Voice of a HS senior today:

“It is this sense of serendipity that I miss, and which I now recognize is key to making kids my age feel noticed, supported and happy. School is about more than just learning in the classroom, and it seems impossible to get this feeling of community and sense of belonging online. Close your laptop and you’re alone again. This experience has made many of us realize how much we need school, not just an education.”

High School Student in Ohio

Christian Long, Director of the Center for Innovation at an independent school in Ohio, posted this quote today and I teared up. But not for the reason you might think.

Don’t get me wrong, I think all educators everywhere would agree with this kid. Schools, as they existed back in March, were wonderful spaces where community, right of passage, and life long friendships were developed and nurtured, and they will be again.

Or will they?

At least for the short term, school as we knew it will change. The CDC has posted considerations for when reopening schools. Many schools are considering leveled schedules to allow for less students in the building at a time. Quebec released their guidelines back in April, and a video outlining how one school was implementing those guidelines was so far removed from school as we know it that many thought it was a meme/spoof and not the reality of expectation.

As if these precautions were not enough to cause stress, a colleague, Dr. Verene Roberts shared a ‘Letter to the Editor’ that appeared in her local paper.

What is happening in k-12 schools is NOT Intentionally designed-online learning. It is remote access, emergency digital learning. The only way we would have online learning is if Educators had the time & prod learning to develop online learning environments/ resources. We didn’t.

Dr. Roberts, May , 2020

In my opinion, all of it amounts to gaslighting of teachers. How? Consider this, school buildings are closed or extended time given to Spring Break causing teachers and leaders to be in limbo. During this time, they are bombarded with directions of how to proceed, except those directions change every week if not days.

First, teachers are told to do the best you can.
Then, we are declaring state of emergency so there will be no school, consider it like snow days.
Next, no, we need to be a virtual school (overnight) and we expect you to do grading and testing!
Finally, our new normal will be a new type of blended learning that happens mostly at home.

While this is happening, every technology company in the world starts ‘helping’ by offering their latest, greatest, most expensive tech tools for free. And for the superintendent that is trying his or her best to create a plan it is more than a distraction, it is maddening. While some technology companies truly had mission at heart, many saw a new means to increasing the bottom line. A way finally to mandate that everyone use technology to teach, with the possible aim of convincing educators that they need to return to a ‘normal’ that benefits the tech companies.

Teachers, parents and everyone involved, frantically started building the airplane while they were flying it. Some districts and schools were better prepared to transition to remote teaching than others by previously working with experts, coaching and best best practice models. But schools in general were not ready for this kind of intense change.

Unfortunately, very few thought about letting kids chase their passions or create projects. In my opinion, project based learning assignments that families could work on together over the months of school closure would have been the perfect solution. However, the expectation was for teachers to act as seasoned online learning experts, without the benefit of any coaching, best practice models (they do exist), or anyone brought in to guide educators (teacher and leaders) through the process. As a result, parents became frustrated and many teachers began to hate the thought of using technology and secretly craved to return to their old normal.

I heard story after story from teachers saying some form of this, “If you question, if you raise concerns about the old ‘normal,’ then leadership responds in ways that make you doubt yourself, doubt your judgement, doubt your memory, and doubt your capacity for critical thinking.” Whether intentional or not, this process is called ‘gaslighting’ and it is a form of mental and emotional abuse.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault- but we can do better.

What happened wasn’t the teacher’s fault. It wasn’t the leaders fault. It was a series of circumstances that created a knee jerk reaction that forced schools to mandate online classrooms with next to zero preparation, guidance, or experienced leadership. It created anxiety, depression and angst for educators, parents and learners alike. Parents were remote working, while trying to oversee their children’s education online. Some families were trying to do it without connectivity, computers or know how. Teachers were balancing getting their own children online and supporting them in their virtual learning experiences, while at the same time trying to teach remotely as a novice and work remotely from home to boot. Very confusing. Very stressful. The inconsistency, the lack of planning and zero accountability in place created a toxic outcome for most involved.

The high school student quoted at the beginning of this article is right, there was no learning community, no camaraderie , no trust, no differentiation, no personalization, and very little real learning taking place. But the story could have been so very different.

Another Way Forward…

Looking at the proposed changes, school as community will be a long shot at best, but there is another way forward.

The reason I teared up when I read the high school student’s comment was because I could see the teachers I work with online clearly in my mind’s eye. Their stories about feeling guilty and how they just didn’t measure up as an online teacher, played over and over in my mind. Several told me they toyed with the idea of quitting and one considered suicide. What if things had played out differently?

What if … we had used the opportunity to create a truly creative learning experience? One where both the teachers and the students had chased their passions. Maybe, the silver lining is we can take what we learned and redesign for these possibilities going back to school?

The New Normal

What if…

  • We create an online community as a space to build trust, support and model best practice of connected learning as a way to teach and learn both at home and school? A place where teachers and leaders could collaborate, compare notes, and share resources.
  • We assigned teams of educators to a seasoned, connected learning, life coach? An instructional coach who understands both blended learning in the old and new normal. A coach who is experienced in recognizing and guiding SEL needs during fast paced change. This coach would help the educators in your school/district/board to problem find, problem solve, and then design creative solutions that addressed the challenges as they arose, both in and out of buildings?
  • The professional learning was year long, ongoing, job embedded, and feedback was responsive, authentic, and based on research?
  • There was someone on hand to support teachers ‘on demand‘ and walk them through their challenges?
  • We helped educators, teachers, parents and leaders, to understand the difference between remote/distance learning and what it means to offer connected/blended learning instead?
  • We built teacher confidence and efficacy, both self and collective, while modeling for them how to use DIY professional learning as a means to becoming self sufficient in online spaces? Knowing teachers could then teach their students to do the same.

We Can Help

The good news? Powerful Learning Practice has been doing this sort of job embedded professional learning for 13 years. We have reached hundreds of thousands of teachers worldwide with our unique, proven model of online, blended and face to face professional learning. Let us help you as you kickoff your new normal.

We are forming cohorts for 2020-2021 now. Contact us if you’d like to know more.


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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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