Back to School!

5th Graders engaging in an educational activity!

Well, I’ve been back in the classroom for nearly 3 weeks now. Are things looking a bit different this year than last year? Absolutely! Are there some feelings of anxiety? Of course! Are there moments of uncertainty? Obviously! Am I glad to be back? You know it!

This school year has started off unlike any other school year. Daily temperature checks for myself and my students. Getting used to extra technology in my classroom that I have never worked with before. Measuring the distance between desks. Just so many unique experiences, but do you know what is still present in my school and in me? Dedication to serving and educating these amazing students!

My school started the year teaching in-person and remotely. It’s challenging! Engaging students who are at home while also engaging students in-person creates obstacles, yet also opportunities. This is the year for teachers to push themselves to try new things. This is the year to take risk with students and rise up to overcome the obstacles. If there was ever a time to let teachers leeway in there lessons, this is it! Let us find new ways to connect with our students in a way that promotes growth through new opportunities.

As a teacher, I want to see my students be better today than they were yesterday, and better tomorrow than they are today. Will students always achieve that? No, but I can help them move forward and build the “want” to be better. Students will falter, but they need to understand the why and build upon that to become better.

Each day starts off with seeing students walk up the stairs and down the hallway. They are greeted with a thermometer to check their temperature. I can’t tell if they are smiling or not behind the mask that they are wearing, but all I can do is provide them with a positive good morning greeting and welcome them back into the classroom. Not being able to see the smiles is a struggle for me. I find that the energy my students bring to the classroom energizes me, but this year is different. I am the one that needs to bring the energy. I am the one that needs to deliver the extra morning boost…and let me tell you this…it’s exhausting!

I am feeling more tired this year than I have in the previous starts of school years that I have encountered. Perhaps this is from the extended absence from the classroom than I am used to, or perhaps it’s because there are so many extra responsibilities that I have to do each day to make sure the classroom is ready for students. Each day I need to make sure the desks have been cleaned, that the desk shields are ready for use, that the desks are still distanced, that the camera and other technology are still working correctly, that I have taken my own temperature and recorded the information properly…all of this along with the regular activities of planning and teaching, ensuring that the student work is available for both in-person students and remote learners, taking the boys in my classes to the restroom and walking up stairs at least 6 times a day, and responding to emails and contacting parents. It very well could be a combination of both, but whatever it is, I do get exhausted throughout the day. I know that this will eventually be decreased, but right now, it is a challenge.

Yet, being back in the classroom is exciting. Yes, I can’t see the smiles and I am getting quite tired each day, but those things are lessened because I’m back where I feel like I belong…the classroom! This environment brings me hope, joy, and strength. I see teachers rising up and using new technology. Sure…the technology may not always work as we want it to, but we still make learning happen. Teachers are working to educate students wherever they are! They are working to make students feel accepted, loved, and cared for by their school community. This is where my hope, joy, and strength come from! There is one greater source of all these for me…and that source is the students.

I have heard educators say that there is no way students will be able to comply with all the new rules and regulations that schools are going to implement in regards to safety measures. Students wearing masks all day? Nope…can’t happen! Students walking down the hallway properly? Good luck with that! Students physically distancing from one another? They’re kids and they won’t do it! Well, students CAN do it and students ARE doing it! You know how you make that happen? You show that you believe in them! You show them that you care for them! Is everything perfect everyday? No, it’s not, but nobody is perfect. Are the students exceeding expectations? They have met the expectations and they are exceeding them! They’re doing it because we have created an environment where they feel supported, loved, and cared for…and we KNOW they can make it happen!Once students feel that, they can achieve anything!

There are so many great sources of support that I have had in preparation for this school year. My amazing wife has been there for me throughout all this! She knows the anxiety that I have faced and has eased my mind so much. My family that has made me feel confident about the preparations that my school has done to welcome students back! My Teach Better PLN and my fellow Teach Better Ambassadors. Having a group of educators there to talk about ideas and support has been amazing. Finally, my PLN of educators on Twitter.

This school year is going to be an amazing learning year! Students are going to continue to build up the feeling of care, love, and support for not only themselves but for each other. I am going to do my best to ensure that each student has a voice within the classroom. I am going to work to support these students through all of these obstacles. While desk shields and masks are seen as barriers between the students and I, these are going to be barriers that I will work to break down…not physically, but educationally, emotionally, and socially. Student safety is my first priority, but the social and emotional well being of each student is right up there. I am going to make sure that being back to school is the greatest educational experience that they have had!

