Four Ways to Bring Your Authentic Self to School

By Bena Kallick and Giselle O. Martin-Kniep

We educators keep hoping for certainty and stability. Many of us have assumed that we could create a predictable and linear path to learning for our students. However, since the pandemic, we are humbled by the realization that our best laid plans may not address the needs of the moment. As the anxiety for living with the uncertainty of not knowing what or how to respond to the issues that continue to arise increases, so does our frenetic ambition to make up for what we feel we have lost. As a result, we may be entering this school year with a sense of loss of agency. 

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Lost and Found?: Addressing COVID-19 “Learning Loss”

By David Nurenberg

At just about a month away from the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year, two words are on the mind of every school administrator: “learning loss.” Learning loss describes the gap between how much students have learned during a year in school and how much they are normally expected to learn, in terms of progress towards state-defined learning standards. Over the past year of the pandemic, students missed out on a great deal of in-school instruction. Just how much they missed varies, as every one of the 13,000 public school districts in the nation made different choices. A report by McKinsey And Company estimates approximately 60% of K-12 students started last school year fully remote, with 20% in a hybrid model and 20% fully in person – but the report doesn’t track at what point during the year, if at all, students returned to full-time in-person instruction, and firm figures as to how much learning loss occurred during that remote time are even harder to come by thanks to uneven data collection and measurement. Suffice to say, almost all teachers (97% in one recent national survey) report some learning loss among their students, and the degree of this loss varies enormously depending on which children we’re talking about. There are vast inequities, both between schools’ ability to provide more in-person learning and/or higher quality remote instruction, and between students, based on the financial and physical health of their families during this time, the robustness of their at-home support systems, etc. Many white, affluent families were able to leverage their usual advantages to maintain or even advance their kids’ academic progress during this time, while many Black and Brown children, especially those from less wealthy backgrounds, fell even farther behind. COVID made these always-present disparities even more pronounced.

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Year after Year: A Love Note to Teaching

By Suzanne Caines 

I’m at that age where people are starting to ask me, mostly in a nice way, if I’m starting to think about retirement. You’ve been teaching forever, they say, their tone an odd mix of bemusement and incredulity. Translation: aren’t you excited to stop working? 

Surprising to those who ask, but not to those who know me well, the answer to that question is a hard no. I am not excited to stop working. In fact, I am excited to keep working. I just finished my 34th year of teaching high school English and I can honestly say that I still love it. Yes, love it. Without exception, every single September of my career, I feel true excitement when I walk into a class full of teenagers, mostly strangers, knowing that over the course of the school year, I will have the opportunity to really get to know them.

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What I’ll Take Back into the Classroom from Teaching Online

by Ron Litz

The pandemic suspended our traditional classrooms and methods of teaching, forcing many of us teachers to revise our long-established approaches in order to better meet the needs of our students. As we return to normalcy, we should remember that many of these changes can and should be carried forward into the traditional classroom. As a seventh-grade history teacher, I found that while teaching virtually I made crucial adjustments to four main areas of my practice: establishing connections with students, designing student schedules, introducing content, and assessing student learning. These changes, necessary for a successful online learning environment, will also improve my students’ in-person learning experience.

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Supportive Strategies for Post-Pandemic Classrooms

by Christine Boatman

Over the past year, my students have experienced loss and trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic—including health crises, financial hardships, and limited access to education—as well as from a wildfire that tore through our community, burning many homes. Now that my students and I are returning to an in-person classroom, I am considering how I can best support each student through this transitional period. Teachers everywhere are faced with the challenge of helping students readjust to a classroom environment, face residual trauma from the past year, and “catch up” after what was, for many, a less-than-productive school year. Here, I share some strategies that I have found essential to supporting my students as we return to in-person schooling.

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Connecting with Students During a Crazy School Year

By Pete Barnes

Connecting with students on a personal level is always challenging for busy teachers, but this pandemic year has been especially difficult for getting to know students and their families. No matter what teaching models our schools are using, we must continue to work extra hard this school year to know students as people. Whether it is exposing our own quirks and personal passions, setting up class time for students to share, or finding ways to make students feel like individuals, teachers must make efforts to connect. The extra time is well-spent, as students who feel accepted and valued are far more likely to learn. Here are some strategies that work for me, with possible modifications for remote and hybrid learning scenarios:

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Spark Your Students’ Creativity with These Zoom-Friendly Exercises

By Shana Bestock

Bringing creativity into the classroom isn’t only for art teachers! Creativity hinges on discovery, and as educators we can intentionally set the stage for those moments of discovery to happen. Creativity is also intrinsically tied to collaboration–whether individually, by engaging different aspects of the self in conversation, or collectively, by communicating with others to build something together. Creativity is about being ingenious, resourceful, and taking risks. Whether your focus is math or reading, science or history, coding or painting, creativity is an essential ingredient to learning, engagement, and sparking curiosity and joy. Every teacher, no matter their subject area, can borrow from the Zoom-friendly exercises below to jumpstart their students’ creativity and prepare them for the lesson ahead.

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What My Special Needs Son Has Taught Me about Learning

By Jonathan Gold

In a normal year my seventh grade history students would be preparing to debate the merits of the American colonists’ arguments for declaring independence. This year, which would have been my fifteenth in the classroom, is no normal year; instead of teaching history to socially distanced students, I am on leave, working as a full-time homeschool support teacher for my special-needs 9-year-old. My son, Neko, has an extremely rare chromosomal disorder that causes deafness, autism, and significant developmental delays. Neko’s amazing school opened fully remote, and with childcare unfeasible for a child with his profile, my family and I decided I would stay home with him. Neko’s needs are fairly significant and life with him can be challenging. In our best moments, we think of him as a mystery: a magical child who hums with the energy of the universe in ways we can’t fully understand. Serving in this new role as his teacher has given me a different perspective on the complexities of teaching and learning.

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Why Bellringer Activities Are More Important Than Ever

By Mary McConnaha

Since moving to virtual, hybrid, or socially distanced in-person learning, many of us have had to adapt our tried-and-true classroom procedures to fit these new environments. As a middle school English teacher, I have always enjoyed engaging with my students through my “bellringers”—activities I’ve established for the first few minutes of class while my students get settled. Though it took some trial and error, I’ve found ways to continue these traditions via hybrid and online learning. What’s more, I’ve found it to be more important than ever to engage with and uplift my students through these small routines. Here, I’ll share my favorite ways to kick off my English class, whether in-person or online.

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You are the Instrument: Teaching Mindfulness and Personal Practice

This post is adapted from the book Teaching Mindfulness to Empower Adolescents by Matthew Brensilver, JoAnna Hardy, and Oren Jay Sofer (W. W. Norton, March 2020).

Life is often intense, but in this moment, it can be overwhelming. As educators, parents, indeed as humans, we find ourselves in a grueling and extended period of instability and challenge. Coronavirus, economic hardship, political strife and the transition to online learning are all unfolding in a context of a national grieving and reckoning with the country’s racial history. For many, it feels like the tectonic plates of our lives are shifting and we are not sure where to find our balance.

Given this context, our leadership role as educators becomes even more important. Our capacity to act as a keel in the lives of our students is vital. How can we serve this function and how might mindfulness help?

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