Holy Week Separation

As we all know, this Holy Week is unlike any other that we have ever encountered, yet it isn’t the first time that it has ever happened. We need to look back at Holy Week…the first one.

The Apostles were the closest followers of Christ. They turned to him for guidance, support, nurturing, and for learning. They knew Jesus better than everyone except Mary. They trusted him. They cared for him. They needed him. With all of these positive feelings about him, it’s surprising how they reacted after Holy Thursday. They were scared and lost.

How are we feeling today? We’re scared. We’re lost. We’re separated from the ones that we care so much about. We don’t know what to do. We seek out ways to stay in touch. We need each other.

We are feeling the same way that the Apostles felt soon after the arrest of Jesus. They went into isolation. They couldn’t directly communicate with those around them.

Social distancing has made this Holy Week just like the first Holy Week. We are separated from Jesus in the Eucharist, but we are not separated from his love.

Holy Week has always been a great joy for me to teach. I want students to fully understand the deep actions Jesus took each day. I love hearing their questions. I love hearing their surprise. This year, that is missing for me. I was very much like the Apostles. I was anxious, scared, and uncertain of how to carry my joy of this week to my students. I did something I never expected to do in my teaching career…I recorded my lessons and sent them to students. It was a strange feeling. Standing in my basement and teaching to a class that wasn’t present. I’m separated from those that draw me closer to my faith…I’m separated from 28 students that I need…but I know that when this is over, I’m going to be so much closer to them.

I took my students on a 3 day walk through Holy Week. Recorded lessons and created questions and reflections. Just wanted to make sure that they took this week and drew closer to Jesus. Little did I know that it would actually receive a lot of praise. My principal wanted me to post it on the school Facebook page. This was never my intent. My intent was to make this week all about my students. My students that I miss! I just wanted to comfort them and make them realize that through separation we are just feeling the same way the Apostles felt, but we have the knowledge of the great and glorious return.

It is so hard to think of the time that we will be back together. We don’t know when that will be. We don’t know how we will react. We don’t know what it will consist of, but we know it will happen. We need to trust in God and each other to ensure that when we get through this Holy Week and isolation that we will feel great joy, comfort, and peace. We are fortunate enough to know that we will be back together. We also know that Jesus is always with us.

God bless you all as we go through Holy Week. I’m praying for you all and preparing for the time that we will all be back together again!

Culture Building In Remote Learning

These are some very unique times in the World and the world of education! One major area of education that is often overlooked, especially in the classes to become a teacher, is the area of culture building. We are in a place in education where culture is needed more than ever. Culture provides stability, focus, feelings of acceptance and safety, and a place for students to call their own. We are now away from our students physically, but that does not mean we are away from them in the culture that we have built.

I entered into a new school this year. I didn’t know what to expect. 28 fifth graders seemed overwhelming. 20 girls…8 boys…that seemed overwhelming. Yet, I came in and learned about the students. I learned about their interests, their way of learning, who they are as not just a student, but as a person! We have to remember that students are more than a body in a seat, but a person that has emotional, social, and spiritual needs.

This year I felt the culture that 5th grade was building was going very well. I knew something about each student. I attended sporting events. I was playing at recess. I had stories with each student. It was a very positive culture, in my opinion. Then March 12th came along. The culture took a drastic turn. It took a hit…yet, it was also a time to strengthen the culture.

I’m going to try my hardest to strengthen the culture of my new “classroom” by still acknowledging my students interests. I have to be responsive to their needs. Culture is recognizing the emotional and social needs of my students. They need each other now just as we need them. When I start my now weekly Google Meet sessions, I open them up 30 minutes early just so students can come in early and talk to each other. I am not going to limit their ability to socialize. It is a need that we all have and it is something that school provides students so I need to continue to provide that aspect of culture. The reason for me opening the sessions up 30 minutes early was something I felt needed to be changed to strengthen the culture. Here’s why.

After the first Google Meet I was kind of nervous. The first was a bit chaotic, but that was understandable. Students were seeing each other for the first time in 10 days! They were excited. I didn’t stop them too much because needs were being met. Culture was being strengthened. They were bringing back their memories. It was important. This week, they cared for each other even more by listening and preparing themselves like they would have in class. The culture of respect was still there. They know what is expected and they did it. The 30 minutes of socialization brought the students back to normalcy. It was an extra 30 minutes for me to listen to them and understand them more. It was building culture.

