Saturday, September 26, 2020

Figuring out the New Normal

I really had high hopes for blogging this year...It was my goal to blog at least weekly - to reflect on what works and what doesn't.  And yeah, that hasn't happened.  

We started our year with Distance Learning - the kids were at home, we were in our classrooms and meeting synchronously via Google Meet 1-2 times a week, with the rest of the lessons in an asynchronous format.  Then, on Day 7 of Distance Learning, our district announced that we would be going back to in person learning the following week.  We've now been in-person for 2 weeks and honestly, I'm exhausted.

But I still want to address my original goal of reflection, of celebrating what's working, of figuring out how to make the things that aren't working more sustainable.  I do want to put a disclaimer that this is only my personal experience and does not in any way, shape, or form represent anyone other than myself.

What's Working...

I can't even imagine trying to tackle this year without Desmos.  I know some of my students are probably getting tired of my love for Desmos, but I'm so appreciative of the ability to upload videos, do self-checking activities, provide feedback, have the equivalent of "chats" with my students, monitor their work in real time, and really see their thinking.  I love that my students working from home are still able to get an equitable experience and that when I do a short recap at the end of the hour, I actually can use student work (Love the snapshot tool) to share quality thinking.

While I miss regular teaching, I do see the benefit of the video lessons, especially for students to pause and rewind.  I don't have to worry about them asking to go back or really monitoring where they are in writing their notes.  I also like the opportunity for the one-on-one written feedback since so many of my formative assessment techniques are non-verbal or discussion related.  While it takes a lot of time, students can have a really personalized experience if they choose to take advantage of it.

I'm also really proud of my students overall.  Even though in-person learning doesn't look the same as it did pre-March 13, they've done a pretty good job with keeping a positive attitude and wearing their masks correctly.  I've had to talk to a few of them about keeping it over their nose, but in general, it's been okay.

Yesterday we had a pre-planned Distance Learning day and it was so nice to have that time to check with in colleagues about pacing, to check in students about how they are doing, and to feel like I could stop to catch my breath for a minute.  It's the little pleasures in life, but to be able to feel comfortable taking a drink of water during the day really brought me more joy than it should have!  A few weeks ago, I sent a suggestion to my principal about a weekly Distance Learning day for secondary students, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that might happen!

Moving Forward...

One major concern I have is just about the sustainability of this model.  I'm exhausted from the constant juggle and the mental toll of just trying to think through all of the outcomes.  I currently have over 10% of my roster learning from home, plus the normal absences, and I am struggling to keep up.  Monitoring the daily work, giving feedback, grading, planning lessons that are equitable whether you are in person or not, trying to keep track of students, cleaning multiple times a day, juggling the emails from students learning from home, trying to vocally project through a mask... it's just a lot to deal with on top of our normal job responsibilities

The stress and anxiety of teaching is a lot in a normal year, but add in a pandemic and it's overwhelming.  I'm not one to visit the doctor often, but since school has started, I've had to visit the doctor multiple times due to major muscle spasms and for anxiety.  I've never been on to be on daily medication until this year.  I've never cried coming to work.  I've never had to come home and strip in the laundry room in case I have something on my clothes that could literally kill my spouse if I were to bring it home.  I've never worried that I can't see my family for the holidays because I don't know what I might have been exposed to and could be spreading.  

What I miss...

A few days ago, this tweet found its way to my Facebook timeline and it really spoke to me.

One of the things that drives me crazy about teaching in a pandemic is that my normal routines, the best parts of teaching... they are just gone.  

Gone (for now) are the days of students working in groups... of hands on manipulatives... of moving around the room in stations... of being up and at the whiteboards... of me moving around the classroom listening in the conversations.

Instead, my classroom looks like a classroom from 50 years ago with the addition of computers.  Students are facing the front.  The little bit of face-to-face teaching I do is from the front of the room, trying to stay at least 6 feet from the kids in the front row, while huffing and puffing through a mask.  The kids are pretty much silent because they also don't really like talking in the masks and I just HATE that.  I miss the chaos of the classroom.  I miss the fun and the laughter and the joy that comes from learning.  I hate that our days are focused on screens.  I miss being focused on best practices for instruction and that I'm more focused on best practices for cleaning and staying safe.  

I miss being the teacher I've worked hard to be.

Don't get me wrong.  I know I'm doing the best I can.  I know I'm working my tail off to try to make engaging lessons.  I know I'm trying to give individual feedback and really connecting with every student.  I know that we are in the middle of a pandemic.  I know that we will get through this, that it's a temporary blip in the road, that I will learn new and (sometimes) better ways to teach, that I will be pushed (and push myself) to try new things.  But that doesn't stop me from missing the "pre-March 13" me.  

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Finding Contentment

It's been a rough week. 

But in the midst of chaos, joy comes from the little things... 