Masks…More Than Material

The debate lately has been whether or not we should be wearing masks. Should we or shouldn’t we? Well, I’m not here to debate that, but rather to reflect on a post from one of my professional learning networks, the Punk Rock Classroom. They discussed the idea of masks, but more the masks that we wear everyday, even before the pandemic. Let me explain…

When I enter into a classroom full of students, I’m encountering different personalities, different levels of knowledge, different interests…in other words, I’m meeting students that are each unique. With these unique personalities also comes the reality that some students are struggling to realize and discover who they truly are. I have to see what “masks” my students are wearing.

Masks are a reality in the lives of students. Students wear masks for several different reasons. Here are a few:

  1. To feel accepted
  2. To distance themselves from others
  3. To make others believe that they know the content
  4. To make others believe that they don’t know the content
  5. To conceal fears that they have from being away from family
  6. To conceal issues that they might be facing at home
  7. To show off the talents they have
  8. To conceal the talents that they may feel be embarrassed to show

These are just a few of the masks that students wear each and every day. It is a reality that masks are worn, but they don’t always have to wear them. They have to have an environment to feel safe to show who they truly are. I need to develop and nurture that environment. Yet, that also means that I have to avoid wearing masks each day. I need to come in to the classroom each day and show my passion and joy for teaching, but I also need to be mindful that I will not be at my best each and every day. Those days will challenge me to be real and let students know that it’s okay to not be your best each day. I need to model the mentality that being “unmasked” is okay and that we will grow and learn from these moments.

I’ve had many encounters with students wearing masks and I personally find these moments as some of the most enlightening moments that I have had as an educator. I have taken these moments to connect to students and let them understand that I will support them through their unmasking period. Students need to have support from not only me, but from their classmates as well. The classroom needs to be filled with empathy and compassion. Students need to feel comfortable to share their passions, stories, and moments of growth. There has to be an acceptance of the phrases of “I don’t know….yet”…”I need help”…”I’m excited to show my classmates what I can do”…”Would you like to eat lunch with us?”.

As I stated, the current mask debate is a struggle that schools will be facing for this upcoming school year, but we need to look at the masks that students have been wearing for years. Schools need to embrace these masks and find ways to have students want to unmask themselves to accept who they are. Teachers need to strengthen their relationships with students and ensure their students that they will be supported by all. Schools need to provide the environment that will embrace each and every student and their unique offerings to the school community.

Students will wear masks and it’s my responsibility to ensure that they are accepted and supported when they want to take them off.

Year In Review

In June of 2019, I was searching for something new. I started looking for a new teaching position, especially one at the 5th grade level. I was looking at the Diocese of Cleveland website for teaching positions and I saw a position for a 5th grade homeroom position at Communion of Saints School. Well, I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain! I submitted my resume and all that fun stuff and within an hour I had a phone call from the school secretary asking me to come in for an interview. Well, that’s where the fun begins! I was leaving for a vacation soon after I received that phone call, so we quickly organized the interview and I started to prepare!

The interview day came along and little did I know that it was also Field Day for the school. So I walk through a group of students engaged in so many awesome activities! I’m wearing a blazer and dress pants and everyone else is wearing shorts and t-shirts! I’ll never forget walking through the parking lot seeing all the great students interacting so positively together…and from that point on I knew that this was going to be a special place!

The interview went great and I knew right after that it was going to happen! I went on vacation much more relaxed knowing that my future was taken care of, but I was also a bit nervous starting at a new school!

In early August I was able to get into my classroom for the first time…Room 210! The great thing about the room number is that it is the same room number that I was in at my last school! Room 210!

As I was setting up my classroom, one thing kept sticking in my mind….”How am I going to deal with 28 students?” My room is a similar size to my last school and I had 18 students! Where are 10 more students going to fit? I tried to be creative but there was one thing that I was soon going to discover…my students are so great that it didn’t matter where I had them sit, they were going to get along with everyone they were by!

I start each school year off using Play-Doh and have students create something out of it to explain who they are. When I saw the creations of my students, I knew that this class was going to be something special. They were so creative with what they made; they shared Play-Doh to allow students to add extra elements to their creations; and when they shared what they made, they did it with so much passion.

As the school year continued, this class continued to grow as a family. They learned together. They supported each other. Best of all, they cared for each other. Each student found their “group” yet everyone was apart of the larger.

