Thrown Into The Deep End

Teachers, are you feeling a bit overwhelmed? I wanted to let you know that you are not alone. Consider the past few weeks; we have been asked to convert our curriculum to an online platform. Many of us have explored or used the "flipped classroom" approach, but to put everything we do online is an entirely different proposition. Not only are we considering the "how" in our teaching, but we are taking a look at the "what" as well. No longer are we teaching to the test- the test is gone. No longer are we teaching to the concert-the concert is gone. Granted, the "test" is still there, and we haven't abandoned our curriculum. However, this pandemic  has created an opportunity for teachers to reconsider the "what" they teach as much as the "how."

Under the best of conditions, making this transition would be a difficult task; however, considering the stress we all feel in our own lives, this is a significant challenge. Admittedly, our fantastic health care workers are on the "front lines" battling this disease, and this post is not meant to suggest that teachers face an impossible situation. We owe a great deal to all of the folks who are risking their safety to protect all of us.

It has been amazing to see all of the corporations offering free services and products to help support educators as we make this transition. At the same time, it has been overwhelming. Those familiar with the SAMR model outlining the degrees of classroom technology integration (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition) know that we have been thrown into the deep end of the “technology” pool. Not only are educators wading through numerous software packages and platforms, but they are also considering what can even be converted. This, of course, assumes that teachers and students all have adequate hardware and access to reliable and robust internet.

Let's carry that analogy a little further.

Our typical pedagogy has us swimming in a section of the pool that is comfortable, but not without risk. We all have days when we are productive in our swimming but might need to touch the bottom of the pool to correct ourselves. Other days we struggle to stay above water and may even reach out to a friend or lifeguard to support us. Rarely are we swimming effortlessly, and although some may suggest it, we never walk on water.

Now let's consider where we are today; the deep end. Agreed, some of us have explored this end of the pool prior to these events and feel comfortable here. Yet, even to the most adventurous educator, this is still a shock. When you consider the pressure and stress on our own families, it is like being in the deep end of a wave pool. If you have young children at home with you, add a few playful dolphins to that wave pool. If you are struggling with food, safety, or shelter, add a few sharks.

Considering all of this, I think it is essential to acknowledge the following:

  • You have been put in a challenging situation. It is okay to feel overwhelmed.
  • Thanks to many caring individuals and companies, there are a bazillion opportunities out there for your students. It is a full-time job just exploring each of these options, much less implementing them. Don't try to do it all. Keep it simple and try one thing at a time. This is not a competition. Your students are not better off trying everything at once.
  • When considering your current choices for your online classroom, consider the "why" first (huh, I think there is a book about that). This will help illuminate the "what" you want to accomplish as well as the "how." And let's be clear, a lot of what you see on FaceBook and other places is the "how." Remember, technology is just a tool. Bells and whistles are great, but only if there is a quality outcome tied to it.
  • Maya Angelou once said, "People will forget what you've said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget the way you made them feel." Our students will forget the software package you decided to go with, but they will always remember your compassion and caring. Taking time to hear their stories, meet their dogs, answer their questions, or calm their fears supersedes any content you can teach at this point. Make a connection with them.

These are just some thoughts floating around in my head. Maybe it resonates with what you are thinking and feeling. More than ever, I am proud to be in this profession and proud of the people I work with. Thank you, educators, for all that you do. Keep supporting each other, and remember that it is okay to grab that inner tube as we ride out this wave together.

Chris Gleason is the 2017 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year and 2017 National Teacher of the Year Finalist.  He teaches through instrumental music at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin and recently gave a TEDx Talk called “Lighting A Fire In Kids

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