Families come first!
Teaching has always been about making connections. The most successful classrooms establish collaborative routines, mutual respect, shared work loads, joy, and an environment that celebrates discourse and authentic learning. All of these things, and perhaps a few more, create a strong nurturing dynamic learning community. By November, most successful classrooms depend on this community to guide each other through individualized learning. Teachers become designers, architects of the space. We create learning experiences that our students can dive into and construct their own understandings. We use art, writing, speaking and other modes of expression as ways for students to translate their newly acquired knowledge into their own unique understanding. In Massachusetts, teachers go to college, we get M.Eds and with deep respect for our profession, begin teaching. I am a veteran teacher of over 3 decades and I still feel blessed and honored to be a teacher of young children.
Now, it is a whole new world. As we navigate through this challenge, most of us are focused on the well being of our students and families from our carefully constructed classroom community. Families out there, untethered from the structure of the classroom community, are understandably stressed out. They are being asked to maintain skills, to set up schools at home and now with the extension of school closure to May, they may be asked to do a bit more, and I wonder if this is where our focus should be. We are asking families that are trying to work from home, if they are lucky, to manage all the challenges of raising a family, and now they have to replicate an experience that took many of us 6 years of college, and several beginning years of teaching to create.
As teachers we are being asked to share resources, ideas to help families through this unprecedented time. Can we expect stressed families to act as trained teachers? If my car is broken and my mechanic sends me a “how to fix” video, I am quite sure I will not be able to replace my differential, rubber grommets, or the exhaust manifold gasket.
We are using technology to stay connected with our students, to build a virtual community connection. Our skills set in this new realm vary widely from teacher to teacher, and internet access at home for our students is not a given. Our district is working on that, understanding that the strength of our teaching depends deeply on the community we create, and now that seems to be a virtual one.
Yes, we need to support families every way we can, but we also need to communicate to them that we care deeply about the well being of their household community. We need to remind them that we are in this together. We must give them permission to relax, just a bit, when it comes to home education. Perhaps it is the time now for children to invest more in the
daily workings of their home life.
How can children become students in their home community? Can we take this opportunity to focus on our collective social and emotional development? Can we re-establish the problem solving, brain enhancing power of self directed learning and play? Can we tell each other more stories, create a chore chart, play games, make pizzas, shadow puppets on a lit wall before bed, four hands creating a shadow masterpiece. We are all experiencing some of the silver lining of “back to basics”, but this isn’t easy. It is not an easy time. The financial burden of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come. But this will end, and when it does, will we be celebrating the acquisition of some new vocabulary words, or the new found strength of each family community?