Source:  Google Images
And this is definitely going to be a year where we need to celebrate those little joys and those little moments of contentment.

Being content, whatever the circumstances, is a struggle for me.  I love teaching.  I am very passionate about figuring out the best way to reach my students.  And it's so very hard for me to do that while teaching in a pandemic.  The traditional definition of Best Practices isn't as important as just getting by each and every day.  I see this struggle in my students as they try to navigate the technology challenges.  I see it in my colleagues as they learn new methods of teaching and learning, of trying to be flexible and pivot on a dime.  I see it in my admin team as they try to balance the decision making for 15,000 people and knowing that any decision they make will be met with resistance.  I see the struggle in myself as I try to make meaningful connections with my students, as I try to grapple with decisions made without my input but affect my daily life, as I try to create a safe and healthy work environment, as I try to hold myself together each day and not let the anxiety win.

But it's hard.  I worry.  I analyze the data and it's not saying good things. 

So I struggle to find that contentment and peace.  And maybe you are there too.  Maybe you are struggling along with me.  That's okay - we can struggle together.

But what is important is not to get stuck there. 

I don't often bring my personal faith into my blog, but the verse above really speaks to me right now.  Paul was imprisoned when he wrote those words.  I can't imagine jail at that time was a very cushy place to be and yet Paul writes of finding contentment, no matter the circumstances.  Whether in need or in plenty, whether hungry or well-fed, he was able to be at peace. 

This year is going to have a very unique set of challenges for teachers, for students, for families, but we need to find ways to be at peace, to be content in our circumstances.

Maybe that contentment comes from the little sparks of joy - finding a good pen to write with, going out for some fresh air, making connections with people in non-traditional ways.

Every day, seek out that "One Good Thing" - that thing that sparks joy in your soul and brings you a hint of peace and hold on to it with every fiber of your being.  Collect those little moments in a journal or a tweet.  Celebrate those little victories.  Because if we focus on all the challenges and the chaos, we'll never find the joy and contentment that can happen in this "new normal"

Friday, September 4, 2020

I ♥️ Desmos

Years ago, I did a this thing called My Favorite Friday.  I haven't done it for years, but my favorite thing right now is Desmos.

Since March, Desmos has been my #1 go-to for Distance Learning lessons and still connecting with my students.

We've been in Distance Learning this year for 2 weeks (we are pivoting back to in-person next week, but that's a whole 'nother story), and I could not have made it through these two weeks without Desmos at my side. 

This year is a year like no other and I had already committed to blogging more regularly about my learnings, but then today, even more amazing Desmos things started happening!

My Current Favorite Desmos Hack:
So I had this brilliant Desmos Hack that has really saved me a ton of time overall... 

The first screen of the Desmos AB asks students to select their class hour, then I can use the summary screen to mark attendance sorted by hour.  Last year, I had them enter their name as "4 Name" so I could sort by name on the Dashboard, but I really like this MC question better overall.

One reason why I love it is that I can give feedback to all 3 classes during the same activity without switching between dashboards.  I was so excited to share this hack with you, but then I got home tonight, ready to blog and went to my Desmos to take some screen shots when I noticed it didn't look right...

New Desmos Feature:
Do you spy what I spy??? 

OMG - Desmos now has classes!!!  Of course, now I have my kids trained after 2 weeks, so I'm going to have to figure out how to best use this, but I am excited to explore it!

One feature that I'm hopeful this has when I explore it is a better co-teacher management system as I do team-teach and depending on which one of us created the activity, the dashboard access is clunky.  I'm hopeful that this will allow us both access to the files for our shared class without a ton of emails back and forth sharing links to activities

More New Features?!?!?
What?!?!?  Now when you add a "note", you can use italics, bold, or add a link??  I can't tell you how many times this week alone, I had wished for a way to easily add emphasis to a Desmos Activity - I swear Eli and his team are reading our minds!  You can read more about this new feature on the Desmos website.

One thing about new features in Desmos is that they are often not advertised, so when you find them, it's like this fun hidden treasure!

Earlier this week, I was giving feedback to a Desmos activity (which I absolutely LOVE the Desmos Feedback feature), and I just happened to notice that little arrow... hmm, what does this do??

OMG - I can edit / delete now?!?!? 

Game changer!!!  I can't tell you how often I would make a typo or hit enter too soon - this is a HUGE thing for me! :)

My Favorite Question this week:
One of the things I had planned to share today before finding all of the fun new features was this question that I had added to a Desmos Activity earlier this week.

My students were supposed to try this AP Free Response problem, then I asked them to check themselves against the sample student responses on AP Central and to reflect on their answers.  The number of students who mentioned things about being specific, using good vocabulary, etc was just an absolute highlight of my week.

So major thanks to Eli, the Desmos team, all Desmos fellows, and the absolute love and care that each of you put into making Desmos better every day.