We Choose Our Focus
This school year has been like no other. Educators are struggling to figure out what works for themselves and their students amidst unprecedented turmoil. Although the temptation to “doom scroll” beckons, I’m trying to choose wisely.
I am focusing on the positive moments that are available to my students, my colleagues, and myself this year.
Here are a few places I am finding joyful moments:
On the first day of class, I shared a fun video with my students to help set the tone as we started this unusual year. For Argument and Debate, we watched a short about how silly “professional” debaters can be. For Graphic Novels, we watched the amazing book trailer for Kodi by Jared Cullum. Then I challenged the students to provide videos for the rest of our classes! They were surprised to learn one of their assignments was to “watch YouTube”! Their task is to find a video that’s 4 minutes or less that they think is interesting or fun. If it relates to the topic of class, that’s great, but the goal is to share something they enjoy. This has led to a wonderfully wide array of videos that kick off each class.
Some videos are directly connected to our lessons. Others are just interesting ideas. And more than a few are baby animal love fests. Regardless, they’ve brightened my day, and they start each class on the right foot. Plus, they give the students some ownership of each of our sessions! Giving students agency in their learning increases engagement. So everyone wins!
I created a Google Form where students can submit their links. Everyone in class is supposed to submit a link. I post reminders for four students at a time. I review half a dozen videos every few days, and set up links to share with students. While a few of the videos have been slightly questionable, a quick e-mail to the student results in a replacement.
Plus, this assignment lets me “sneak in” a lesson on how to filter YouTube search results by time! So it’s not only been fun, it’s also been educational!
Working with Colleagues
I am fortunate to work with lots of wonderful educators. And we regularly share ideas and materials. But this year has brought our sharing to a whole new level.
Our rotating hybrid schedule has reduced our student interactions significantly compared to years past. This has forced some major adjustments not only to everyone’s knowledge sharing, but also our pedagogy. Our collaborations have grown stronger and deeper, approaching co-teaching levels of support and interactions. It’s helped us wrap our minds around the shifting demands of delivering information to our students across an array of technologies. It’s also helped us focus in on what are truly the most important elements of the curriculum.
It can be daunting for everyone in the building to suddenly feel like first-year teachers. But we’ve come together like a cadre of first years–aware that we can all use the help, and doing our best to support each other. Despite the frustrations, it’s been incredibly rewarding to work so closely with those dedicated educators!
Talking to Students
One of the greatest sources of unexpected joy for me this year has been the chance to interact with students on a more individual basis. It’s true that social distancing and remote learning have physically separated us. However, educators in my school offer “office hours” on a daily basis so students can opt to chat with teachers outside of class time. This often results in very small groups, or even one-on-one discussions.
Not only does this provide students with a valuable learning experience, but it also provides lots of opportunities to deepen connections with students. During my first office hours, a student came by to ask a question about a lesson. Then he asked me about my reading preferences. We started to chat about books and hobbies, and we had a wonderful time getting to know each other.
It’s clear that, for some students, getting to chat with another human outside their usual sphere of family and friends is a real treat. I know it has been for me!
SEL = Being Human(e)
Most administrators in my district would label the above activities “Social-Emotional Learning.” They’re not wrong. But to my mind, putting an academic label on it detracts from its importance. And it’s difficult to overstate the importance of these interactions.
All the educators I’ve talked to lately feel like there are twice as many things to do as there are time to do them. It can feel like we’re falling behind to take these moments to connect with others. But taking the time away from the hectic planning and preparation to focus on the importance of human connection with both students and colleagues is as good for us as it is for them.
So take the time to find some joyful moments with the people around you. You’ll all reap the benefits!
Author: Steve Tetreault
Steve has been teaching for over 20 years, mostly middle school English Language Arts. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!