Two of my impactful mentors suggested always greeting students at the door. That is pretty easy and makes sense. The greeting wasn’t just being at the door, but looking and listening to the students as they enter the class. Always monitoring body language, smiles, and what are students saying today. Then take those bits of the greetings into the lesson, where applicable. Connections in an organic way, so impactful.
Yes, distance learning changes that greeting, but it is still possible and super important. I’m so fortunate to share a student leadership group with a super energetic and creative teacher. She has over 20 years of experience and always sharing her amazing attitude. She is always first to our Gmeet, greeting every student as they enter. More than just saying HI, but exchanging what is going well today.
The exchange needs some fertilizer and builds off of previous interactions. Sometimes the connections start with me mentioning something in their learning space, like cool string lights. There is almost always a story that goes with those lights. Mom/Dad didn’t want me to get them, I got them for a present, I think they are really neat, I like my lights, etc. So simple and fun, in the same method of greeting at the door.
Then there are the totally unexpected gifts. We were studying the research step of the design process. Natalie asks if she can use Alexa for her research. I answered that use whatever reliable resources you have, but no offense to Alexa, but she is a bit dumb for deep questions. I asked if she has an Alexa in her learning space, to which she said “yes”.
What happen next was totally off script and spontaneous. I said, “Alexa, play Mr. Roboto from STYX.” She responded and started playing the song. There were smiles all over the screen and some students shaking their heads. Then Natalie points her camera in the kitchen, where her mom is dancing to the song. Mom says, “I don’t care who sees me, I haven’t heard this song in years.” Simply the best in exchange for sure.
Well it gets better, for each time we meet for that particular class there is Mr. Roboto playing when I arrive to the Gmeet. Students are laughing and anxiously waiting for me to arrive. The class attendance has been at or near 100% since the Alexa moment. I’ll be honest, I get excited for this class too.
Greeting and Exchange is super important. Learning is fun and we have to always keep that in mind. We as educators can’t forget what it was like to be a student at whatever age we are teaching. Be that teacher that is there at the door, smiling and excited to share the learning. There are always people behind the tech tools.
The year 2020 has been nothing short of different and bizarre in education. I think most educators and learners have taken a well-deserved digital cleanse on winter break. I’m taking the last week of this year to reflect, learn, and prepare for my 2021 classroom. Here is my day one share the learning.
When everything changed back in March, I felt like I would do better than most educators due to my tech-forward approach to teaching. Goodness, I’m a Google Educator and Google Certified Innovator. I thought my students would be amazing, learning so much from all of my technology efficiency tricks and tools. Well, Covid 19 and distance learning really aren’t impressed with my Google labels, tricks, or tools.
After 27 years in education, I had my bag of “Sure Things” methods to reach students and help them learn my delivered content. I found myself doing a great deal of soul searching, for my bag of “Sure Things” was NOT as I named it. I was truly in my first year of teaching again. The movie “Ground Hog Day” was my life last spring, with lessons often pivoting and changing on the fly. This was not my style at all and I wasn’t sure how my students were doing each day, week, and month.
Our principal often started virtual meetings with sincere appreciation for us. Then he followed by giving each other grace in our new journey. “Grace” is defined as courteous goodwill. Meaning, it's not asked for nor deserved, but is freely given. I felt I was pretty good at this with my students, but horrible with myself. I struggled to forgive my blunders and teaching mistakes as I compared lessons to past years. I was placing bigger expectations on my shoulders, while not looking at lessons through the students’ eyes.
I never really gave myself grace last spring, nor into summer preparation for the upcoming school year. My confidence was at an all-time low, hard for a person that feels like he has things figured out in my classroom. I was driven to do much better in September. Well, we were in hybrid mode, with seeing each in-person student once each week and 18% of the student body choosing total distance learning. The parallel learning of hybrid and distance learning was bumpy, to say the least until I started building lessons for the home learner and modifying for in-person. This plan seems so simple, but I wasn’t able to see it before. We started making gains with this shift of delivery.
As with most of 2020, Covid 19 changed our district from hybrid to all distance learning. The transition was much better for me and my classes this time, as my preparation stayed focused on actually looking at lessons through the learners’ eyes and getting regular feedback. I was finally able to use my tricks and tools by harvesting regular feedback on lessons.
I was able to give myself grace in early December. There seemed to be a certain time of the day when our school connectivity sputtered a bit. Always impacting my 6th-period class. It was not unusual for students to leave our Google Meet, then return to get a better connection. This became common practice and for the most part, was effective.
