Educators, What You Do (and Don’t Do) Right Now Matters

While news of the unfortunate circumstances that surround all of us continues to spread, I’m reminded every single time I open social media of the incredible cadre of professionals performing nothing short of magic for the kids that they serve. This is even more impressive considering that teachers had to unceremoniously say goodbye to them as schools began to close their doors a few weeks ago.

Since then, I’ve seen everything from story read-alongs to virtual lab demonstrations, along with both stories of celebration and heartbreak. The developments over the last few weeks have clearly demonstrated to me that educators, without any doubt, are some of the most creative and innovative professionals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and witnessing in action. They have answered the call to service during this incredibly trying time without hesitation, and are very much mid-air engineering this experience with positivity and faith in their craft.

This experience that we’re now sharing together with our students and their families, along with all of the emotions that accompany so much uncertainty, is something that none of us could have been prepared to handle. No educator is exempt from the heavy lifting here, and that isn’t going unnoticed by the general population that is coping with its new-found or renewed appreciation for the cheerful faces on the other side of their children’s screens. Parents and children alike are looking to teachers to provide guidance and support, and if we didn’t feel like we were all on the same team before, we definitely do now.

What we all do in this moment matters. We have a collective opportunity to demonstrate how critical we are as professionals as well as the latitude to demonstrate how vital schools are to the infrastructure of our country. More important than anything is that we are the ones directly connected to this group of kids: kids at home with parents who may have very little experience guiding them through a situation like this one. While we may not have all of the answers, we now get to be in the living rooms and sitting at the kitchen tables while families try to work this out.

Some things to remember as we move forward together:

Your connection to students is irreplaceable. If this wasn’t something you felt before, it is hopefully something that resonates deeply with you now. That pull or draw to your classroom isn’t the room itself; it’s the connection to your kids and the culture you established with them. They’re also missing that connection now, too. Make the commitment to yourself and to them to use this opportunity to foster a deeper connection to them. Years from now, they’re going to remember the incredible effort you made to be a part of their lives during a very confusing time for them.

Content isn’t the priority at the moment. As an eighth-grader on September 11, 2011, I remember how that day unfolded with extreme detail. The confusion from the lack of information from the adults around us, the fear of seeing classmate after classmate being checked out and being one of the few kids left at school, and the frustration of just “being a kid” while the world seemed to fall to pieces around me isn’t something I’ll ever forget. We have students who can’t physically see us who are going through some very real emotions. Do your best to provide clarity, optimism, and normalcy as they navigate this time. 

Your perspective matters. Whether we like it or not, the events of the COVID-19 pandemic will play a part in reshaping public education in the years moving forward. Now, more than ever, your voice and expertise matter. When the dust settles from this experience, and we begin to take the steps forward together, be prepared to share how this experience shaped your experience as well as your students’. Keep a log of your experiences. Create a video collage of the lessons and messages that you sent to kids. Don’t let the moments that you have built for kids during this time fade into obscurity. Your contributions here are priceless and will be worth sharing.

Students’ perspectives matter. Our students need guidance on how this experience is impacting them and their families. As we implement whatever our districts and states have organized in terms of substitute learning experiences or provide what we can otherwise, it’s important that we empower our students, capture their voices during this time, and allow their experience to be heard. This narrative is as much theirs as it is ours, and respecting their stories is crucial.

Remain a vigilant warrior for equity. As many of you have experienced, information is often out-of-date by the time many of us are receiving it (much less have time to process it and make a plan around it). As decisions are made with haste and urgency, it is our responsibility as educators to ensure that steps are being taken to protect the interests of all of our students. Take this moment to evaluate what each of your students and their families need from you most right now. While we do our best to get information to families during this time, there might be times where we need to make an extra effort to keep some families closer in the loop, removing any barriers that may hinder a family’s ability to have the supports they need during this time.

Keep healthy, keep inspiring, and keep supporting each other. While I attempt to provide the resources my community needs to the best of my ability, I’m grateful for my fellow NTOY19 family for helping me gain a national perspective of this pandemic, as well as to my LASTOY family for being a continuous sounding board of creativity and equitable best practice. There will be a lot more questions than answers in our futures, and while this time won’t define us, it will definitely be redefining the path we take going forward.

Spencer Kiper is a STEM education and educational technology advocate from Northwest Louisiana. He is passionate about sharing innovative practices and has presented regionally, nationally, and internationally on topics that build innovative educational technology and STEM education capacities in other educators. With advanced degrees in educational technology, cyber education, and educational leadership, Spencer works to impact the teacher pipeline in his region by serving as an adjunct professor and school partner to the teacher preparation and alternative certification programs at Louisiana State University in Shreveport. He is the 2019 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year as well as a 2017 Henry Ford Innovator, and currently serves on committees for equity, policy, and teacher preparation with the Louisiana Association of Educators and National Education Association.

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