Going back to seeing a roster with 28 students…28 5th graders…I thought it was just going to be a social fest, but by building up a culture of respect and care for one another, the socializing became limited to the expected times. Were there moments when it wasn’t? Absolutely. Was it frustrating? At times, but it was also expected being that they are still kids. It was an expected part of the culture. It was a comfortable, respectful environment. The culture was still present. The culture that was developed was in each student.

So what else am I doing to establish and build culture in my “classroom”? I’m going to write to my families and let them know how thankful I am for allowing me to be the teacher to their child. I’m going to record lessons and messages for my classes. I’m going to keep being present in their lives. I am not social distancing but rather physical distancing. Being further away doesn’t mean we have to extend our socialization. We need to be physically further. Nothing should keep us away from meeting the basic needs of social and emotional support, especially for our students. I’m going to keep being there for them. I’m not leaving my students behind.

I also provide positive support and messages to the parents. During this time, parents are the greatest allies for educators. I’ve always tried to build this connection with parents, but right now I need them more than ever. I open myself up to parents as a resource and support during this time. Parents are an extension of the culture that my class has built and I have found that they are committed to keeping the same culture at home. I have seen great respect and care within the comments in the Google Classrooms. Students assist each other with answers to comments. The same community that we built since August is still here in our remote learning.

When we left school on March 12, I felt great about the students and how they would do. I was sad though because we had a great momentum going and the culture was dominating the class. I’m so proud of these students as they still carry the culture forward in our new situation. I’m so proud of the commitment they have to each other. These students have a memory to share forever. These students are so strong and prepared to handle this. They still have me to turn to for help…but more importantly, they have each other! That’s the culture that makes me so proud! They are still building the culture while distancing from each other! That’s the culture THEY created!

Students Will Remember Us…Just How?

March 12, 2020 is a day that I will never forget as an educator. It was a day that changed my perspective as a teacher. It was the day that I said “Goodbye and see you Monday!” and that Monday will be coming hopefully soon, but possibly not this school year. I don’t know yet. Enough about me though. I’m changing my perspective on this situation.

If you reflect back on your school days, you will probably recall some event that really changed the course of our society. For some of you it may be the Challenger disaster, others it could be the Columbine school shooting, and for some it is 9/11. For our students, it is today. It is the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Here comes my perspective change. I need to think about how my students are feeling emotionally, socially, and spiritually, now more than ever! Yes, I’m their teacher, but I need to be strong for them. Yes, I’m hurting and I can’t hide that from my students and families, but I have to be present and ready to help them however I can. I need to be that presence in their lives that provides stability.

We will forever be in the conversation when students tell their friends, children, or grandchildren of this time. How do you want that story to be told? Do you want that story to be about a teacher that wasn’t helpful and only cared about driving curriculum during this time? Or do you want to be the educator who supported the emotional and social needs of the students and made sure they felt safe and cared for? Me…I want to be the teacher that was there for the students when they needed me most. I want to be a teacher that showed overwhelming care for.

Today is an opportunity for you to decide which educator you want to be. This situation will be long term and you still have the chance to make this a moment for you to build or strengthen your relationship with your students. Do you want to show your vulnerability but also show that you are that stability? Do you want to be the teacher where students say “My teacher really made me feel better when we were out!”? Or do you want to be that teacher where students say “All we did was work when we were out!”?

Be the support and stability. Be the educator that students will reflect back upon and say you were there for them. Be the teacher that made this experience a positive in the long run rather than a burden on the students and families.

This is our moment to make sure that we can bring positivity and hope in the lives of our students. Let’s think about the priorities. Let’s think about the true needs of our students. We need to be the teacher that, when this is all over and 20 years from now, students will remember for being there for them!

Remote Learning…Week 1

This was the first week of remote learning…distance learning…virtual learning…whatever you want to call it. I call it “the first week without seeing my students as their teacher!” I can also call it “the hardest week I’ve had as a teacher.” Why is this so hard? Why has this been taking a toll on me? It’s simple…it’s the unknown and I feel like a part of me isn’t there.

This week was a week of trying to plan, organize, create, and then plan again. There were meetings to discuss what is the best avenue to meet the needs of our students, meet the needs of our families, meet the needs of our teachers. We had to look at the resources available. We had to see what resources were available to our families. We had to think of a plan of what do we do going forward. Do we continue with the curriculum or do we just ease into this remote learning by slowly adjusting students and families into this new world for them…and for me!

I chose the route of slowly introducing activities. I want to be sure that my students are not overwhelmed. I’m also seeing where they are at and what process works best. As this first week is wrapping up, I’m seeing where students are having challenges and I’ m also seeing where they are doing great things. They have taken this situation and, for the most part, have made it the best situation possible. I’m so proud of them!

