Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Kicking up a little dust for the harvest

As summer winds down, yet temperatures stay up, the harvest begins. For several years, the drive between home and work took me past beautiful open fields, cattle lining fences, and, of course, the vast almond and walnut orchards that make our Valley what it is. Harvest season is on the horizon. This is the time of year that fog is not yet a concern, but one still must drive cautiously and aware of possible visibility issues due to dust. As the shakers and sweepers make their way down rows of almond orchards, to collect this year's harvest, the dust kicks up. As much as many of us wince and complain about the dust, we know it is necessary and we appreciate what it means for our Valley. You gotta kick up a little dust to provide the harvest and we all benefit from it.

I reflected on this part of our Valley as I continued to prepare notes for my last Google Innovator application in 2019. Sometimes, innovative educators are kicking up dust around their school sites as they provide for the learning experiences of their colleagues and the students we all serve. Sometimes, we are kicking up dust in other ways. Anyone who has spent more than about a minute on Twitter can see that no two educators are exactly the same.

There are times when kicking up a little dust ruffles some feathers, but ultimately is accepted and appreciated. There are also times that it does not play out quite as nicely, but it does benefit the students. Teachers across the United States and around the world can relay stories of things they have done with and for their students only to have it underappreciated or even criticized. The end result of student achievement, or more importantly, student learning, though is what teachers strive for with each thing they try.

More and more teachers find themselves exploring new and innovative ideas for learning especially now that the face of education has shifted to primarily distance (or remote) learning formats. Among the educators doing incredible things you will find a few who really have taken the lead. 

Southern California educator Kim Voge has spent the summer sharing out some incredible ideas to help teachers with work flow and instruction. Another great resource is Central Valley educator Ed Campos.  If you need ideas, inspiration, or even just a voice to help you filter best practices, these two educators and many others like them are ones you can and should follow on Twitter. I also recommend the KQED MindShift Twitter page for interesting share-outs and resources. I have used many articles they have shared in recent weeks to feed my brain and my heart. Now is also a great time to register with CUE and become involved with your local affiliate.

Don't be afraid to kick up a little dust. If you try something and it works for you and your students, you know you are doing something right. If you try something, and it doesn't quite work, it's ok to shelve it and move forward. One of my kids' teachers has done just that. She tried something new for the math exit tickets. It did not work as well as she thought, so she scrapped it and went back to the original way that seemed to work better. The kids have followed her lead and have shown their resiliency and ability to "go with the flow." As I wrote recently, we must practice grace with each other: teachers, students, and parents. I think that is precisely what I have seen happening in many of my kids' classes. I can only hope to witness it more broadly throughout education as more schools begin.

Once the dust settles, we will reap the benefits of a bountiful harvest. Our kids will be okay. They are not falling behind, but rather, moving ahead differently. If we can keep a positive attitude as educators and parents, they can and will as well. We have imperfect days, but as I often say, we are perfect in our imperfections. The dust will settle, I assure you. And when it does, we should look back on this time of learning as the opportunity to grow.

What new tools have you selected to use? How are they working so far? Who do you follow on Twitter that you think others should follow as well? What is your best resource right now?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Begin each day with grace

Note: I first started writing this blog post in the spring. We were in the midst of throwing some things together, working hard, and doing our best to make the most out of what has been described as a "crisis situation." As we enter a new school year, memories of the spring are still fresh in everyone's minds and there is an understandable level of concern and frustration as school begins anew. The difference now, of course, is that teachers have had more time to adjust to, plan, and prepare for the current learning environment.

Our new normal has given me a glimpse at both sides of the screen. As I work with students and Girl Scouts, I know the amount of preparation that needs to go into working with them. I am also working with and watching as teachers as they continue to prepare for the start of school. So, to students and parents, I can assure you that your teachers and leaders are working very hard to give you the best possible opportunities during this time. What you will experience as fall terms begin will likely look different than what you experienced in the spring. Like their students, teachers were thrust into new approaches in mid-March. With little to no notice, schools closed their doors and sent students, teachers, and staff home with the idea that some semblance of learning would continue.

I want to share some of what I also see on the parent side of things. I know I am not alone in being an educator with kids of my own at home right now. You may have seen similar things to what I have. You may have had different experiences completely. I would appreciate hearing from you in the comments.

What I have seen includes the best of all circumstances as well as some of the worst and most frustrating. One day in the spring, I watched as my then almost 13-year-old melted. He had some difficulty getting signed in for his Zoom and ended up clicking in a few minutes late. At that point, the teacher had not yet started using the "doorbell" feature Zoom offers and she had already started a lesson that had her reading from a book, so she overlooked the notification that my son had entered the waiting room. So, he sat. And sat. And waited. He waited some more. I texted the teacher. He put his head down on the desk, on the verge of tears. (It turned out, she did not have her phone nearby either.)

