by Misty Grandel and Darbie Valenti
Not one teacher would choose the current situation that we find ourselves facing. Not one teacher would choose to teach from the kitchen table rather than be with students. Yet, teachers across our state and nation have chosen to answer the call to action. They have chosen to be there for their students, not knowing the full definition of “there” in this reality. We find ourselves in the great unknown, only knowing that our students continue to depend upon us as they face a new reality as well.
Being in uncharted territory, this new reality is forcing teachers everywhere to be more ingenious in their approach than ever. I’ve always considered myself an innovative teacher. Yet sadly, there is often a misconception of innovation being synonymous with technology. At this time when technology is our lifeline to our students, and theirs with us, the lines between technology and innovation are becoming blurrier than ever. Although it is currently keeping us connected, removing some of the technology in order to provide a more equitable learning experience could be the most innovative approach that we could take during these times.
Not knowing exactly what education should look like during this time of distance learning, let’s imagine what it could be. What if we revolutionized what place-based learning could look like when trying to accomplish learning at home? What if students engaged in authentic learning experiences that are relevant to their current environment? Identifying a problem that impacts their local neighborhood or community, such as erosion or recycling, and finding a solution can provide an authentic learning experience. This type of learning can connect students to a world that they are currently isolated from. It can allow them to appreciate, maybe even love, the roots from which their life and beliefs have grown.
What if students learn essential math concepts through real-life experiences like cooking, exploring the home or collecting authentic data? What if science was learned through phenomena that are surrounding them in and around their homes? What if literacy skills were enhanced by journaling and documenting these unprecedented events. What if our innovation at this time is a digital diet that gets back to the basics?
What if more than anything the focus, along with teachers’ time and energy, were devoted to our students’ social-emotional health and well-being? With stress, financial crisis, illness and death all around us, it’s not a matter of if our students will endure trauma; it’s a matter of the impact that the trauma they are experiencing will have on their lives. Despite inequities, our schools are working diligently to provide meals and technology to students. The one thing that is more difficult to replicate is the safety and community that schools offer. Our student learning objectives should be focused on students knowing that their feelings and emotions are acknowledged and validated. They should also include students knowing that they are loved and cared for. Above all, our objective should be to let our students know that no matter the distance between us, that their teachers are still there for them.
In this time of uncertainty, there is one thing that is known. It will be easier to teach a student long division that they may have missed the previous year than to help them overcome trauma endured by this pandemic. Sometimes less is more. While we all have concerns about our children’s futures, it is their best interest that is driving the work we do. Rather than adding to this already stressful time, maybe we need to extend grace.
- extending grace to our students who are navigating their feelings while adjusting to a life they’ve never known
- extending grace to our teachers who are dedicated to keeping that connection with their students because they understand that is the basic foundation of the work that we do
- extending grace to the families, who themselves are juggling a world of change while partnering with teachers to ensure that student needs are being met
What if more than anything we extend grace to ourselves? If we recognize and accept that we won’t be perfect, but that we will continue to strive for greatness in the future we are creating. If we recognize that we will make mistakes, but we will also work together to learn from them, and we will share that knowledge as we strive for what is best for children. Together, we will find a path forward for our students and the people who love them so very much.
Darbie Valenti is the 2017 Missouri Teacher of the Year. She teaches at Carden Park Elementary and is the 5th- and 6th-grade gifted teacher for the St. Joseph school district. You can follow her on Twitter at @Miss_D_Valenti or on Facebook at facebook.com/MOTOY17.