I’m planning on adding more to the “lessons” I’m giving them. I bought a whiteboard and I plan on recording classes. I plan on connecting to each student in some way throughout our remote learning. I cannot and will not leave these students behind me.

I’m so thankful for the supportive families of my students. They have been so patient and understanding throughout all of this. I’m so blessed to be in this great community. I know that there were a few, actually many, bumps in the road this first week, yet we made it through. I’m seeing where we can improve and I know we will improve. We will make this happen!

Next week is coming and it is still filled with a bunch of unknowns. Yes, we know that we will be using Google Classroom. We know assignments will be coming and will be added throughout the week, but we don’t know what the future holds. One thing I do know about the future is that when I see my amazing 28 students in the future there will be tears and hugs all around! It’s been 1 week and I’m still terribly missing my students. I will never, ever take for granted a moment I share with my students.

As week 1 wraps up, all I can say is thank you to the families and I am asking for your patience. I know I made errors this week with the organizing of some assignments and the directions may not have been that clear, but I will try to make it better next week. I also want to thank my colleagues. Their ideas have been great and we have created what we feel is a great plan for our families.

Another group that I need to thank during this time is my Twitter professional learning network or family (PLF). A great resource for me has been the Teach Better Team. I have found a community of teachers that have truly taken it upon themselves to provide guidance and resources for educators. I also need to thank all the educators of this country. We have revamped he education system in about 72 hours to meet the needs of all of our students. In teaching, every student is our student. It doesn’t matter what school, district, or state. Teachers will do the best thing for each student. My focus is on the students that I work directly with each day, but educators around the country have shared more resources this week than I have ever seen in the past! I have been overwhelmed!

Lastly, this week I need to send a special thank you to my family, especially my wife. She’s been with me this entire week. She has seen my emotional stress, my emotional breakdowns, and she has been my greatest supporter. She is ready and willing to adjust her own schedule to help me reorganize a space to put my new “classroom.” She’s provided me with ideas and resources to give to my families. She’s been amazing and I couldn’t do this without her. I also want to thank my family that I only see through FaceTime now. I miss and love you all!

This week has been an emotional roller coaster but I know that we are all in this together…but separated by at least 6 feet! Social distancing is not the right phrase! It needs to be physical distancing! We still need to communicate. We still need to work together. We still need each other overall! When this is over, we are going to celebrate! We are going to see that distance truly will make us closer! Let’s get through this…for each other!

What Do We Do? Make It Normal!

This has been a challenging week. The Coronavirus has made its way into my area of Cuyahoga County. I knew this time was bound to come, but I didn’t expect everything to happen so quickly! I knew changes in schedules would happen, so I can’t say I was not prepared, but in all honesty, I wasn’t prepared. Here’s the question though, “How could you really be prepared for something of this level?” Again, I knew that I would have to prepare for remote/distance learning. I knew that I would need to take more precautions in regards to cleaning and disinfecting my classroom. I knew that I would have to explain to students why there is great concern over this situation. I could handle that. There was one thing I was not truly prepared for…and that was the goodbye.

On Thursday, I was informed that students should be prepared to take all their materials and books home in case we were informed that schools had to be closed. The school also had an early dismissal so when this news came along, it was quite a rush at the end of the day. Students were told to pack up and then questions started to develop. “Are we off for 2 weeks?” “Why are we doing this?” “What are we doing?” “Do I have to take everything home?” All I could say was, “We are doing this as a precaution in case we have to close. I plan on seeing you all Monday!” Yet, I was wrong…and it was harder than I could imagine.

I felt like I let them down. I feel like that I can’t help them. I honestly thought that we’d be closed for 2 weeks…but it was announced that it will be 3 weeks! My students left class at 1:30pm and I said I would see them Monday…little did I know that it would be, maybe, Monday, April 6!

Today I spent time in my classroom and with my partner teacher planning the next 3 weeks. Planning on how we can keep the normalcy in the lives of our students…and our own. These 3 weeks will not be normal…but we will make it as normal as we can.

We as educators need to remind ourselves that we have and are a large part of our students’ lives. We are people that they turn to, that they trust, that make them feel safe. Yet, at this time, we cannot be there. We need to find ways to remind students that we are a part of their lives even though we are doing “distance learning.” Provide students reminders that you are still present. Give them positive updates through however you are doing distance learning. Remember that while this may be an “extended break,” you cannot treat this as a vacation. We are still the teacher in their lives.