As the class time neared the end, she saw that she had students in the waiting room and admitted them to the meeting. By this point, my son had nearly given up completely. Thankfully, the teacher went through the material missed so the students who had spent most of the class in the waiting room had the opportunity to learn. A relief washed over my son's face, but I knew he still had some settling to do. My thinking is that by this point, he and others like him would not absorb as much as they would had they not spent 30 minutes in the waiting room, but at least they were exposed to that day's material. I spoke with the teacher later and talked her through the settings so the doorbell would alert her to someone entering the waiting room. Once she had that setting in place, things were much easier for her and for the students. I witnessed a similar experience with my then fourth grader. She experienced a connection disruption and got booted from the Zoom. She got back online and entered the waiting room, and there she sat. To say she grew restless, frustrated, and agitated would be an understatement. Ultimately, she made it back into her class. Like her brother, she felt relieved, but remained somewhat unsettled for the duration.

Expectations of students, teachers, and parents varies district to district and even school to school. Just as curricula and teacher methods vary. Variances such as these are not new. As we enter the fall, we see a shift, of course in expectations. What happened in the spring mattered. Many schools did not grade or did not put as much emphasis on grades, but what happened mattered. Students still learned. Some of that learning came in the form of less formal synchronous sessions. Some came from asynchronous class activities. Some came from the integration of new technology and tools. Some came from chalking on sidewalks, planting gardens, sewing masks, cooking with their families, canning jams, and reading new books and magazines.

Now, here we are with a new beginning in a setting that has become familiar. In many circumstances, our kids remain at home as the new school year begins. Meanwhile, many teachers will teach from their classrooms at their schools. Expectations have shifted for everyone. Still, only a couple of days into the new school year, I have already seen some frustration at home.

First day of school: my now fifth grader sat down at her Chromebook ten minutes before school start time. She did not see the link for her Google Meet. She had watched the intro video put out by the district and felt well-prepared for the first day, and then, she found she wasn't quite. She reloaded and checked again. Then again. "Mommy, my stomach hurts," she said, holding back tears. Her anxiety shot through the roof. Then, suddenly she exclaimed, "oh look! There it is!" What I discovered was that she had looked for a new post from her teacher to appear in the stream. Based on her previous experiences, she expected to see a link posted in the stream. This year things are a little different. The link appears in the top header of her Google Classroom Class. She's managing better as she settles into the new routine.

Second day of school: The county office of education experiences an issue with their Internet. This takes down the Internet in our local district as well. The fifth grade teacher notices this, rushes home, and starts class pretty much on time. In the meantime, my eighth grader sits down at his computer and tries multiple times each class period to join the class Meets. He remains committed throughout the day and completes some "special assignments" I give him. Although disappointed by not having any synchronous sessions for his classes, he survives the day and remains hopeful for Monday, Day 3.

I understand setting the expectations bar high, but what those expectations include should also include an expectation of grace. Of course, we want students to show up for their classes. Yes, attendance can, should, and will be taken. I have read of some district policies where students will be counted as absent if they drop out of the synchronous learning time. This policy lacks much needed grace. We know the inequity that exists all too well already. If a student lives in a rural area or otherwise lacks consistent Internet access, it may well be that their Internet dropped. If a student tries to return to the class meeting, the teacher should admit the student back in and the student should still count as present. If a student has login issues with any of the programs used, support should be offered. We will experience issues of varying degrees as we navigate this process. We can and we must start from a point of grace.

As I picked up materials for my eighth grader and a Chromebook for my fifth grader the week before the start of school, I had the opportunity to talk with a couple of people. Firstly, I thanked every person I could for their work in preparation for the start. Then, I expressed gratitude and talked about grace. The "we're all in this together," statement has become a bit cliche, regardless of how true it is and regardless of how sincere people are when they express it.

We absolutely must practice grace daily, all the way around.

Let's begin at the beginning. We must all remember that in most districts, teachers may or may not have had a seat at the table when discussions took place planning for the year ahead. Please remember this. Whether you love, like, or hate the plan your district has decided to implement, please remember that we still must practice grace with each other: our teachers, our colleagues, our students, our children.

In the midst of frustration (which surely everyone will experience at some point or another), I encourage you to take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember to find a point of grace in your heart. I do the same for myself and ask the same of my children. No reason to wait for frustration, though. We can begin each day with grace. We can demonstrate graciousness toward each other in the good, as well.


Regardless of what language you say it in or how you spell it, the word is as recognizable as the action that can come with it. In fact the word for grace is the root for how "thank you" is expressed in Italian and Spanish. Everyone is working hard. Teachers put forth their best efforts to create lessons and engage students. Students sit down, login, and try to keep up with the lessons taught. Parents do what they can to support their children in their learning. As all work to do our best to make the most out of the current circumstances, let us be filled with grace and demonstrate gratitude. As I wrote previously, we have an opportunity to do wonderful things. We can transform education. We must first come from a place of grace and work toward understanding each other. If we can hear each other and communicate clearly and respectfully, then we can really get to where opportunity waits. Then we can do even more incredible things.

We can do this. We can and will do this together. Remember to stay gracious and when needed, take a step back, take a deep breath, and try again.