Last week marked the fourth of working remotely in a profession we signed up for because of the face-to-face nature of working with humans who are smaller than us. I will venture a guess that none of us have ever had a course in how to provide quality, online learning experiences to children between the ages of 5 and 12 with only a few hours of preparation and forewarning. Nor did we expect to be sharing our home workspaces with partners and our own school-aged children while not being able to leave our houses for an extended period of time. Despite being thrust into so many unknowns, we have survived these challenging weeks.
On Friday, April 3, I had the pleasure of attending Merriam’s all-school meeting, where the staff took what has become a staple- community meeting- and held it virtually. Over 250 families (many with multiple children!) participated remotely as staff read aloud, sang and moved together, and engaged in problem-solving where students shared their thinking about various problems over the airwaves. Hearing their little voices and deep thoughts gave me goosebumps. Like our educators and school leaders, I really miss walking through our buildings and hearing the ‘sounds of school.’
I share this example because over the last month, I have heard countless stories of how our educators have connected with colleagues, students, and families. Like the all-school meeting, many have worked to provide students and families with what Maria Trozzi calls, “structure as usual, not business as usual,” which is absolutely essential in times of crisis and uncertainty. They have shared and connected through inspirational videos, class/group video chats, emails, social media like SeeSaw, Twitter, Instagram, Bloomz, and countless other ways.
The Chinese character for the word crisis is made up of two symbols- one is danger, and the other is opportunity. What an incredible way to think about this crisis we find ourselves in for an indeterminable amount of time. We have had a month to push ourselves to think and work and grow and collaborate and live in different ways than we ever have before. And yet with this opportunity comes a sense of responsibility that we have to think deeply about inclusion and equity for each one of our students, which is where our elementary learning boards come in.
The week of April 3-5 served as a ‘soft start’ for the K-6 district-wide learning boards. I want to take a moment to recognize the incredible group that has been working to put the learning recommendations and initial learning materials together behind the scenes for families while educators worked on the front lines with children and families- Sharon Ryan, Dora Sanchez, Peggy Harvey, Megan Bowhers, Heather Haines, Jean Oviatt-Rothman, Liz Butler-Everett, Courtney Philbin, Val Gransewicz, and Maryann Young (led by Deb Bookis the same week she successfully defended her doctoral dissertation!). Amidst their own work, this small but mighty team has worked tirelessly to curate initial learning boards, and they fully recognize they need broader input and more time to make them even stronger. In a district that has long prided itself on educator autonomy and independence, it is time for us to think in terms of solidarity for equity and inclusion, and, quite honestly, sanity. Now, each of the district grade-level planning teams will have curriculum coordinators, reading specialists, EL and special educators, administrators, and specialists as needed.
For educators not serving on these planning teams, they are contributing their favorite accessible resources by grade level. Together, we can take some of the best learning materials/resources they have curated for students and make them accessible to every educator across the grade level to use. There is such power in this for a variety of reasons, but mostly for equity. With our EL and special educators, as well as some of our related service providers serving on the planning teams, they can collaborate to scaffold, adapt, and modify strong lessons to make them even stronger and more accessible to all. This way, general educators can focus on social and emotional connections with and between students and their families in our virtual space.
The K-6 learning boards will be posted to our new ABRSD Distance Learning website Monday morning for families to access once our educators have selected and informed them which activities they have chosen for their classroom.
We greatly appreciate our families’ flexibility and our educators’ collaboration as we move forward during these uncharted and uncertain times. We are stronger together.