Celebrating a Year of New Learning

This year tested us, our students, and their families as everyone worked to meet new and challenging expectations. Yet our students, when faced with seemingly impossible circumstances, were able to both learn academic skills and build social and emotional skills. As we close out a school year full of challenges, it’s important to celebrate the unique lessons these experiences have offered us and our students by taking a closer look at some of the ways they have helped us grow. Here are some things I will be celebrating about my students, along with wonderings I plan to carry with me into next year.

Academic Behaviors

I am celebrating how independent my kindergarten and first grade students have become this year. When I found myself asking a child to meet an expectation that we would not normally ask them to manage (for example, knowing what time to log in to meetings), I needed to find ways for students to meet the expectation without an adult just doing it for them. Even though it was more time consuming:

  • Students taught each other how to set alarms and timers on their devices to help manage their time.
  • Students shared photographs and videos of how to organize and manage their supplies.
  • Family members helped students practice skills and reviewed daily schedules in the evening or before leaving for work in the morning.

For next year, even when I can control the physical environment: “How can I continue to engage families and classmates to build students’ independence?” 

Responsibility 

I am celebrating how my students have taken responsibility for solving problems and interacting respectfully with each other. One surprising challenge with online and socially distant learning is that I often found myself saying, “I need you to wait” because I could not see or move quickly from one student to another. I learned that students can move forward with learning, even when I am unavailable, once they are taught to:

  • Reread or relisten to directions before asking for help.
  • Observe and listen to classmates to find respectful ways to join conversations.
  • Ask classmates to show them or help them do something from across a table or across a screen.

For next year, even when I can be available: “How can I support a classroom where students solve problems and interact without me?”

Empathy 

I am celebrating how my students learned to identify and recognize uncomfortable emotions in themselves and others. I am also celebrating how children found joy in surprising places. I learned that, with support, children can notice and name conflicting emotions. (for example, I care about my friend’s safety and I’m frustrated we have to stay 6 feet apart. I’m sad you won’t be my teacher and I’m excited to go back to school in-person). In our class, we spent a lot of time moving through or sitting with the discomfort and disappointment we all felt this year, and we made space to:

  • Name emotions often, without giving positive or negative labels to any emotion. 
  • Explicitly teach and practice strategies to notice emotions in ourselves and find connections with others.
  • Answer honestly when students ask difficult questions, which sometimes meant saying, “I don’t know.”
  • Notice and name JOY. We paused to really enjoy the moments that felt good.

For next year, even when school is more predictable: “How can I create space and time for students to feel all emotions?”

Technology 

I am celebrating how students have used, and taught us how to use, technology as a learning tool. When schools closed in March 2020, we didn’t know how students would (or even whether they could) learn from home. Before I knew it, five, six, and seven-year-olds were doing things on iPads I’m still figuring out! My students’ curiosity and desire to find a better or easier way allowed them to practice a range of skills. Here are a few things we did:

  • Held a technology exchange where students showcased iPad tips and tricks.
  • When a technology need came up, asked individuals or the group, “What could you try?”
  • Called out the overarching skill students were demonstrating, such as: problem-solving, perseverance, flexibility, curiosity, etc.

For next year, without knowing what problems students will need to solve in the future, “How can I encourage students to be innovative problem-solvers?”

This year demanded that we learn new ways of teaching. While our students may not have learned the skills and content we’re used to teaching and assessing, they learned so much. As we move into next year, let’s use the surprises from this year to rethink and be curious about what’s possible.

 

Written by Julia Monke

 

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