My school is reopening to in-person instruction in January.
I am so excited about the prospect of being with students again. But, there is a shadow of anxiety hanging over me. My school went online on March 17, 2020. And, from then until now, I have been working hard to perfect an online learning experience for my students. It wasn’t good at first, and didn’t get really good for a while. I learned a lot from colleagues posting on my Twitter PLC. I read a lot of books (like Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey’s The Distance Learning Playbook). I broke out of my comfort zone and tried out apps and other new technology (like Padlet, Flipgrid, and Nearpod). And, I explored different instruction strategies, like HyperDocs.
I was more intentional about hand gestures, transitions, and think-time. I built in way more time for relationship building. My strict tardiness policy went right out the window, along with my seating plan strategy, my whiteboard organization system, and my bathroom pass system. And, I began to teach in pajama bottoms.
Basically, over the last 22 months, I evolved into a completely different teacher.
So, how will I be able to adapt back to the classroom in just a few weeks?
I posted this question on Twitter and received a number of helpful responses. Here is a sample:
The kids are going to be very squirrelly. They will need a lot of guidance on how to properly manage their behavior and how to be supportive of each other.
Be ready for many degrees of student comfort being back in the building. My current approach is to tailor my policies, procedures, and class arrangement to my most anxious students. It has worked so far to really foster a strong collaborative environment.
Don’t rush back to business as usual. Integrate authentic social emotional interventions into the curriculum. Use scaffolding techniques to teach basic behavioral expectations & interpersonal skills. Take care of your colleagues. PD should be solely focused on this adjustment.
Many Ss will have completely lost touch with the routines of school and the stamina it takes. Teachers should be ready – there is no switch to flip. It’s been an exercise of patience, grace, understanding, frustration, etc. Differentiation will never be more critical.
I loved that the responses were focused on the needs of the students. Moving from home to the classroom was going to generate some anxiety for kids. Just because a school is reopening doesn’t mean students will be back to their old selves. COVID is still out there, and the new Omicron variant is threatening to close borders again. And, in my school’s particular circumstances, life in the country is still experiencing a significant amount of political turmoil. So, my increased focus on student social-emotional needs will continue when we transition back into the classroom.
This focus on social-emotional needs is particularly critical as students developed some powerful self-defense strategies during online learning. Students shielded themselves from the world by turning their cameras off, sharing ideas only through Zoom chats (not speaking aloud), and generally retreating/regrouping when necessary. However, all of these strategies will evaporate when students return to school. So, we will have to work hard to recreate that same sense of safety and security in our classrooms.
I liked the above piece of Twitter advice about the differing degrees of comfort among students and how the best policy would be to plan around the needs of the most anxious. In this way, all comfort levels would be addressed (in the ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ way).
Another area of concern for me in the move from online learning back to the classroom is the needs of my colleagues. Collective teacher efficacy, according to John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, is the leading influence on educational outcomes out of 252 impact factors. How do we ensure that our colleagues also feel safe and welcome when school reopens? One suggestion I’d like to propose is a moratorium on administration visits and teacher evaluations. I also hope that teachers show each other some grace – refraining from judging each other too harshly. Things a little noisy in the room next door? Sharing a classroom with a teacher who isn’t keeping things neat and organized? Your grade-level partner is late to a meeting, or doesn’t feel up to planning? Let. It. Go.
Teachers have to make some major readjustments to their practice.
Students have to make some changes to their behaviors.
None of us will be perfect on day one. We might even be struggling on day ten! Let’s give ourselves time to adapt back to classroom life. And let’s try to remember to have some fun while we do this!