New Challenges to Consider
A new calendar year usually comes with new goals people set for themselves. How can I make improvements in my life in 2021? What are my priorities and how will I achieve them? These are usually reserved for the personal lives of teachers, but in the new COVID-19 world, teachers need to apply these same questions to their professional lives. How is education different for me and my students compared to a pre-COVID-19 educational world?
I have said before, no matter how many years you have been teaching (one or twenty), this year we are all first year teachers and administrators. No one involved in our current educational reality has ever seen the challenges facing us today. We have moved from consistency and routine to a world that seems to throw different challenges at us everyday. To put it bluntly, we are all struggling.
Teachers are grappling with connecting to students via Zoom calls or Google Hangouts. In previous years, we were able to spend the first semester of the school year getting to know our students as they entered our classrooms. We would engage classes in community building or team building activities that would foster a sense of belonging. Now we just hope that our students show up to our virtual classes each day. Personal connections are hard to forge when we are not all in the same physical space. There is a lack of personal touch to our lessons. We used to welcome students as they entered our classrooms by saying “hello” or “how was your weekend?” Now teachers worry about internet connectivity and students that may not want to turn on their screens out of fear of what may be going on in the background of their homes.
We must also worry about the amount of screen time our students experience during a school day. Even schools that once enjoyed a one-to-one device platform were able to ask students, at different points in the lesson, to lower their screens so we could engage in a conversation or a hands-on activity. Students usually had a break from screens when they attended electives like art, physical education, and band. Now all classes require students to be on a computer. Many schools have instituted an abbreviated school day to avoid prolonged screen time. Students may virtually attend classes for half the day and then use the second half of their day to work independently or to attend teacher office hours. But even this scenario requires students to be on a computer. Several schools have worked in wellness times so students are able to shut off their devices and step away from the screens that encompass so much of their lives.
How to Determine Your Teacher Goals
In this new reality comes the natural question: what should I focus on this school year? If you have spent any time studying Mike Mattos from the Dufour company Solution Tree, you know the importance of determining essential skills. These are the skills/standards that teachers determine are vital for students to know and understand before they move on to the next grade level.
This work occurs in high-functioning professional learning communities. WiIth an abbreviated school schedule, this is the perfect time to whittle the most important skills down from the monstrous volumes of state standards teachers face during a typical school year. Once you have established the essential skills, with your fellow educators, create an instructional calendar to keep you and your students on pace for a successful school year.
You may also want to establish non-academic essential skills (also known as social and emotional skills). What aspects of character education should you teach? Traits like self-management and self-awareness are important for students to learn since they are on their own for much of the school day this year. One way to engage your students in the process is to ask them, through a survey, which personal goals they want to work on this year and what might make them the most successful. Each student can chart their own progress through a learning goal chart in order to give them more ownership of their learning.
When to Evaluate and Adjust
In a COVID-19 educational world, when to evaluate and adjust may be the most important step in your journey as a teacher. Virtual learning can be overwhelming for teachers and students so making evaluations more digestible is key. Plan your evaluations in smaller chunks than before in order to make adjustments more quickly and easily. Dissect your essential skills into smaller parts each week. At the end of each week, plan a small formative assessment in order to gauge the whole group’s understanding of a skill. This way, you do not wait for a summative assessment in order to determine which students understand the skill and which students do not understand the skill.
Using formative assessments, you will be able to determine which steps in understanding the skill students grasp and which steps need to be retaught. The new week can bring on a chance for differentiation in your classroom. Perhaps a small group of students completely missed comprehending the skill while the rest of the class is ready to move on. You can use breakout rooms to effectively remediate with a small group of students while the rest of the class works independently on a new part of the skill. A teacher that has established a positive virtual learning community could transition between the small group remediation in the breakout room and the rest of the class in order to answer any questions they may have after direct instruction.