I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what fall looks like.
When we started this adventure six weeks ago, we told ourselves that it was temporary. We’re going to stay home for a couple weeks. That might drag into a month or so, but we’ll definitely be back. We needed to tell ourselves that. On a difficult journey, you have to focus on one step at a time. Look at what’s directly in front of you, and work through that. Then, move on to the next thing. That’s how we cope with seemingly insurmountable tasks. We focus on one thing at a time.
The news that we’re not going back to school this year was heartbreaking but not unexpected. I saw countless tweets and Facebook posts from teachers and parents and students that expressed sadness at the news while acknowledging that they knew it was inevitable. That announcement highlighted the reality that this isn’t temporary. It’s not an extended spring break. It’s not like a sudden blizzard that shuts everything down for a week before everything returns to normal. We’re in this for the long haul. The cultural traditions of our society are being uprooted. It’s hard to come to terms with that.
Throughout this experience, I’ve been encouraged by the amount of patience and tolerance everyone has shown. We weren’t ready for this. We were reacting, quickly, to an evolving reality. We did the best we could. We admitted that we were making it up as we went along. And everyone was grateful for our efforts. But as we move forward, it’s time to start figuring this stuff out. We can’t improvise our way through the start of the new school year. We’re going to have to get back to authentic learning, even if we can’t put 25 kids in a room together for six hours a day.
I’ve seen this analogy expressed a few different ways, and I’ve even adapted and used it myself several times in the last couple weeks. But I think @vijisathy said it first:
It’s time to start planning the dinner party. I think the best approach at this point is to assume that we’re not going back to school in the fall. What does that look like from an instructional standpoint? Think about your experience this spring. What went well? What could use improvement? If you had another chance to do this, what would you do differently? How do we take what we’ve learned from this very experimental and tolerant environment this spring and turn that into best practices for the next school year?
If we start the school year with a plan for teaching online, and we end up in a face to face class, then we have all of our resources organized and ready to pivot into a flipped or blended model. That puts us in a perfect position to be ready to go back to online if we need to, or to implement a hybrid model where students are spending some time at school and some time at home. Even if we’re all back in school and everything goes back to the way it was before (which isn’t going to happen), this crisis is going to force us to focus on making the best possible use of face to face classroom time. And that’s going to be better for students regardless of what the model looks like.
First things first: how’s it going? Take half an hour. Pour a cup of coffee. Pull out a notebook or open a new document. Make some notes. Reflect on your online teaching experience this spring. What went really well? What surprised you? What was harder than you thought it would be? What do you wish you had known two months ago? If you had it to do over again, what would you change? What are one or two practical things that could make this easier the next time around?
It also wouldn’t hurt at this point to spend another half hour with another cup of coffee and reflect on teaching and learning in a broader sense. Do some thinking about Webb’s DOK or Bloom’s or whatever paradigm you use for talking about rigor. What do grades mean? How is that related to assessment (or not)? How do you separate the use of grades as reflections of learning from the use of grades as extrinsic motivation? How do you equitably meet the needs of all learners?
We’re going to need these notes when we start getting ready for fall. And we should really start getting ready for fall very soon.