Parents…Just WOW!

Over the past 8 weeks, the World, and especially the education world, has been drastically transformed. We have seen so much shut down. We have seen schools just shuttered and students being directed to learn from home. Teachers were told within minutes that students would no longer be teaching in front of a classroom but rather you will have to teach in front of a computer screen.

These are not the “normals” that we educators are used to. This is not the reality that we expected. Yet, we did not stop and we did not just give in. We developed a system that we feel best fit our students and our community. We wanted to make sure that our students continued to receive an education that they well deserve. Is it the ideal way that I would like to teach? No, it’s not…but it is the way that I will continue to teach as long as I have students that want to learn!

While educators have made great changes in our teaching styles and routines, we need to look at another major driving force that has made this change possible…the parents. Parents are in a new way of living. They have been asked to jump into a world that they never expected to be a part of. They have changed their homes, rooms, and way of living to the education of their child. For this, educators need to be truly grateful.

I’ve said this since I started teaching…parents need to be our allies in education! We need to provide parents with the most amount of resources possible to make our education of their child to be the most effective. We need to provide clear communication with families. We need them to work with us and we need to work with them.

These past 8 weeks have exemplified this point to the max! Where would we be without the parents? How effective would this system be if the parents weren’t there to support the educators? I keep reading that hopefully there will be a greater appreciation for educators after all of this, but I want to look at it the other way as well. Hopefully there’s a greater appreciation for the parents of our students as well.

Hopefully, once everything returns to “normal” in the education world, we will see a greater partnership in education among parents and educators. We need each other. We need to continue to do what is best for the students, but educators can’t do it alone. We need parents to be right beside us. We need to walk through the education world as a team to support the future of world. We need to see that our work is a joint effort rather than a one-sided process.

As we continue this school year and begin to prepare for next school year, we need to work together to design a process that covers all supports for education. Schools need to work with families as they are, and always will be, the primary educators of students. It is for this reason that I have to say “Wow!” to all of the parents.

Parents…we need you! We need your support! We are so grateful for your support! You are making this happen! Don’t ever forget that teachers are here to support you in anyway that we can! This year you have been given a great challenge that you have stepped up to and made work. Is it the smoothest system? No, but it will improve. We will work together to make this the best system possible. But, again, WOW! for everything that you are doing!

Parents, don’t give up! Don’t give in! Keep pushing forward and know that we will get through these next few weeks together! Just remember that this educator can only say “WOW!” for everything that you are doing! Thank you!

Hope…It’s There If You Just Look

Today I visited a place that I never heard about until a few days ago. My wife told me about this place called Daffodil Hill. Now, I’ve lived in my area of northeast Ohio for 39 years and I have never heard of Daffodil Hill. Then, I saw posts about the families of my students visiting Daffodil Hill. The most interesting thing about Daffodil Hill is its location. You can find Daffodil Hill in a cemetery…Lakeview Cemetery to be exact. If you’ve never heard of Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio, I highly suggest looking it up. It’s an absolutely stunning place, but back to this point of this post.

Living in an area and learning about Daffodil Hill was such a great distraction from everything going on. Daffodil Hill provided me something that I haven’t had much of lately…and that’s hope. After losing out on a month (and counting) of being with my students, hope was diminishing. Missing out on family events and not spending time with them in person for over a month (and counting), hope was diminishing. Yet, spending a few minutes at a place I never knew about until a few days ago, in an unlikely place, brought hope back!

It provided me peace, beauty, positivity, and comfort in a time when there’s so much negativity, despair, and hardships going on around us. In a few minutes I realized that there is so much beauty surrounding us if we just get past the mindset that all is going wrong. We need to look at the positives in our world. We need to see what is in our own backyard (literally and figuratively) and find out how it can change how we see what’s going on around us. I never thought that there was a hill full of daffodils in bloom in my area, yet there is! If we just take the time to discover what’s near us will we finally be able to change the greater world.

I’m so blessed to have had the opportunity to see Daffodil Hill. Ever since I was told about it from my wife, I then began to see Facebook posts and pictures about this place. Perhaps for years my eyes were blind to the stories because I was never looking for the comfort and peace since life was just moving so fast around me. Maybe I never cared to look for it because I wasn’t focused on the little things in life and how they can provide me comfort and peace. Maybe I just needed this time to slow down and realize that there is such beauty around me.

Daffodil Hill was a much needed escape for me. Thank you to everyone who brought it to my attention, especially to my wife for going with me. I need to open my eyes more to the beauty of what’s around me…and that could be in nature or in others. We all have such beauty within us that can provide hope to others. We need to slow ourselves down to let us reach others and for others to reach us. We need to slow ourselves down to see the beauty in nature that surrounds us. Hope for me was found in a hill of daffodils. Now, I just want to be hope for others…especially for my students!

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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!