards in science focused on biotic and abiotic factors and energy flow. This could fit within a stand-alone content area, a joint project between two or more content specialists and/or a grade-level project.
Curiosity is defined as the eager wish to learn or know about something. I felt a sense of urgency to get some of my questions answered – hence the new term “poult” and this blog topic! After all, Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” I believe that one must maintain their curiosity in order to remain creative. For this audience, by “one”, I mean teachers, administrators, students, staff and other stakeholders. In summary, I would like to encourage the readers to ponder – Do we ever really have to sacrifice creativity? Or - do we continue to work hard to facilitate our own classroom culture of choice, where productive struggle is encouraged and a place where students are sad when they leave because it is such an encouraging, creative community. I wonder . . . what do turkeys do in the middle of the afternoon? Well, we’ll add that to our list!!
Noteworthy Points to Ponder:
This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Autumn Troullos and Jessica Kaminsky
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” - Arundhati Roy, The Pandemic is a Portal (https://www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca)
These past few months have revealed how broken our systems are. Over 100,000 people have died from Coronavirus, and our healthcare system cannot provide them care and comfort. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and too many others have been killed by racism and police brutality. Hundreds of thousands of students are living in homes where there is not enough money to cover food, bills, and internet, yet schools are still marking them absent and they’re taking exams from un-air conditioned cars in parking lots.
This is not the world we want to live in. We must do better.
We are choosing to see this moment as an opportunity, as a portal. We can use this to let go of the policies and practices that never served humanity anyways, and build something on the other side that transforms the way we relate as humans. As Toni Morrison said, “As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.” Teachers and schools hold trust and power, so it is our obligation to use this time to dream a little as we move through this portal.
Dreaming is not easy work, so we created a set of questions for ourselves to answer in the hope that it would help us dream more precisely. Our driving questions were: What are we happy to let go of? In the space where we have let go, what can we now embrace? These questions were inspired by our Fluency cohort colleagues and a conversation with Tamara Pearson, whose work as the Assoc. Director, School and Community Engagement at CEISMC (https://www.ceismc.gatech.edu/about/staffdirectory/tamara-pearson) and the founder of the Practice Freedom Project (https://www.practicefreedomproject.org/) is inspiriting.
Through this process, we began dreaming of #TheNewHomeroom. Homeroom became a grounding place for us to begin this visioning because 1) homeroom, at its best, is a place to build community, where you can prioritize your own needs (catching up on work, catching up with friends, taking a few moments of rest before the next class) and 2) our homes are our homerooms right now.
THIS BLOG IS ALSO A REQUEST:
Join us in dreaming and building the other side of the portal. Share in the comments or on twitter your vision for #TheNewHomeroom. This will be built together!
As we moved to social distancing, there was a lot we could not (or did not want to) do. What are you happy to let go?
J: Traffic, most shoes (I’m only sneakers and slippers now), a shared refrigerator (grad students are great, but their eating habits leave something to be desired), projects that drained my energy or I didn’t share goals on, separation by geography or brick and mortar
A: Makeup and clothes that button or zip, having a schedule dictate when to eat or even go to the restroom! Obligatory meetings, assigned parking places...as I think about it, I can easily sum up what I am happy to let go of: RIGID STRUCTURE. I have always been a rule follower, but now I wonder if some of them are actually needed? I get it--there must be some sort of structure in order for systems to work, but must everything be scheduled and spelled out? Don’t most things work themselves out? Does society truly need that much guidance?
What are we happy to have gained? What did we make space to embrace?
J: Slow walks in the woods and through my neighborhood, setting explicit boundaries for levels of engagement and intimacy in meetings (when I have my video vs when I don’t), joining new projects and partnerships that bring me energy and share my goals, connecting with my colleagues across districts and states (writing this blog with Autumn probably wouldn’t have happened if not for these circumstances!) and getting to introduce them to each other (the coalition of equity-oriented, future-thinking educators is growing)
A: 100% agreement on the slowing down of life and having choice in what receives my energy! Without the daily demands weighing down my brain, I have become so much more mindful and present. (I noticed it with my son Lucca also. He was completing a year end reflection this morning and answered the prompt “What challenges have you faced during this time and how are you overcoming them?” He said that he has a harder time focusing and to help redirect his attention he mentally notes what he is doing, for example “I am watching the flag wave in the wind--oops! Should be reading this book!”