I’ve been considering ways that I can keep my students updated. I plan on making short videos to update my students. I told students to keep up to date and check Google Classroom daily. I’m going to do all that I can to make this normal. It won’t be easy…it won’t be normal…but it is what we have to do.

I’ve been seriously thinking about how this change can be a positive. Hopefully we will begin to see how we all need each other. Perhaps social distancing will bring us closer. Students will see how they need their teachers and, in the same way, teachers will see how much they need their students. I’ve already decided that when classes return, the first day is not going to be a big content day. It’s going to be a day of celebrating, sharing, and reflection. I’m going to make sure that my students will see how much they need each other to grow, learn, and be better!

I know that when we return that our classroom lives will be different. We will still continue to take precautions to clean the classroom. We will use hand sanitizer. We will be more careful. One thing that won’t be different is how awesome my students are.

As for saying goodbye, it still hurts that I couldn’t say more. I don’t want my students to think that I forgot about them. They will be constantly on my mind throughout this “break.” I’m excited to get back into the classroom to see them…and we still have 3 weeks to go! Until then, be safe, wash your hands, and continue to be amazing!

 

An Opportunity That Won’t Go Down the Drain!

This past weekend, a lot was put into perspective. I was frustrated, upset, angry, demoralized, and just wanted to get away from it all. I thought I could do something. I tried. I studied up on it. I went out and bought what I thought was needed to get it done. I just couldn’t make it happen.

What could cause all this? What could drive me this crazy? Well, it sounds like a simple task…I am trying to take out a screw from the bathtub faucet to make it stop dripping! I thought I could just go in there and take it out without any issues. I looked at it. I studied it. I watched videos on how to fix it. I had the tools. Yet, there was an unexpected twist…the screw was stripped!

When this twist happened, I had some support. Some other people looked at it and gave me suggestions. I went out and bought what they suggested would help. I came home and started using it, yet it still didn’t work. I tried and tried. I got frustrated. I got upset. I got angry. I felt like I’m not good at this and that I’m not able to do anything. I didn’t know what to do.

Now, here’s the part that put a lot into perspective. If I felt this way over this task (which I’m still working on) how do my students feel every time they attempt an activity, think they know it, are given the right tools, yet still can’t succeed at that activity. How do they not show their frustration? How are they showing their frustration yet I don’t pick up on the signs? How can I be more supportive of the challenges and unexpected twists they encounter in their learning?

It took for me to struggle in my own experience to truly understand what students may be going through. I can’t fix a faucet. I’m trying. I’m determined to get it finished, but how many of my students have given up. How many have given up because I didn’t recognize the signs they were giving me. I need to be better. I need to recognize. I can’t let these opportunities go down the drain!

“It is what it is”…but is it really?

I recently came across a tweet that asked the question. “What is the most overused phrase in education?” When I saw this, I immediately thought of “it is what it is.” This phrase just really gets to me. Why? How can 5 words just get to me so quickly? Well, it is what it is…but I don’t buy that!

How did I get to this point? Well, the answer is 4 years. The answer to many questions or ideas that I proposed for 4 years was “it is what it is.” Ideas that could engage students…ideas that could help parent-teacher relations…ideas that could help bring about a change in culture of the school…”it is what it is.”

Does it always have to be “it is what it is?” Absolutely not. It is only what it is if you decide to keep it that way. It is what it is if you don’t want to push the limits. It is what it is if you feel that you are complacent and don’t want to push the status quo. If you want what it could be, take that risk. Take the opportunity to be what it isn’t and show what it is like another way.

“It is what it is” can be a burden on a school. It can lead to a staff that feels that they don’t have a voice. It can lead to students not being heard. It can lead to a feeling that if it is what it is we can never get past this point. Challenging your faculty, staff, and students is is what “it isn’t” and that’s where a school needs to be. A school cannot be what it is as our society, culture, and technology changes. We need to go where our school isn’t so that we can be what it needs to be, not what it is. Let me distinguish one thing first though, traditions of schools need to be upheld. Traditions are what make a school what it is. These are ideals that need to be “It is what it is.”

I went through 4 years of “it is what it is.” It was a 4 year challenge to myself to keep finding ways to be what “it isn’t.” By taking those risks, I found that what it isn’t isn’t that bad of a place to be! Challenging what it is made me a better teacher and a better mentor and guide for my students. “It is what it is” frustrated me, but I realize that each time I came across that, I found a way to be what it isn’t for my students. I became what it isn’t for myself, my family, and my school community.

I might be unconventional and not “it is what it is” but I am for sure doing what is best for my students and the school community, but hey; “It is what it is!”