The last few months have been quite challenging for educators and learners. With school buildings closed, we have had to create remote learning opportunities to help our students. Some students have thrived during this time while others have not yet checked in. Most students fall somewhere between these extremes. Regardless, I think we can all agree that this time has challenged us to consider how we deliver instruction and help our learners progress.
As a scientist and educator, I fully understand the role that disruptions can cause. Our geological record is covered with the signs of major disruptions that signal how climate and life has changed over time. I believe that we are essentially at this point with education. Many of the professional learning sessions I have attended in the past several weeks have alluded to the importance of using this time to reconsider and reimagine how we are helping students to learn. We must place emphasis on learning here, not grades or other measures. In fact, as I reflect, I think that it is time that we reinvent our education system to really focus on learning and not metrics that reduce learning. We must also also use this opportunity to shift mindsets and philosophies from preparing students for an industrial world to one that prepares our learners to live and thrive in an information age.
One of the more interesting connections that I made during this time is a partner that my home school system, Rowan-Salisbury Schools, is partnering with is Transcend (@TranscendBuilds). Transcend is an organization dedicated to supporting communities in creating and spreading extraordinary, equitable learning environments. I love that the focus on disrupting inequity in education.
As a technology facilitator, I have seen our system reduce in equity by providing students with a device that the majority take home. As our chief technology officer recently shared over 99.4% have devices at home during our building closures. For those who do not, I am guessing this is due to either a device repair (even though efforts have been made to provide students with devices) or a personal choice not to take the device home. When our system first transitioned to its 1-to-1 initiative, I was teaching science at Salisbury High School. I remember that we distributed devices in late August which is typically very hot and oppressive in North Carolina with our humidity relentless. I recall leaving school and walking our main door to see several students who lived over two miles away that walked back to school. They were trying to figure our their Z-Scaler passwords for accessing internet outside of the school. They said that they walked over from one of our larger public housing centers in our city. After helping them, I recall thinking that this may be the first time that many of these students have ever had a laptop in their home. This definitely changed the game as the 1-to-1 initiative put all gave all students a device and access regardless of their personal circumstances. This initiative has continued to make a huge difference in the learning opportunities for all students. It has reduced a major source of inequity in our community.
This is not to say that we have reduced all inequity in our system though. We still struggle with making sure that all our students have access to internet while at home. We also have other inequities based on the support that students may have at home, their ability to use different software programs, and even with teacher preparedness. As a technology facilitator, I have supported teachers in remote learning. I have been so amazed at how much many of our teachers have progressed in become more effective in digital learning. Many of our teachers have grown exponentially in their professional learning. Our own school system has offered extensive array of professional learning opportunities including webinars. Our educators have also engaged in many other opportunities. As a result, our educators have customized and chosen their own individual professional learning opportunities. As a result, they are learning and acquiring new skills that matter to them. This has customized their own learning and resulted in educators who are more satisfied with their professional learning.
As we continue to work through this pandemic, we must use these lessons learned to customize our education for our students just as educators have customized their professional learning. As we look toward the fall, it is my hope that we will continue to use this disruption to create an education system that is much more equitable to all students. I hope that we use the lessons learned during this disruption to create a better education system where we are focused on learning, not measures that negate true learning such as test scores, with educators who are well supported with extraordinary professional learning. We must work toward creating an accountability system that is tied to our community expectations, not one that serves bureaucratic establishments that rewards and diminishes students based on personal circumstance or zip code. Now is the time to make a definitive break in our education record and create a new and better system just as we see in different strata in our geological records.
Earlier this morning, we had a staff meeting via Zoom. It has been challenging for many of our teachers to be separated from their students. They genuinely love their students and want to support them. I have seen how agonizing it has for many of them not to be able to give high fives or that needed pep talk to students in the hallways. It has been hard for them. As a technology facilitator, I don't always work directly with students as much of my work is concentrated on supporting the educators in our building. So I thought that I was doing okay and focusing my time on supporting our teachers and staff. However, this changed yesterday afternoon as I attended one of our 6th grade zoom meetings. As I saw the pictures of our 6th graders popped, my heart just melted as I realized how much I missed seeing them in the hallways and classrooms. I was really thrilled to see them and know they were okay.
I also had the opportunity to attend a weekly meeting with Jaclyn Stevens (@jaclynbstevens) of the Friday Institute for instructional coaches, media coordinators, and technology facilitators. The Friday Institute has been doing an amazing job providing support and professional learning for all educators during this remote learning time. In yesterday's session, Jaclyn shared some great ideas and resources to engage staff and help us focus on meeting their social emotional needs. Based on the ideas and inspirations that I received from her session and my realization of how much I missed our 6th graders, I wanted to work with our instructional coach, Amanda Pembroke (@pembrokeamanda), to create something to help our staff share what they were feeling and experiencing. As I was walking the dogs, it hit it- remix an activity that I had done with the North Carolina Digital Leaders Network a few years on emoji writing with some of the ideas from Jaclyn's session.
From this, was born the activity "5 Pictures and 15 Words." In activity, our staff would be divided up into breakout room in zoom of 3-5 people and complete a slidedeck where they tell about their quarantine experience using 5 images and up to 15 words. I prechoose the images using Pixabay (www.pixabay.com). Pixabay is a great resource to find pictures that can be used without copyright consideration since they already provide the permission for use with no restrictions (but it is always good to provide attribution for them as a good model for students). Each group received the same five pictures and they could use them in any way they chose. The beauty of this activity as Mrs. Pembroke pointed out is that it allows for critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity. Each group was assigned a slide in the slide deck and asked to complete it within a certain amount of time. Our principal floated between rooms helping facilitate conversations. A more complete list of rules is available in our slidedeck posted below.
We reconvened and we had our groups share their creations and it was AWESOME! It was amazing to hear what each group was experiencing and their interpretations of the pictures. I loved seeing how the same starting points diverged into a variety of emotions, experiences, and creations. It also allowed our staff the opportunity to share in small groups their experiences and stories. We expanded our empathy for others as a result. We also continue to build connections between our staff and expand our relationships. As I listened to each group share, I was blown away with their final products. Below are some of the creations that they shared and I was truly touched by this. Perhaps remote learning has taught us some important lessons about human connections that we could not have learned otherwise. Let remember those when we do reconvene face to face and be sure to continue to touch the hearts of others.
Our instructional coach shared how this could be a great activity to modify to use with students in the classroom as a exit ticket, warm up, or a formative assessment. If you would like to have a clean copy of the slidedeck to use, you can make a copy of it into your Google Drive by visiting this link. Be sure to drop us a line or tag us in a tweet (@scibri and @pembrokeamanda) if using this activity and let us know how it is going and how you may be remixing it.
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.