I am taking the time to pursue anything that interests me: daily exercise, reading time, writing, partnering with new people because of shared interests (hey Jess!), cooking new foods, creating art, taking classes, growing myself!
We believe in the values of Agency - Compassion - Authenticity - Equity. Starting with our values, what do we believe and what will our beliefs look like in #TheNewHomeroom?
Have you slowed down? What are YOU relieved to no longer do? What have you done with this newfound space? What beliefs do you have that are non-negotiable, no matter what the learning environment looks like? How will you carry this into the new school year?
Join us in building #TheNewHomeroom. Moving to the other side of the portal is going to take all of us!
“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” - Margaret Wheatley
Autumn Troullos graduated from Ohio University’s Eastern campus in 2002 with a major in Middle Childhood Education (concentration in Math and Social Studies) and a minor in Mathematics. Her Master’s degree in Instructional Communication was earned at WVU. She earned National Board Certification in 2013. Autumn began her career as a teacher at St. Mary Central. From there she taught at Warwood School and Bridge Street Middle School in Ohio County. Currently she is teaching 8th grade Math and Mindfulness at St. Clairsville Middle School. Autumn has been engaged in researching mindfulness and its benefits and incorporating mindfulness into the classroom. She has joined a National Board cohort as a mentor. Autumn currently is a member of Cohort 4 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Her special interests include yoga, reading, plants, learning, and her family.
Jessica Kaminsky is the Director of the Fluency Project of Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab. Jessica received her Master in the Arts of Teaching from University of Pittsburgh, before beginning her work in youth voice and media making. After designing and implementing dozens of youth-led media campaigns, her focus on youth voice continues as a foundational element in the design of the Fluency project. Her work emphasizes youth-adult partnerships and collaborative learning inside school systems, and mindful approaches for examining the impact of technology on learning.
This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Michelle Dietrich
Was I deceived?
Or did a sable cloud
turn forth her silver lining on the night?*
The pace of the last few months has certainly been different. I am inherently a reflective, somewhat introverted person. Usually, being a principal does not provide me with much time for reflection, unless it is intentionally scheduled, and my introversion is saved for weekends. Of course, “The Pandemic” has changed things up a bit. Initially, there was a lot of organizing and meeting and planning as we adjusted to our temporary normal, but once May arrived, the pace slowed. I have had ample time to relish my introverted nature (and crave social interaction), and time to read and reflect.
Despite the inconveniences, I have found the current situation one where I have embraced silver linings.
With three teenagers, one in college, family meals were a rarity. So much so that we took the leaf out of the dining room table to make it fit a family of four, and most nights we would sit at the counter because it was down to three. Lately, we have had dinners for a family of five, and we have had many more lingering conversations.
Usually, during the school year, my only reading is done for professional development. In the past two months, I have read more for personal growth – books that I would have saved for summer.
I have a lovely patio, and each spring I plant flowers – struggling to find time to fit it in on the busy weekends. This year, I planted leisurely, knowing that if I did not finish today, I would find the time tomorrow. And, I have had time to sit on the patio, reading above mentioned books!
Silver linings. I have embraced them.
Recently, I heard a podcast, Us & Them: Same Pandemic, Unequal Education. The gist of the podcast is that for some students, the pandemic has created opportunities, while for others it has highlighted disadvantages. It led me to think about the core principles of Fluency: equity, compassion, authenticity, and agency; and consider how my experience has been one of privilege. From my vantage point, the inconveniences have been minor, and I can see the blessings. From my place of abundance, I can live compassionately and donate to food pantries; I can live my authentic life, making choices about how I spend my days.
I wonder, though, what about those who are not in my position? What about families who struggle with food insecurity, lack of transportation, job loss, addiction, or even domestic abuse? Can they see silver linings? I can speculate; I can hope; but I won’t know for sure.
What I do know is this: As educators, we have been shown a glimpse into the lives of our students that we have never had before. We have been more in touch with parents and have heard their concerns. We have struggled alongside them. Through this experience, we have hopefully gotten a better sense of what matters most when it comes to education.
