What Distance Learning Has Taught Me So Far- Part 2

I was such a COVID denier at first. I remember a friend and colleague wearing a goofy sweater on March 17th. It’s her “Last Day of School” sweater. I told her, “Oh please, I’ll see you in a couple weeks.” I really believed we would be back to business as usual after our spring break, which was the last week in March. I just got really blindsided by all of this pandemic.

In my role as a peer coach for teachers, that wasn’t necessarily a good place to be. I get paid to look at everything through the lens of race, racism, and whiteness, so when we moved to a full on season of finishing the school year with distance learning, I began reflecting on how race was going to be at play.

And then, a Black man named George Floyd was killed by a white police officer twenty minutes from the city I live and work in.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a Part 1 to this blog with a few themes from my conversations with educators I work with, which you can read here.

Today, I’d like to offer a few more that I believe are worth pondering:

Sometimes, kids aren’t resilient.

There are so many times that I hear someone offer that “Kids are resilient” after a story about a kid in pain. This has happened at the playground when my toddler falls or when I shared a story about my kindergartner having separation anxiety. I have said this about some of the high school kids I taught when they divulge a hardship to me through writing or conversation.

My own childhood wasn’t easy. My ACE score (adverse childhood experiences) is a 7 out of 10. I have reflected extensively on why I was able to make it through a lot of trauma and land on my feet. I believe my life could have gone very differently. High ACE scores can be combated with caring relationships, opportunities for success, and creating safe spaces.

Often times, kids have to persevere through many of the same troubles and traumas adults are facing at the same time. Here’s my truth: Yes, kids can bounce back from a lot. But, many don’t! Kids who have caring adults in their lives who help them process their experiences are the ones who learn resilience.

When I feel the impulse to claim that kids are resilient, here’s what I am trying to say instead: Hearing you process is reminding me of how important it is to be a caring adult for young people. I want to model what resilience looks like for them.

If we’re going to be competitive, it should be to see who can be the most compassionate.

My good friend and colleague Devrae said the quote above in a meeting a few weeks ago, and it has been grounding me with so much purpose. The pandemic is causing enormous burdens. Working class and poor Americans are struggling. People are lonely. Families are grieving.

Some of the assignments I have seen students being asked to complete don’t seem to keep the above realities in mind. And some of the meetings teachers have been asked to attend also don’t seem to keep the above realities in mind. I’ve heard some teachers overwhelmed by some of the technology skills their fellow teachers have. Let’s not be each other’s competition. Let’s see who can be the most gentle, the most understanding, and the most empathetic.

Hurt people hurt people. Let’s not control our way out of the suffering. Let’s not be harsh right now. Gentleness all around. Compassion Olympics.

We can’t go back to normal.

And we shouldn’t.

Maybe you are in the classroom now. Maybe you feel like you are treading water. Maybe you are losing your grip on hope. Maybe you are strategically figuring out how to make things “normal” again.

Normal wasn’t good enough. We don’t need perfect as a school system, but we do need to do better. The spirits of our children are suffering, especially our BIPOC students’ spirits. We have an opportunity to pause, listen, renew, and try something different. Surrender to the idea that what used to be isn’t supposed to be anymore. Find some colleagues who will remind you of this, and move into the new reality together.

If there was ever a year for imagination, this is it. When you feel stuck trying to “fit xyz” into your curriculum, ask yourself:

  • who decided it had to be there in the first place?
  • does it help your students emotional well being right now?
  • will they need the information in real life (2020-2021) or maybe, one day, if…?
  • go back to “connection before content” – are you sacrificing relationships for your curriculum? If yes, ask yourself why. What is more important right now that kids feeling seen, heard, and valued?

Again…

Teachers, parents, administrators, neighbors, caring adults everywhere: Our kids are watching us. They are listening. I believe our young people will really form a lot of who they believe they are during this time.

How can we show up big for them?

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