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Another View: AV #209 - Being Together in the Classroom - Part 2

Distance learning: Not remotely or virtually the same as the classroom

“Successful strategies that come from the transition to remote learning won’t be a stop-gap to get us through the current crisis; they will fundamentally shift how school functions in the future.” XQ[1] (April 6, 2020)

Last week, part 1: The fun of being together, the laughter possible when a classroom becomes a safe space, a community, a setting where we can smile at our foibles—and enjoy a sense of belonging. Hard to achieve in distance learning, one reason I can’t believe this crisis will “shift how school functions…”

In part 2 I had planned to write about “the other side” of the same coin—how that sense of belonging can be equally important in darker moments too. But I realize you already know this from your own experience, when the classroom provided consolation and support. I hope so anyway. So I will merely list a few such moments from my 18 years as a teacher: after the sudden death of a classmate's parent or a faculty member; after the principal’s year-long fight with cancer came to an end; after one of their classmates attempted suicide. After national events that impacted us all (President Reagan being shot, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and—most vividly for me, and for my 7th and 8th graders here in Parker, that morning of 9/11, and in the weeks that followed). Being together – as students and as teachers – can help us through tough times. Francis Bacon said that friendship “redoubleth joys and cutteth our griefs in halves.” It rings true for the classroom as well.

So a simpler purpose now. Sharing the words from those who articulate so effectively why the “school life” we are experiencing this spring is not the dawn of a new age, who doubt that “the silver-lining” of this pandemic is the revelation that technology can save us time, money, and, most implausibly, create an education that is truly “personalized.” The voices quoted here: the former U.S. Secretary of Education; the superintendent in Roaring Fork—an exceptional educator I have been lucky to know for over 25 years; a teacher—working in a Jefferson County charter school—a former student of mine!; and others, too. All show us why we must not take the wrong lesson from this pandemic. Remote learning is not the fix. Technology is not the fix. Separating ourselves is not the fix.

Being together, you will say, is not a fix either. I agree—but it is where students begin to join a community. Being together is fundamental to creating a learning community where teachers know their students well. Where students feel they belong to a caring community and build relationships that matter. Where we have the therapy of humor and good fun—and of being lifted up when times are hard.

Finally, consider what we are hearing so often these days, from surveys and reports from the field.[2] A heightened need for social-emotional support of students. Ditto for mental health services. A huge concern about the impact of isolation on students – a new kind of trauma? A consensus that the most severe impact of this current situation will fall on our most vulnerable students, many of whom are now proving among the hardest to reach. The very students who need a stronger connection, not distant ties, to teachers and counselors in the school community… A personal connection, not a virtual one.

Remote learning merely exacerbates the problems that hinder student success. How foolish to believe that it should be touted as “the education of the future.” And how good it will be to be back in class.

Quotes

Bold mine throughout these two pages.

From “Schooling in the Era of Covid-19: A Virtual Discussion with National and Local Education Leaders,” April 15, 2020

Dr. John King, Former U.S. Secretary of Education, President and CEO of Education Trust

“The one thing I would implore folks to think about is just the centrality of relationships and connectedness to school. “I was a kid ... I lost both my parents when I was a kid. Home was really hard. The one place that I had structure and support and positive relationships and a sense of safety was school. It would have been incredibly hard for me as a kid to be away from school for months… We have to ensure that we don’t lose kids in this period, and the way to do that is to emphasize connection and relationship as the primary focus of our energy.

**

*Reports: 1) “Online Summary Report,” by the Office of Blended and Online Learning, Colorado Department of Education, Dec. 2019.[3] 2) AV #148, 149, 185, 205.

Rob Stein, Superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools

“The research on online learning* is not very extensive but what is available says that it is not very good - and so that’s the bad news. There’s going to be a lot of lost learning. I don’t think the media or policymakers are paying enough attention to the actual efficacy of online learning…”

**

From Parker Earnest, a former 7th/8th grade student of mine, now an elementary teacher (grades 4-6) in Jefferson County. His email response (April 16, 2020) to last week’s newsletter, AV #208.

