March 26, 2021 – By Pernille Ripp
I have been thinking about how hard we can be on ourselves. The constant negative self-talk we, as educators, can quickly sink into due to the supposed reactions of children we teach. How we can spiral so easily into defeatist thinking. Into thinking, we would be better off quitting, or surely, everyone else is doing a much better job at teaching than we are. That has led us to question the path we felt so sure of before a global pandemic hit.
It’s easy right now to fall into this trap. After all, with pandemic teaching, many of us have grieved the loss of normal human proximity to our students. Unsure of how to connect through a screen, a camera that is turned off, a silent chat, a muted microphone, or a face covered by a mask, 6 feet away. Unsure of our safety as we crave normalcy in a world that is anything but. And yet we have risen to the occasion, isn’t that what we always do, tirelessly inventing ways to engage, reinventing the ways that used to work, we have reached out, we have shared ideas, we have searched for pieces we can bring in in order for us to feel a bit more effective. And yet, the weight of defeat has also been crushing at times.
When that learning experience we worked so hard on falls flat. Again.
When more kids turn their camera off. Again.
When the emails we send offering our support remain unanswered. Again.
When rather than engage we are met with shrugs. Again.
When the space for discussion remains silent. Again.
When COVID robs us of one-on-one conferring, small group work, or huddled together learning opportunities.
We carry our defeats in the back of our minds, the assumptions of perhaps how much we have failed, how terrible we are at teaching this year, death by a thousand cuts.
Because what has shifted in Covid teaching is one of the biggest tools we rely on; the small body cues that shift our direction, the facial expressions, and the feel of the room. The small signs that tell us to change, to go a certain way and not another, that allows us to read the energy and transform our teaching on the spot. When met with silence and blank screens or stares it is hard to know which direction to change to.
It doesn’t have to be lost though, it just needs to be transformed. I write this blog post to remind myself of tools I already use, that give me the answers I have been searching. Because my teaching life has been riddled with assumptions, and often negative ones of my own success this year, despite the evidence to the opposite. Perhaps yours has too?
So suppose we remember to ask instead of assume.
Suppose we take a moment and create a survey asking how we can grow and be better. What is working? What is not? What do you need from me?
Suppose we do it after every unit or even once a week. Suppose we believe that survey rather than our negative self-talk.
After all, all of the assumptions we make are more than likely not accurate.
I have been doing so on a regular basis, nothing new in my practices, after all, centering the needs of students based on their individual reactions is what I have been pursuing for years. Centering the identity of each child as they take control of their learning is the work I have been sharing for a long time.
And yet, my practices got lost this year. I forgot to ask as often as I should have. And I didn’t believe the results when they came in, assuming (there it is again) that kids were just being nice because they saw how hard I was trying.
Yet, if I look at the survey responses, the path forward is right there. The answers I haven’t been able to see as easily because I haven’t been in the room with my students for 330 days.
The questions have been simple. What is working? What is not? How can we make this experience better for you? What do you wish I knew? And then ideas to see whether we should change course. Offer up opportunities to do group or solo learning. Keeping a “Anything else you want to tell me option” just in case.
The answers have been straightforward, “I like our unit…No need to change anything…I’m having fun…” Ideas have also been shared, “Can we work together….can we have more work time….can we split into groups?” All statements I would not have thought possible if I believed my own assumptions.
And they have bolstered our path. I have tweaked and changed the way I teach based not on facial cues which easily get lost in virtual teaching or behind a mask but rather in the words they share. I have asked for their feedback when we are together and we have changed course mid-morning. I have put voice to the questions that run through my mind where I would normally find the answers in their behaviors rather than needing an explicit conversation about it.
And so I wanted to share the importance of asking once again. Because perhaps, like me, you had forgotten the power of a simple survey. Of relying on students to guide us when we feel we are teaching blindly. On looking at all of the cues that we can receive from other ways than those we traditionally rely on. There are many questions you can ask, I recommend starting with those that you have made the strongest assumptions about, such as whether kids care about what they are learning, how to change your teaching, why they choose to not share in some way in class.
Then believe their answers. Learn from them. Take the positive as the boost you may need, and the negative or neutral as ideas to move forward. Repeat as needed.
We can think we know all of the ways we are failing as teachers, all of the ways we are not good enough. Or we can ask. Base our answers on actual reality. Engage students in our planning, our tweaking, in the shaping of our learning community much like we always should be doing.
After all, kids are experts too, we just need to remember that.
Teachers – this blog is a platform designed to elevate your voices! It’s a space to share your tips for maintaining a sense of purpose and wellbeing in and out of the classroom. We’re calling for May blog submissions now!
MAY’S THEME: I used to think, but now I know: Reflection as a daily practice to build awareness of how our thinking evolves over time. Submissions due by May 1st.