The principles of Fluency matter. Equity – are my students who struggle getting what they need from me right now? What about my students who are working above grade level? How am I giving each of them what they need to be successful? Compassion – are you okay? Do you have enough food? Did you get enough sleep? Is anything going on that I can help you with? Authenticity – how can I design learning that meets standards and engages students in these circumstances? Can I allow this student to complete a different task because I know he/she is in a different place? Agency – how do you work best? Look at this choice board and determine how you would like to demonstrate mastery.
When we return to school in the fall (she writes optimistically!), we will be different. We will have been provided with a deeper sense of what matters. We will have learned.
I did not err, there does a sable cloud,
turn out her silver lining on the night
and casts a gleam over this tufted grove.*
*Comus, John Milton, 1893
Kay, T., 2020. Same Pandemic, Unequal Education. [podcast] Us & Them. Available at: <https://beta.prx.org/stories/323090> [Accessed 7 June 2020].
Michelle Dietrich graduated from Bethany College in 1994 with a major in Elementary Education and a specialization in Math 5-8. Her graduate work includes a Masters in Educational Technology, Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Phoenix and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Wheeling Jesuit University. Michelle has served as a Director of Religious Education, has taught Title I Math, K-5 and was a fifth grade teacher before serving as Assistant Principal at Warwood School. She is currently serving as the Principal at Steenrod Elementary School where she has been since 2015. Michelle is involved in her church and in the life of her children. In her free time, you’ll find her nose in a book. Michelle currently is a member of Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University).
This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By MaryLu Hutchins
My first Data and Technology Fluency Project (not a project) blog was written centering on the musical work of Eugene Grove (AKA Euge Groove), jazz artist. The piece I focused on was a melody named “Just Feels Right” and in that thinking I discussed the multiple facets encompassed in this collaboration of a highly diverse group of thinkers from the CREATE Lab, Carnegie Mellon University, and West Liberty University’s Center for Arts and Education. Being a part of an action oriented think tank continues to offer the opportunity to experience amazing moments as we continually question where we are as a society and how schools might best serve our communities, country, and our world. At this moment, I am listening to “The Healing” also by Eugene Grove on saxophone. It is truly poignant. There is certainly an element of full circle thinking based on our current fully uncertain moment in time in the world, in our country, and for each individual. We all need healing on so many levels.
In 2008, I was asked to complete work for the West Virginia Department of Education. “The best teachers teach from the heart” emerged as the theme that connected this 12-page document. It emerged in our co-powered work of the Fluency project as well, though this time the “heart” of our shared work was not limited to teachers. The collaboration was inclusive of K-21+ students, teachers, administrators, outreach team, programmers, and community -wide partners as thought leaders. Our partners influenced cohort thinking in immeasurable depth and breadth therefore their influence as co-thought leaders is a constant.
So now I turn to Zaretta Hammond’s inclusive framework above wherein affective and cognitive learning are designed by drawing on cutting edge neuroscience research. I adopted an open lens (please see attached document, excerpts from eight critical lenses through which readers and view text), and started with hope as a subset of the spiritual lens. According to Hammond, “First we must acknowledge the realities of inequity that impact students in and out of school… second, it’s a chance to validate the personhood of the student…because it helps restore students’ sense of hope. Restoring hope is one of the main jobs for a teacher…” In concurring with Hammond, I have ‘Maslow before Bloom’ inked on the first page of my thought notebook. Know where you are and build forward. In educational institutions at all levels, relationships precede transformational learning, otherwise learning can be reduced to a transaction between the learner and the system. In fact, systems are actually designed to be transactional because that mode of interaction preserves the system itself.
I close with these questions, in the opening months of the most rapid change education has ever experienced, how are you choosing healing today?
Do your values drive your interactions with others in this time of overwhelming stress?
What is your positioning on Equity?
Are you being self-compassionate? Extending a high level of Compassion to your students?
Is the instruction you design Authentic?
(This may be the most compelling opportunity to build authentic real world experiences for your students because technically, they are actually learning outside of our four walled structures.)
Does thinking about how student Agency might evolve under these circumstances offer you hope for the future?
With intention, shall we rise to critical consciousness (cited above by Hammond)?
Through collaboration of a highly diverse group of thinkers we can heal and make it just feel right, potentially for the first time.
