Carrying Forward Our Lessons About Teaching
A MiddleWeb Blog
We asked teacher educator and former Kansas TOY Curtis Chandler to write about Covid-19’s carryover lessons. This is the first of his two-part reflection.
Recently, I visited with a friend who I hadn’t seen since the pandemic hit. I was taken aback (in a good way) by his altered appearance.
My baby-faced, pudgy, chuckle-headed pal now sported a new, grizzled beard and had, as he described it, “swapped 25 pounds of middle-aged flab for 25 beefy muscle.”
When I asked him about the change, he joked about how COVID had confiscated any excuse he had for not eating better and exercising. Working from home had taken away the 45 minutes he spent commuting each way to work and as well as access to most of his favorite restaurants.
The extra time in his day (and the added stress of being cooped up during the pandemic) had spurred him to finally do the two things he had been meaning to do: prepare healthier meals and dust off the long-dormant exercise equipment in his garage.
The beard, he said, was just for fun.
Teaching Insights – the Hard Way
As I reflected on my friend’s metamorphosis, it occurred to me that a number of teachers have – in a way – had a similar experience. Each educator passing through the “gauntlet” of pandemic teaching has been stressed and stretched to their wits’ end.
The payoff from this hard discipline, however, is that each of us has had to take a deep look at our instructional practices, trim the excess, and strengthen our approach to teaching and learning.
Among the insight-producing questions educators had to grapple with are:
► How do I make the most of the limited time I have with students?
► In what ways can I quickly and sincerely connect (and build a relationship) with students and parents?
► Of all the things I want to teach, what is essential…and what is fluff?
► How can I clearly model learning tasks and provide effective feedback?
► How do I make the curriculum, assessment, and feedback accessible and supportive to students at home?
If we begin the new school year with some solid answers to each of these questions, we will be rewarded for all our hard work in 2020-2021.
“Our Patrons Expect It”
Even though COVID precautions and restrictions are beginning to loosen, as a nation it seems wasteful to abandon the lessons, insights, and advancements gained over the many months of daily life under pandemic conditions.
I, for one, am hoping that virtual tours of museums, movie premieres on streamed video services, and more conscientious hand washing and infection awareness all persist in the months and years to come.
On a road trip with my family this past week, we noticed that every restaurant where we dined was using touchscreen and QR code menus, rather than paper ones. At one point I finally asked our server about it. He shrugged and replied matter-of-factly:
“It just seems to make more sense. Plus, ever since the pandemic hit, our patrons expect it.”
Similarly, as much as I am hoping (and looking forward to) having more face-to-face contact with my classes, a desire to “get back to normal” cannot serve as an excuse to revert to instructional practices that failed to serve my students in the past. We have gained some new understanding during virtual, hybrid and restricted in-person teaching – valuable knowledge we paid dearly for and would be foolish to waste.
The First Lesson: Teach What’s MOST Important
There will always be more to teach than there is time to teach it. That’s why it is so imperative for each of us to work with our colleagues to look critically at all content, skills, and vocabulary in their curriculum and sort it into three categories:
- Useful, but not critical
- Interesting, but not useful
Doing so ensures that we spend our valuable classroom time focusing on what matters most. It also allows teachers to align assessments, agree on effective instruction strategies (like this), and make clear plans to gather and analyze data about how to better meet student needs.
When we agree to work together early in the school year to determine – and give precedence to – “priority” content, we help ensure that our students develop the essential knowledge and skills needed for current and future academic success.
Doing so also minimizes the confusion and commotion caused by potential disruptions, interruptions, and – as we experienced during the pandemic – an early, abrupt ending to the school year.
The unvarnished truth is…we don’t know when the next pandemic or major epidemic might come. We do know that it’s more likely a when than an if question. Think how much better we can serve our students if we take steps now to turn COVID-19’s hard lessons into better future teaching preparedness.
✻ “Ten Ways I’ll Be Teaching Differently Next Year” at Larry Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q&A column (Education Week). Larry shares comments from other teachers and himself about ways they plan to alter their instructional practices.
See Part 2 – Digital Teaching Gains: What Will We Keep? For several decades the teacher community has been mostly divided into “technophiles” and “technophobes.” From his perch in teacher education, Chandler sees the pandemic experience creating more rapid tech convergence. Read about his “practical approach” to instructional technology going forward, including the most important COVID-induced practices to keep.