A Brave New World

We are now well into the final quarter of what has been a truly unprecedented year. Looking back, no one could have known what 2020 had in store for us. In the spring, phrases like "global pandemic", "lockdowns", and "social distancing" became a staple and have since been joined by "abundance of caution" and "pivoting" as our places of learning reopened, either in-person or virtually. As educators, possibly the biggest change we experienced was the swift switch from in-person classes to distance learning. Almost overnight, we moved into a space that had virtually no precedent, with little to no research to help guide us, and all that we were left with was our instinct and any advice that we could garner from "experts." And let's make no bones about it—it was incredibly challenging. 

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Like many of you, I spent a large part of my summer reflecting on the spring, trying to imagine what the fall would look like, and determined to learn and grow regardless of the paradigm. Listening to experts such as Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, David Daniel, Pedro DeBruckyne, and Patrice Bain, to name a few, helped me to process how I could be as effective as possible come the fall.


My first insight from this summer came from our dear friend, Patrice Bain, co-author of Powerful Teaching. While research in remote learning, particularly in a PS-12 setting, is limited, the work in areas like memory is not. In fact, it is a critical tool, or as Patrice refers to it, "Power Tool." Thanks to research, we have a wealth of knowledge to use as a jumping-off point at our fingertips. Retrieval practice forces the brain to recall information and, thus, strengthens memory. This is true for both in-person and remote learning. Spaced Practice helps to support student learning by spreading information out over a longer time period, rather than cramming it all in a short amount of time. Effective in-person? Absolutely! How about remote learning? Maybe even more effective! Mixing up content and drawing similarities and differences between topics, commonly referred to as Interleaving, is also incredibly helpful. And finally, feedback-driven metacognition. Helping students understand what they know and what they need is perhaps the most challenging tool to put in the toolbox, but it is definitely the most important! 

 

My next insight came courtesy of Pedro DeBruckyne, who talked about the need to "reduce, reuse, and recycle." Reduce the amount of content that you are teaching, especially if you are in a remote or hybrid environment. This reduction should be somewhere around 30%, especially when we factor in students' uneven experience in the spring. Reuse and design content that can be utilized both in-person and in a digital environment. Consider your use of technology at this junction. Apps such as Kami, Pear Deck, and Seesaw are multifunctional and can smooth the transition between in-person and remote learning. And finally, Recycle! Don't be afraid to use the resources of other teachers. As we know, not everything translates to a digital space, and the things that do, take time and energy! Collaboration can be the key to success as you navigate these murky waters. 

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I have purposefully left my final insight to the very end. I believe it to be the most important point and the one that I want you to remember! It may be cliche to say that teachers are already overworked, but when we consider the new demands facing us, it's clear that our bandwidth is significantly less. What I learned and what I pass along to you is simple—Look after yourself. We must not forget that our emotional state will impact us. Go outside, take a walk, meditate, or just take a moment to do something you enjoy. Leave behind the stresses of daily life for a few short moments.


The last few months have been tough, and things don't look to be slowing down. Everyone is doing their very best, and that is all that we can ask. While I don't have the answer as to when this will end, and we return to normal, I do offer a simple phrase that springs the light of optimism. 


"This, too, shall pass."


Be well, friends!

 

Peter