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.