In the last two months, our world has required us to live in the space of continuous new experiences. All of us, but especially the world of education, have taken a hard and immediate shift. It would be blind denial to say it has been easy, but this past week has taken me by surprise. “Hi, Ms. Rodriguez,” a shy, but clear voice spoke out to me over the phone. Seven weeks had passed without having heard her voice and the experience of those first few words and that careful conversation has changed me to my core. It was a conversation that came to be only after reaching out to the parent each week by phone, asking how the student was, and then finally asking the parent, “Can I speak to her?”
In the past week, I have caught myself fighting tears, while speaking to families or students. This is unusual for me. I have worked hard to be available for families, heart, mind, and spirit, but becoming vulnerable in this way is not who I am. From the start of my teaching career, I have made a conscious decision to love my students, but stand firm and composed as a part of who I am and what I do in the classroom. This is a truth I can no longer hold.
The vulnerability that I once reserved in the classroom for my students is no longer possible without also including parents and families. We have been pulled into a strange sort of higher level teamwork that requires all of us to be vulnerable. We have all grown closer because of these experiences. Our classroom community has widened now to include the many families of my students.
What Worked Well – For Everyone
- Consistency – Creating consistency is crucial. Here is how I have pulled in spaces of consistency for my students and families.
- Sunday Night email to all parents – Each Sunday, between 7:00 PM-9:00 PM, I share all the information families need for the week. This includes Zoom session information, At Home Learning Plans, teacher video lessons, Padlet links, and how to… information. It is delivered in the same format, broken down in numerical order, and in two languages.
- Wednesday “Office Hours” – My teaching partner and I hold one hour Zoom sessions each Wednesday, at 1:00 PM, for students or parents to call in, if they have questions.
- Friday “Keeping In Touch” Sessions – My teaching partner and I hold one hour “Keeping In Touch” Zoom sessions each Friday, at 1:00 PM. Some students stay for an hour and others as long as they can. We have worked to engage our students into conversation with scheduled themes. We have scheduled Fridays to meet pets, share jokes, play games, celebrate poetry with invited authors, and I remain on a constant hunt for new ideas.
- Calling Families – Calling families by phone remains to be one of the most powerful human to human connections I could do for students and families. These conversations are hard wired support systems of what is most valuable in our lives, time. Conversations with families have varied in time, some have taken 2 minutes, others close to 2 hours. We all have different needs. Trust is built when we can say to a parent with ease, “Please don’t worry, I am here for you… I am here to help you.”
- Authentic Experiences – A Family Experience – They are difficult, but not impossible. We continue to have the ability to create authentic and meaningful experiences, even during a time when most of us are living in the lowest levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It can be as simple as “bring a pet or favorite stuffed animal” to our next Zoom session or reaching out to a poet and inviting them to share in our virtual classroom community with students. Extending an outstretched hand to help others or to ask for help is a matter of making a choice. These experiences are not only important for our students and families, they are equally as healing for the teacher. Inviting special guests to your Zoom sessions can become powerful authentic experiences for students, families, and the teacher.
What Did Not Work Well
- Expecting families with higher education backgrounds and in higher socioeconomic situations would need less social emotional support – All families need support. Students and families all have different needs, but they all have needs. Having this initial expectation unfold differently has flipped my unconscious thoughts into conscious decisions.
- Consistently reaching students continues to be a challenge. It is important to recognize and continue trying to find ways to reach out.
- Keeping Kids Connected – Keeping students connected, especially those without consistent internet access, continues to be a struggle. It is important for our students and families to have social emotional support during this time. I have often found myself in conversations with parents that required me to simply listen. Listening, just listening, has revealed the need for students to connect with classmates. Communication between students was not working well. Students continue to struggle in isolation, disconnected from their classmates. I decided to reach out to all parents in an effort to connect students, especially those who do not or cannot venture online.
Below is the Google form I decided to share with students and families this week. It is designed to let students tell me who they want to connect with, so I can try to bring them together. Feel free to use it for your own students.
I am more introvert than anything else, but in these past weeks, I have learned to be vulnerable and trust families in ways that I have kept sacred and reserved solely for my students. We have learned in these many weeks to build deep, vulnerable, and trusting relationships. These are hard things to practice. All that I have kept behind my classroom door and sacred for reading, writing, and growing is now open wide for all to see. It has at times been jarring, even for one who loves the novelty of new experiences. It is a new realm for all of us and we step forward into the hard, together. We are community in every sense and we are stronger, together.