One amazing thing I found this year is actually how easy it is to get to know each student individually. I had 28 students…20 girls and 8 boys! When I first heard that, I was very overwhelmed! 20 girls?? 20 girls is more in one class than I had total students in one class! I do recall telling the boys that they would always win a disagreement because I’m one of them! Yet, I never had to do that since they all got along so great!

The school year continued…and my excitement for everything kept increasing! I knew something about each student that just made them unique. Some examples are pickles, math, memes, jokes, stories, FRIENDS, Annie, Nugget, “Well, what had happened was…”, Rubik’s Cubes, a horse on the ground, and so many more! These are the memories that I will hold with me forever!

Now, here comes the hardest part of this past year…Thursday, March 12th, 2020. This was an early dismissal day, so students were to be dismissed at 1:30pm. At 12:45 teachers were informed to have students start to pack up their materials just in case schools were closed due to the pandemic. I told my students to do just that. There was confusion. There was uncertainty. We didn’t know anything except that the coronavirus was just beginning to be present in Ohio and that the possibility of closing was there. I knew that we were probably going to close, but I didn’t expect it so soon. There was no school for students on Friday, March 13, so I told students as they left on Thursday that”I’ll see you Monday!” Monday never happened…

Soon after we left school, it was announced that all K-12 schools in Ohio were going to close. This became a time to scramble and figure out the next step in the school year. Here is one thing I have to tell you that some of you may not understand…March, April, and May are the best months to be a teacher! Kids are fully understanding who they are and students are in their zone! It is a great period of growth in so many areas…academic, social, spiritual, and emotional! Yet, it was ripped away from me, my students, our class! I was hurting.

One advantage that I had was that my class was already using Google Classroom. They knew the system because we jumped into it early in the school year. Students were eager to learn Google Classroom and I was able to work seamlessly with my partner teacher to implement Google Classroom for all of our students! In addition to Google Classroom, my partner teacher and I were always on the same page, so it made for an amazing year working with her! Back to the Google Classroom…when the school year had to be quickly changed over to distance learning the students were easily able to adapt to the change. This says so much about my students! They were able to see learning happening everywhere they were. I don’t mean this as technology was available everywhere so they were learning, but that they are able to see how the environment around them is their “classroom”. So proud of these students!

As we moved forward with distance learning, the students progressed through by creating routines. We had our weekly class meetings with a strong attendance rate! We shared stories of the events of the week, caught kids up on the lessons they will have, and was just present for them…and they were there for me! While this continued, I felt like it wasn’t enough. One thing I found so great about this class wasn’t how close they were as a group (which they were!) but rather how close the families were! At school events, at sporting events, in the stories they shared, it was always involving the families being together. A true community! I needed to find a way to keep that connection! So I created a long distance game night!

Our Game Nights consisted of playing Kahoot! through Zoom! Families competed against each other, challenged each other….but more importantly, kept the connection that they had before distancing! We would have these Game Nights every Thursday. When we got towards the end of the school year I would ask each week, “Is this the final one, or do you want to have one next week?” The answer would always be, “Let’s play again next week!” Little did I know that we would go 7 straight weeks of playing Kahoot! and I couldn’t have been happier doing this for my families!

As the school year wrapped up, I felt so bad saying “See you Monday!” and then never seeing my students again for the rest of the school year. I knew that it wasn’t right…and I needed to make up for it! So I decided that I wanted to visit each student in someway so I contacted parents and informed them that I would be coming to each house to drop off a small gift for each student. On Wednesday, May 27, I was able to visit 25 of my 28 students. Laughs were had…and even some tears were shed during my visits. It was a bit of closure…but it’s still not the same as being in the classroom with them. It was such a powerful experience though.

Now that the classroom is closed up and we are in “summer break”, I can safely say that this has been the most unique school year I have ever encountered. I don’t like to say that this was my best school or class ever because each group has made me better in some way, but I do know that this group has surely taught me the most about myself and has pushed me to be even better than I was before. They challenged me socially, emotionally, and spiritually….but all positively! I just hope that I left half as much impact on them that they have left on me. I am going to miss this class, but I am going to support them all the way through 6th grade and beyond that!

My special message to this class is this…”Take your rose with you everywhere you go; take care of it, nurture it, and watch it grow. It is your rose, and only yours! Make it the best rose ever!” I’m so proud of you!

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!

Daffodils 2Daffodils 1

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!