Our New “NORMAL” as Educators
By Tom Whisinnand, 2019 Sanford Grand Prize Award Winner
This is my new “new normal.”
My classroom has become a desk in our extra bedroom.
Professional collaboration now looks like this.
My own children now learn like this.
It is safe to say that my pre-service education classes never covered how to teach when a global pandemic occurs. None of my college classes covered how to teach remotely for an extended time, or how to deal with the fact that some students live in situations that may involve food scarcity or other trauma, and that their “escape” by going to school could be taken away.
Over the last few weeks many of the ideas that I had about education have been shaken to the core. There have been times I have been so overwhelmed with the tragedy of what is facing our society that I have found it difficult to be the shining light of hope that my students expect and deserve. I found the whole idea that our society is “on hold” difficult to deal with.
While many of us face “new normal” in our daily lives, I have come to realize that there are certain things that will never change about education. One of the most important ideas that holds true no matter what education looks like is that the teacher MUST communicate a clear “end goal,” or objective. How students achieve the goal might look different in these times of “social distancing”. Students might not only create a paper about a certain topic, but they might also create an engaging podcast and share it with the world, via the web. Students may choose to publish the content they create and begin a portfolio of work instead of handing in a stand-alone assignment. No matter how students may “turn in” their assignments, the teacher must communicate a clear objective that their students will reach for.
Another educational concept that holds true no matter how classes are taught, or students learn, is that teachers MUST provide timely, specific feedback. With many students now demonstrating their learning online and teachers working remotely, the turnaround time of providing feedback on assignments can be quicker than if students completed tasks in a standard classroom. Students can take the timely, specific feedback their teacher provides and quickly edit, revise and turn in the corrected assignment.
Probably the most fundamental element of education that will not change, regardless whether a student is involved in distance learning, is that relationships still matter. In fact, relationships might matter even more if the teaching is taking place in a virtual space. Being able to contact your student, or their family, is simply an irreplaceable component of successful teaching. Whether the contact is made via email, a phone call, a quick text or another means, the power of the teacher/student relationship does not disappear simply because classes are not being held in the familiar setting of a four-wall classroom.
While the last part of your school year might not look like you dreamed it would in December, there are still students and families who NEED you! They may need you to provide clear directions and objectives for them to meet using new technology. They may be looking to you for timely, precise feedback so that they can continue to learn and grow during these difficult times. Or, they might find a phone call, text or email a welcome distraction during a time of tumult.
Here’s to finishing our school year and remembering that while some things in education have definitely changed, there are certain “bedrock” ideas that will be true no matter what teaching might look like tomorrow, or 100 years from now.