This time I hit that connectivity issue, with my screen stuck on my initial video image or as I heard from my learners, “You Are Froze”. I announce I was going to leave my Gmeet and reconnect, just like the students would do. I was hoping to get a better connection. Well, now I had two video squares in my Gmeet, one still froze and the other kind of working, but they could hear me. I had to think quickly for a fix, as the clock was ticking on our time together.
What happened next was the worst and best thing for this old educator. I decided to use the remove participant teacher feature and remove my frozen square, leaving just the active one that was sort of working. Well, when you remove a participant it removes the username for that entire Gmeet session. Yes, I removed myself from my class Gmeet, blocked from returning. Emails started coming from students in the Gmeet, “Where are you?”, “Why did you leave?”. I scrambled to get my iPad, entering the Gmeet via my personal account.
It worked, I was back in the Gmeet. When I shared what happened laughter rang loud and clear, as all thought it was hilarious that the teacher removed himself. I too was crying from laughing at what I had done. In the midst of the laughter, a girl said, “that’s ok Mr. Dahl, we forgive you”. Then continued to laugh. My student gave me grace and I could finally do the same for myself. It was the worst and best moment of my teaching career. Word traveled quickly to other classes, “Are you going to remove yourself today Mr. Dahl?”.
We need to give grace to our learners, colleagues and most importantly ourselves. Everybody has a story of why they do things as they do them. Their story may or may not make sense from my perspective, but giving grace levels the playing field for all of us. We are all in this together and will be better down the road. Grace gets us down the road.
Pandemic preparation for school has been very weird, to say the least. During my teaching career, July/August represents the time to reflect on what I learned from the previous school year and apply this new knowledge to the next 9 months. Goodness, there has been a huge batch of learning since March. Yes, as challenging as the end of the school year was, there were methods, lessons, and procedures that will make future instruction better.
The science side of our pandemic has played out much as I have read about, thus anticipated some of our new reality. In a conversation with my brother, I predicted it would hit hard and we would come together for a rebound late summer or early fall. The public has been “Hit Hard”, socially and economically. The sad surprise is I didn’t see the political divide during a human time of crisis, rather than coming together. I truly don’t understand how a pandemic is a platform for any party or elected person to use for leverage, but I’m a middle school STEM teacher, not a political science major.
I still believe that “Most People” in our country want what is best for themselves, their families, and neighbors. Since Washington is choosing not to lead with that mindset, we “Most People”, have to take ownership of a better today and tomorrow. This view is far from political and meant to be exactly that. It is time for the FISH Philosophy approach!
My first exposure to FISH Philosophy was the spring of 1999. Let me tell you what they are:
We all have been given today. There are challenges on most days, but especially during a pandemic. We will all need a boost at times. Be the person to give a boost via FISH Philosophy or your own giving means. We need to let the good in all of us have a chance to come out, showing respect to others, as we are all in this fishbowl of life.
Digital communication ebbs and flows for most adults. Many people go through waves of efficiencies or their lack of when it comes to their email inbox. We all have had the feeling of being overwhelmed, time to clean it up, inbox zero, and then falling back to where we started. The cycle can be so defeating. Just think about how our students feel.
We must create a new habit for our students when it comes to their email communication practice. This may be one of the most important skills we can teach. Online communication and directions are the means to which they, the students, will get their information for the foreseeable future. It is time to make it better and available for ALL learners, regardless of their reading comprehension level.
Set the FORMAT for your organization for efficiency and consistency. There are many learner management systems that use their tools of communication. Email is the one consistent means that can reach almost everyone. The goal is for students/staff to be more productive and separate important must-read emails from a lot of digital noise.
MY 5 W’s FOR EFFECTIVE EMAILS
These 5 W’s will help everyone to be more effective in their email communications. Seems simple, but young and old craft some horribly confusing emails. The inbox shouldn’t be a burden, but another means to share ideas, ask questions, and give direction. Email is still the most powerful, cross-platform machine in our technology toolbox.
We just finished making history in our classrooms, wherever that learning site is. On March 17th we were all thrust into a distance learning mode. The next 10 weeks were filled with many lessons that went well and those that were horrible. We were all forced to actually look at all learning through the students’ eyes. Educators improved their teaching craft due to more realtime reflections and modifications.
Many students thrived in the academic side of distance learning. I’m not saying those students liked it, just that they found their learning path that was effective on their own. The path was theirs, not the way I feel students should learn or a friend does. That is probably the most powerful learning, in one’s self and style. Here is my list of positives from distance learning.