More than ever, society is realizing just how valuable the teacher can be. There have been thousands of tweets showing appreciation for teachers from parents and saying that teachers should get paid a million dollars a day – wouldn’t that be nice? (I hope they remember this the next time teachers are in a contract negotiation …) Recently, a family member asked me if I thought the field of education will be greatly changed by all that we have learned from this period of distance, or remote, learning. Would education look much different, now that we have all of these technologies for distance learning? Truthfully, it’s hard to say at the moment. But what I do know is that all this distance is making people realize what is, and has always been, at the core of education: relationships.
The reason we teach
Teachers everywhere are sad. I know I’ve felt sad and had a hard time really understanding or verbalizing what it was… I mean I am teaching and seeing my kindergarten students and reading to them. So why do I feel so… empty. I realized it was because I felt purposeless. My purpose in life is teaching… I’ve always known that. Don’t believe me? Ask my parents! Always has been and always will be.
My true joy comes from seeing the child’s face when that lightbulb turns on and they suddenly “get” it. When they work and work towards something and you finally start to see the gains and the progress. Or, when they laugh at the read aloud or make a connection to it. When they share toys with their friends, especially when this was difficult for them just a month or so ago. Or, when they are excited to see their friends and tell them about their weekend. When they come into the classroom with that energetic smile and greeting.
Even in all the hard moments of teaching, I receive so much joy, because I know these moments, these relationships, remind us why we do this job year after year. All this distance has definitely helped teachers remember that and focus our attention even more to the heart of teaching – the relationship with our students.
Differentiation and Individualized Instruction
Relationships are at the heart of effective teaching. After forming a relationship with students and observing them working and playing, teachers learn exactly what each student needs in order to be successful. This kind of observation really isn’t possible with distance learning and neither is differentiating and individualizing instruction to the same level we are used to. Don’t get me wrong- teachers are trying really hard to offer this and they are doing an amazing job given the circumstances. But the real key to quality individualized instruction and differentiation comes from in-the-moment teaching.
A high-quality teacher knows how to use observations and informal assessments to assess students in the moment. Then they immediately switch up the activity or offer a support tool based on what they see. The number of times that I have changed my teaching or the activity in the moment is… well it’s uncountable. It happened every single day. This simply isn’t possible remotely. I just don’t see all the work that my students are doing – in fact I probably see about 10% of what they are actually doing. And I certainly am not seeing them while they are doing the work – which means I can’t offer any feedback in the moment. I can’t offer any support or challenges to them. I can only comment on the finished product, and yet my training drives me to praise the process, not the product.
Technology to Support Relationships
Keeping relationships at the core of education, teachers may learn from this time of distance learning and use more technology in order to enhance their teaching and support the relationships with students and families. Teachers who were reluctant to use technology have been forced to learn different technology tools. In the older grades, teachers may be more interested in trying a flipped classroom – providing a recording of their lesson and leaving the class time to critical group conversations or activities. Teachers have learned to use or even create awesome resources, like interactive slides on Google or other platforms, which could make lessons more engaging or provide extra, individual opportunities to practice for students. You can read about how I am using technology to celebrate the end of the year here.
Most likely, teachers and schools will use these new tech tools to increase communication with families. Families are our partners in education, and this is evident more than ever now. Classroom communication apps, like Seesaw, really help the families to see what is happening in the classroom and how their child is progressing in their academics. I think that teachers will be more willing to share these everyday moments with the families and will feel more secure and confident about using this technology. Families will understand better how they can use the technology to offer comments and to stay informed with their child’s progress. All of the possible technology changes to education can be used to enhance the relationships with students and families, instead of removing or minimizing the relationship.
In addition to technology, there have been other issues that were discussed at length before this pandemic, but have grown into a more powerful movement in education. It has become more obvious to everyone that schools must support children with their social-emotional development and I hope that this continues to be a focus for teachers. Schools, districts, and state governments are also talking about the importance (or non-importance) of grading, homework, testing, graduation requirements, and class size.
These are all important conversations to have, but I’m not sure that they will change much once we return “to normal”. Maybe I’m pessimistic, but every year it seems that more and more curriculum requirements get pushed on teachers and then in turn there is more pressure to prove that the students learned these academics on the standardized tests. While it would be great to see this ever-increasing academic pressure lifted off of teachers and students to focus instead on building relationships, the students’ social emotional development, and ensuring a deep, critical understanding of content, I just don’t believe it will.
So, will education change because of distance learning? If it does, I hope that the changes are used to get back to the core of effective education – relationships. Relationships with families and students. Teachers would not be able to maintain a classroom community or support their students as well as they are right now, without these relationships. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, well when you take away the classroom, you realize it was never those four walls that you loved. It was the community you created and built together that made everything worth it. And you just can’t build those relationships or that community remotely, you can only try and tape it together so that it is maintained throughout this pandemic.