Archive for January 15th, 2022

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Reflecting and Listening

January 15, 2022

Taking time to process and remember over time

A lot has been said about education and educators since the pandemic started in March of 2020. During the earlier months educators were the heroes. People began to realize the value of teachers. I read on a facebook post by a teacher this week that she wished to return to the early days of the pandemic when teachers were appreciated. When parents, especially parents, realized how challenging teaching is and how critical the teacher was to their child. We all know that doesn’t just refer to the ‘teaching’ part of a teachers day but the support teachers give to social and emotional learning, and so many other pieces that teachers teach individual students.

This morning I listened to a 6th grade student from Georgia on public radio say that her mother gave her a journal recently to document her stories of the pandemic. She only wished she had started writing at the beginning of the pandemic because she’s forgetting how she felt and what happened during those earlier days.

As we know time seems to race faster as the years go by. I’m sure some of you can relate to the 6th grader. Those of you that wear both hats – juggling teaching and parenting, in many cases, handled even more than usual.

What did you try during the early days of remoteness that you felt was a disaster and what actually turned into a success? In the spring of 2020 I remember gathering on zoom each morning with my middle schoolers for ‘breakfast club’. Students had a chance to connect with each other and their teachers. They ate, laughed, and connected in ways unmeasurable. It was optional but almost every student was there almost every day. It helped them to remember the importance of connecting and communicating in a ‘non-learning’ way. Let’s face it, we know how important it is for many to connect, not because we have to but because we want to.

Here are a few questions to help you sort your role as teachers during the pandemic. Answer the questions by writing or an art creation (movement, acting, musically, visual art, poetry):

  • What have you learned earlier in the pandemic that you continue to apply?
  • As things got turned on their head, what did you try that you found was successful or a complete failure?
  • What were the points in time that caused you to pivot?
  • Name what you felt when teachers were being referred to on a daily basis as ‘heroes’?
  • Make a list of what you want to remember from the pandemic as a teacher; the positives, and the challenges?
  • Select a quote that you can identify with in your role as a teacher. Make it large and post it (at home or at school) and use it as motivation and a remembrance that what you’re doing is amazing, every day!

Compile a list of quotes from the amazing work teachers are doing that are helpful in keeping your spirits up and remembering: whatever you’re doing is enough!! I can’t say that enough.

bell hooks, September 25, 1952 – December 15, 2021

As we start another calendar year and head towards two full years of living in a world-wide pandemic here are thoughts and what’s been learned from teacher leaders; on teaching, adapting, pivoting, and noticing students to help them do their best at learning.

A HUGE THANK YOU to Rob Westerberg, Anthony Lufkin, and Iva Damon for going above and beyond and sending their thoughts. Valuable information from Maine Arts Educators. You’re invited to share your thoughts. Please post at the bottom or email them to me at meartsed@gmail.com and I will update this post.

What are your ah-ha moments in teaching this year? What’s most important to you?

  • Two things have helped me pretty profoundly. The first is staying hyper organized. I tend to lean that way ordinarily, but by always staying a step or two ahead of everything that needs to be done, it has helped to relieve a LOT of stress and peripheral distractions from my school day and my interactions with classes/students. The other thing is treating each individual school day as its own mountain climb… I climb a different mountain every day. Consequently at the end of the day I feel a genuine sense of accomplishment. Some climbs are easy, others hard. But either way I leave school feeling very proud and, honestly, very happy. It has helped me keep my focus off of what I cannot control, and instead on the most important things in my professional life: the students. In some ways I already feel like 2021-2022 is the best professional self I have ever been. ~Rob
  • Students are so excited to be back in the classroom. It is why I love teaching. The privilege to provide the space to have students learn and explore what they are capable of doing is why I love going in every day. It’s also so important to remember to remember what is within one’s control and what isn’t. A new technique I learned was to think of oneself as a river, it’s okay to have things flow in, but allow them to continue to flow on and not hold onto what isn’t healthy or supportive to you.~Iva

Do you have any techniques/daily rituals/helpful hints for others that help you and your students focus?