MaryLu Hutchins, Ed. D., NBCT, served most of her career as a public school teacher and is a graduate of West Liberty University and West Virginia University. Hutchins is lead member of the Data and Technology Project (not a project) Team and collaborates with Cohorts 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Thank you to Michele King for the title, A Kinder, Gentler World, and to Crystal of Central High, Louisville, KY, for the insights offered via Eight Critical Lenses.
“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done.” -W.E.B. Du Bois
Excerpts from Eight Critical Lenses through Which Readers Can View Texts
Consider shifting your perspective or viewpoint. What lenses might offer you more insight into the text?
Reader Response Lens
Definition: Reading a text for personal meaning
In what ways is the text different than your life? How has the text changed your worldview?
Definition: Reading a text for its socio-economic issues
What world view does the text represent?
Definition: Reading a text for its contextual significance. This would include information about the author, his or her historical moment, or the systems of meaning available at the time of writing.
Upon reading the text, how has your view on the given historical event changed?
Definition: Reading a text for its gender related issues or attitudes towards gender. The assumption here is that men and women are different: they write differently, read differently, and write about their reading differently. These differences should be valued.
Observe how gender stereotypes might be reinforced or undermined. Try to see how the text reflects or distorts the place men or women have in society.
Definition: Reading a text for it issues of race, heritage, and ethnicity.
Analyze the text for how it deals with cultural conflicts, particularly between majority and minority groups.
Definition: Reading a text for patterns in human behavior. While everyone’s formative history is different in particulars, there are basic recurrent patterns of development for most people.
Think about the broader social issues the text attempts to address.
New Criticism Lens
Definition: Reading a text for the unity and complexity of its form. The focus should be on the text itself.
What is the great strength -- or most noticeable weakness – of the text?
Definition: Reading a text for its spiritual issues
What does the text say about Grace? Love? Forgiveness? Hope?
This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Jody Wade
Teaching, as a noun, defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary, means “the act, practice, or profession of a teacher”. It’s such a simplistic definition for a word so close to my heart. Perhaps it is because to define it in the amount of words needed to appropriately do it justice would take up too many pages. Or maybe, it is because teaching has taken on so many abstract meanings that it cannot be adequately defined.
Whatever the reason, I think we can all agree that teaching in 2020 looks different than it did just a couple of decades ago. Teaching today goes beyond the scripted lessons of a teacher’s manual, beyond the rote memorization of assigned skills, and well beyond the confinement of the four walls of a classroom. Simply put, teaching is so much more than “the act, practice, or profession of a teacher”.
If I were to define teaching in today’s classroom, it would look something like this. Teaching, as a verb, means expecting the challenges of the unexpected and running wildly in the direction of those challenges to meet the needs, whatever they may be, of every student that has been placed in our care. What I am trying to say is teaching, and consequently learning, does not look the same for every student. This, my friends, is where equity comes into play. Sometimes, teaching is sitting with a student that is having a bad day because Mom and Dad are getting divorced and they just need a calm presence. Sometimes, teaching is changing seating options two… or three… or four times because a student has movement needs and learns best when their little body is not confined to a conventional chair. Other times, teaching is spending a little time getting out of our comfort zone and learning how to present lessons in a new way because “they just aren’t getting it”. This could be easily summed up by saying that teaching is so much more than simply delivering information. It is getting to know our students. It is communicating, making connections, and creating relationships that provide an environment of compassion and trust so that learning can take place.
Sometimes, however, teaching throws us a curveball that we could never expect. Enter March 13th, 2020… the last day I saw my students face to face in a classroom setting. This was the day our teaching lives were turned upside down. I must admit, at first, I wondered how it could ever be done. If you are reading this, I am sure many of you felt the same way. How was I going to continue to teach, make those ever-important connections, and ensure that their needs were adequately being met?
Here is what I am learning as we are still in the thick of this new way of teaching. Teaching and learning can still happen, student needs are still being met… and those connections I talked about, they may be stronger than ever! In all of the chaos, what brings calm is that I am connecting with families and students in ways I could have never imagined. I’m not only getting to know students, but I am getting to know families. I am talking to siblings, parents, grandparents… and even the occasional pet. I have learned things about my students that I may have never known… through, of all things, communication and making connections. For instance, one of my students learned to ride a bike. Another student has learned gardening. Some of my students have amazing relationships with grandparents and they are getting extra spoiled during this time. My point is… they are still learning and growing and the way that it is happening is less important than the fact that IT IS STILL HAPPENING.
