When I was a graduate student in the Literacy Studies Program at Hofstra University, back in the early 2000’s, Professor Jane Flurkey said something that I took in with all my heart. She said that you have to know what you believe about teaching and learning and why you teach the way you do, otherwise you will teach whatever is handed to you. And whatever is handed to you is often not best for the students in front of you.
In my 19 years of teaching, the pendulum has swung a few times. Knowing what I believe about teaching and learning has always grounded the decisions I make as an educator. My beliefs shape the instructional pivots I make and the ways to meet the mandates by still honoring how children learn. Not perfectly, of course. But knowing what I believe has been so very important in the way I design instructional opportunities, set up my classroom library, and structure the classroom environment. It’s been the guiding light in the way I approach literacy instruction with my students- the choices I allow, the purposes we set, the authentic opportunities to use writing in meaningful ways.
Knowing what you believe also means adding to what you know. Reading widely from professional texts, blogs, and resources. Participating in professional learning, such as the Summer Invitational Institute from the Long Island Writing Project, which has been seminal in my growth. Taking part in Twitter chats. Joining the book club. Listening to the podcasts. Writing about your teaching and learning. As educators and people, we grow and change with time, reflection, and by actively choosing to learn more about our craft. The strategies I was taught in the late 90’s-early 2000’s regarding classroom management are not what I employ now in 2020. I don’t even like the term “classroom management” anymore and prefer to think of it as fostering a positive classroom community. Those shifts in my practice came from experience, learning, reflecting and then moving towards what was better for students.
And so here we are today, in a global pandemic, in a crisis learning situation. I teach on Long Island, just a short train ride away from New York City, the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak. Families are struggling with health issues, financial issues, emotional issues. Tragically, some are now dealing with the loss of a loved one due to Covid-19. People cannot even properly mourn together with social distancing rules. We are teaching in this environment, because it’s our job and as always, the show must go on when you are a teacher. Much like on 9/11, we kept teaching. On other dark days when we lost a staff member or a beloved student, we had to keep teaching. The students depend on us, and so here we are, making decisions each day about the content we will share with them from our house to theirs. How do we decide what to teach? What to assign? The approach we will take? The tools we will use? The collaboration and connection we will have? The community we will establish when we cannot be in the same room? How do we decide what matters most?
(I feel the need to state that I am writing from the very ideal situation where the educator and her family are in good health. In a global pandemic, there are so many reasons why an educator might not be able to teach in the manner he/she knows is best for students. The examples I share here are for the teachers who are ready, willing and able to teach, despite the challenges of remote learning. How do you decide which direction you go in, if you are physically and emotionally available for teaching? I offer no judgement and nothing but grace and good wishes to the teachers who need that right now.)
It is my beliefs about teaching and learning that shape the remote learning I am designing and carrying out. I am very fortunate that my district has provided technology trainings for teachers, and devices and WiFi for students who need it, which really increases the instructional opportunities I can provide. I know that is not everyone’s situation. I am sharing in this post what I’ve been trying to establish with my students, based on my deep beliefs about learning. There is certainly room for improvement and I’ve revised so many things since remote learning began in mid-March. I hope this post can add to the collaborative conversation we are having as educators trying to find the best ways to support our students during this pandemic.
In the presentation below, first click on the image to make it interactive. Then, click on the link to the right in each frame that highlights one of my beliefs. Each frame will take you to the page where I explore that belief through a video message. I was inspired to try this format after reading Patti Shepherd’s post, Distance Learning with Choice Boards. I used Buncee here to create my interactive poster of beliefs.(Settle back with a nice cup of coffee when you watch the videos. They are a wee bit long. I had so much to say! There is room for improvement here but I am sharing my best attempt with you now and hope you will appreciate my giving something new a go in this blog post.)
While my examples include many digital connections that include both teacher and student access to technology, educators without as much access to technology could still think about how their beliefs inspire their actions. If I believe connection is important and relationships with my students matter, might I call them on the phone? Send note cards? If I believe that students need choice, could I provide them with many different options for their writing assignments at home? Could I present them with a host of possibilities for what they could try? My thinking here is that our beliefs launch our actions. This is the time for thoughtful and intentional decisions about the instruction we are sending out to our students.
How do your beliefs about teaching and learning influence the actions you are taking during remote learning? How does your teaching during this time align with what you know in your heart is best for students?