“I am hopeful that Khan and remote learning will not be the norm of the future. Teachers will always be needed because every child is different in how they learn. Nothing replaces the ability to be together so a teacher can look in the eye, read the body language and assess when the time is right to step on the gas, coast or brake in presenting the lesson.”

**

From Adam Goldstein, “Teacher shares virtual expertise,” Your Hub, The Denver Post, April 16, 2020.

On Robin Schuhmacher, a second-grade teacher at Altitude Elementary, a Cherry Creek school. “I always tell new teachers that innovation starts from the heart. My son’s favorite thing every day is to have a Zoom with his classroom and wave to his friends. To see him do that, I remember that it isn’t always about the tech. It starts with the heart and human connection.”

Missing that daily human connection with students and colleagues has been difficult for Schumacher. Nothing can fully replace seeing students in person; no amount of Zoom meetings can be a true stand-in for connecting and commiserating with colleagues.

“We’re in this profession because we love working with people. We don’t have that right now,” she said.

-- Adam Goldstein is a digital communications
specialist for the Cherry Creek School District.

**

From Robert Pondiscio, “No, this is not the new normal,” Flypaper, Thomas B. Fordham Institute – April 15, 2020.

“Start with the obvious: To throw all or even most of our efforts into remote learning is ‘shoe bomber’ planning, responding to the last attack instead of anticipating the next one. … It is a fantasy to believe that we can stem the effects of months without real school by ginning up instructional capacity on the fly in unfamiliar forms in the midst of a public health crisis. By all means, distribute devices and attack the digital divide. Signal to apprehensive students and parents that education must go on, keep kids attached, and strive for normalcy. Schools that have found ways to continue high-value instruction deserve attention and praise. But let’s not gull ourselves into thinking this is some sort of durable solution. It’s an emergency response, nothing more.”

-- Robert Pondiscio is senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He also teaches civics at Democracy Prep Public Schools, a network of high-performing charter schools based in Harlem, New York. https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/no-not-new-normal

**

From David Deming, “Online Learning Should Return to a Supporting Role,” The New York Times, April 9, 2020.

“Winner-take-all economics and cost-cutting may make many in-person lectures obsolete, but the best education continues to be intensive, expensive and done in person.

“The personal services provided by educators include tutoring, individualized feedback and mentoring, and numerous studies, as well as countless individual experiences, show that such services are essential for learning.

“It is wonderful that technology has enabled millions of students to keep learning even when direct contact is impossible. But once this crisis ends, we will be better off if technology frees up precious class time so that educators and students can engage deeply with each other and build personal connections that will last a lifetime.

--David Deming is the director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/09/business/online-learning-virus.html?…

**

Tsavo Cole, a freshman at Arvada West High School, told Nelson Garcia of Channel 9 News:

“…immediate feedback is one of the most important things missing. ‘The difference here is you're not able to talk to your friends or talk to the teacher.’"

--“How has remote learning been working so far?” (April 7, 2020)

**

From Mark Kiszla, “With football also iffy, pray baseball can return,” The Denver Post, April 26, 2020.

I recently asked Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster what he missed most about baseball.

“I miss the competition. All of us people that are in professional sports, we’re wired to compete,” Foster replied. “We thrive on competition, not unlike any other person. It’s part of who we are. Our everyday existence is about a win and a loss and risking it all, on being all-in and engaged. It’s interacting with people and loving and laughing and crying. When you’re a part of a team, you miss the team.”

 

[1] “Early Remote Learning Lessons and the Future of Education,” April 6, 2020. https://xqsuperschool.org/blog/teaching-strategies/remote-learning-futu…

[2] “Survey: Emotional support, internet access among state students’ top needs,” The Denver Post, April 21, 2020.

[3] https://www.cde.state.co.us/sites/default/files/docs/onlinelearning/Fin…

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Peter Huidekoper Jr.

Peter Huidekoper Jr. is the coordinator of the Colorado Education Policy Fellowship Program. ...