In closing, I think it is important for all of us to just breathe during this time. “School” is not going to look normal for us right now. It just can’t. One thing that hasn’t changed though, is our resilience and the love we have for each and every one of our students. Focus on the positive, find ways to make those connections, and enjoy the unique bonds that are being made with our students this year. This too shall pass, and we will emerge better than ever before. You see friends, we know the real truth about teaching our students has very little to do with what comes from a teacher’s manual and so much more to do with exposing our teacher hearts and meeting them right where they are…even if that means talking through a computer screen to someone’s beloved pet hamster.
Jody Wade graduated from West Liberty University in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education (K-8 Multi-Subject). She began her career as a substitute and then became a full–time teacher at Moundsville Christian School in West Virginia where she taught K-2. She currently teaches 2nd grade at Steenrod Elementary School in Wheeling, WV. Jody is a member Cohort 4 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Outside of school, Jody enjoys spending time with family, getting outdoors, and researching new ideas for both personal and professional growth.
“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” ~ C.S Lewis
This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Lori Dougherty
As I sit at my desk looking around a packed up, bare classroom, trying to figure out how to write this, I am flooded with emotions. The last days are always filled with anticipation, animated conversations about summer plans, and lots of tears and goodbye hugs. But none of that is happening today.
This year there were so many things left undone, so many things our kids didn’t get to experience: Wheeling Park, the Awards Assembly, the 8th Grade Promotion ceremony before a packed house, the 8th graders’ last day walking the middle school halls as the “big dogs.” And for our seniors...well, they have missed so much.
On most days, teaching virtually was, at best, challenging. Trying to reach every student to make sure they were okay, to make sure they were on task, writing more emails in two months than I have probably written in my lifetime- it was beyond my skill set. Many students did not join in the Zoom sessions, nor did they complete many of the assignments. And although many of the kids seem to thrive in this environment-getting to sleep in and work when it suited them, at their own pace- I worried about those who really need that one-on-one instruction in a structured environment. Yes, teachers held private Zoom sessions with them, and some spent hours trying to help a child understand math problems or grasp other concepts that mom and dad just couldn’t help them with. Others sent numerous emails and made phone calls to try to connect with parents of students who had fallen behind, in the hopes of getting them caught up with the assignments they had missed. But it just wasn’t the same.
The everyday banter of my classroom, talking and joking with kids, having daily conversations about important things as well as the mundane-that all was gone. The private conversations or jokes and jabs disappeared. Those relationships were reduced to Zoom sessions here and there and all those emails!
However, all is not lost. As I let my positive vibe peek into the “madness” of this type of schooling, I can see a lot of good things that have come out of this. Number one, I remembered how much I really do love this place, these kids, this community. (Sometimes, as Cinderella (1988) sang, “Don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”) Also, I have had many parents tell me that they have really come to appreciate the work we do with their kids every day, and the kids have a new-found appreciation for being able to go to school on a regular basis. We also expanded our tool kits, teachers and students alike. We had to figure it out together, and even though it was frustrating at times, we did it! In the process, we have all learned a great deal about our tenacity and we have grown by leaps and bounds in the use of technology. We were even able to give our middle schoolers a virtual Awards Assembly, as well as virtual Graduations for our 8th graders and seniors.
So, as I lock up my classroom for the school year, I am overcome with feelings about what has transpired these past few months, and I pray that all will return to normal sooner than later. And although I am hopeful that we will be back together in this building in the fall, I am also confident that if we must continue with this virtual learning, we will succeed. We have all shown that we are capable of so much more than we ever thought before 2020 hit us!
Lori Dougherty graduated from West Virginia University in 1990 with a degree in education (K-8 Multi Subject). She began a career as a kindergarten teacher at Our Lady of Peace School in Wheeling and then went to Bridgeport Middle School in 1996 where she is currently the 8th grade ELA teacher. She received her master’s degree in reading from WVU in 2003. Lori has been involved with the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project “Teachers as Thinkers” as well as the Leadership Council at Bridgeport Middle School.
Lori currently is a member of Cohort 3 of the Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Lori’s special interests include reading, running, and cooking.