  • Every start of every class, every day: I prompt the students to show me fingers, 5 means “I’m doing amazing”, 1 means “I shoulda stayed in bed…”. I look them over and it’s a conversation starter for me, reacting to what they are showing. If someone’s a 1 or a 2 I may ask, “School or stuff or both?” I certainly don’t need to know more than that, but even that response can lead to other discussions as a class (strategies for dealing with stress, compartmentalizing home stuff and school stuff, being a teenager in the 21st Century or even specific things). It also allows me to provide empathetic stories in my own experience if the situation fits. After we’ve done that, I have the class itinerary on the board, talk them through it, and off we go. The students have expressed directly to me how much they deeply appreciate this. They know it’s not just a quick tack on, that I truly care. EVERY teacher truly cares, but we don’t always have a platform to empathize in real time with our kids. This allows me to do so. It’s amazing how much this one piece – even over just a few minutes – centers and focuses my kids as we prepare to work together. For some the effect lasts the rest of their school day. It’s made a difference for me too. ~Rob
  • I have been using walks as a transition to class. We have been starting each class by doing a loop around the building outside. It has been a great opportunity to informally check-in with students, how their day is going, and makes for a more seamless transition for class to begin when we return inside. ~Iva
  • The structure of my art classes has changed a lot for me over time, significantly with the adaptations need to cope with the pandemic, but also as I develop a better understanding of learning processes, and gain more experience teaching art.  Creating a studio mindset is something that I have worked to achieve, while still maintaining the structural instructional practices needed to develop new skills and understanding.

Working at the elementary level, time is always an issue with one of the biggest inhibitors I have found being the way schedules are set up. Because of the limited time available, I have really had to focus on what is important, and what can be discarded. There are a few strategies that I have implemented that while I had concerns about them taking away from instructional or production time at first, I have found to be invaluable.  

One process that a colleague shared with me is something called a “silent doodle”. This is a little piece of paper on the student’s desk when them come it that they “warm up” with when they first some into class.  The primary reason for implementing this was to help them settle in after a transition, and give me time to get things ready (especially when I did have not time between classes). What I have found though, is that this becomes an amazing creative outlet, and a form of reflection where they often draw images using the skills we have worked on in class. We only spend 2-3 minutes on this, and so while it takes that time, when they are done, they are ready for instruction and creation.  

Another process I have implemented in many classes that I got from some of the collaborative projects I have done with the Farnsworth Art Museum Educational Program, is a quick noticing activity using visual thinking skills. We do what we call an I see…I think… I wonder critique of an artwork. A few times a week at the beginning of class I portray an artwork, sometimes relevant to our project but often not, that we spend a few minutes looking at. I have students raise their hands to tell me what they see in the picture, things like colors, shapes, objects, etc. I then ask for what they think the art work is supposed to show or mean, or why it was created based on those observations. Finally, I ask what else they wonder about the artwork based on what they have seen and what they think. I usually fill them in with a little information about the art and artist, but it is brief, intended to help them realize that there are not always answers to some of those questions. This again takes a few minutes, usually 5 minutes or so, but has created the framework for looking more critically at art, and developing ways to talk about one another’s work using effective constructive criticism. 

The speed of which  I go through instructions, and the modeling of techniques are also significant components to giving students adequate time to work on their projects. Having lots of examples including student examples in progress and completed are also key contributors to helping students understand the steps and processes we are working on. One of the areas I struggle with is giving students the opportunity to “complete” projects. I have the mind set of ‘process over product’, focusing on giving them as many opportunities to try new techniques and mediums as possible. I understand that this can be very frustrating for students who are more methodical in their approach so that balance between finishing and moving on is one I am constantly adjusting.  

While there are many other small factors in my teaching approach that contribute to my teaching “style”, one of the other structural features I have been trying to incorporate more is the use of choice for students. While some of them are adaptive choices, many of them are simply an alternative. For example, I have had a 3D printer donated to our program by the Perloff Family, and have been using some cad programming in my projects. Giving students the option of using 3D printing versus clay, allows those with tactile discomfort, the opportunity to express their ideas in a different form. I still make sure they experience the nature of clay in other projects, but by having some choice, even with miniscule differences, has made a big difference in student motivation. ~Anthony

Now that we’re in the second year of the pandemic; please share what you’ve noticed about students and how they’re adapting to the challenges?

  • My students have never been more grateful for the things we often took for granted pre-pandemic. There is an excitement around rehearsals and classes that is almost tangible, because the kids really missed it. They are struggling too… back in school full time, singing with masks on, social/emotional issues that continue from this past year, but their gratitude seems more overt and embedded in what they do in my classes. I think that gratitude has helped them to move forward even as it remains a challenge. ~Rob
  • They need space to talk through their concerns, hopes, and have adult models to help them establish healthy tools to cope with their new world they are a part of. Students are the most resilient and have been able to bounce with the extreme changes that keep coming their way, but time to stop and reflect is so very important. ~Iva

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