A year ago, I wrote a blog post titled, “Are We Parade Ready?” You can find that post here. I loved writing about my son and the history that little league has played in our lives. I was able to connect the relationship between my son’s Little League parade to our work in education. In fact, when the COVID-19 situation hit us in early March, I sat at the Kings Park Youth board member meeting wondering if we really had to postpone our parade from April 4th to April 25th. Yet, here we are. It is May 18th, and I go back to last year’s post now with a different lens. Forget baseball, hot dogs, bounce houses, and the dugout camaraderie. Our focus is centered 100% on the most important aspect of society: student learning.
As a technology leader in East Williston, I obsess over momentum, innovation, disruption, and developing new stocks of knowledge. Throughout the process of my leadership, I reflect EVERY DAY because the product of student learning must be top-notch. I reflect daily on all conversations, decisions, reactions, and interactions where relationships and culture are built every minute. But, what about now? It is easy to prepare for the use of Chromebooks district-wide. It is easy to purchase digital tools and lead professional development on them. It is easy to be techie because you aren’t afraid to click. What about capacity? At my budget presentation in early March, I spoke about building a bridge of innovation alongside our current one and bringing all members over at their own pace to eventually meet on the other side. I used the below picture of the construction of the new Tappan Zee bridge to illustrate this work. Thank you, Bill Brennan, for sharing this thought a few years ago at CELI. I spoke about capacity building and seeing instruction, not technology, at the core of everything we do. I knew that appropriate uses of digital learning would organically seep into our practice to augment students’ learning. Well, the bridges merged so much faster than we expected. We are on the other side, folks. We can stop talking about the SAMR model because we all got to Redefinition in the blink of an eye. For this reason, I go back to my original question with a twist: Were we really parade ready?
Capacity, relationship, and trust-building
I am in awe every second I spend talking to East Williston’s teachers and staff members about their choreography of remote learning. I see their Google Classroom posts. The engagement they lead when they Meet with their students, their passion to get this right, their acute focus on students’ well-being and safety above everything else, their communication with parents, their continued attention to teaching literature of all stories, and their app-smashing ability to amplify students’ success. Everything Google, FlipGrid, Buncee, Pear Deck, Screencastify, FlipGrid, Kami, Jamboard, Google Meet, Voxer, kidOYO, Gimkit, Storyboard That, and the list could go on and on. While they may not feel it in their hearts, our teachers are nailing it. We continue to ask questions, build our own approach, seek assistance in groups and individually, hold morning meetings, research best practices with virtual learning, collaborate with our PLNs, tell our students’ stories on Twitter using #EWLearns, and somehow interview and find the best candidates for our openings so we are even stronger moving forward. No response to this situation is perfect but we have the mass and velocity in place. A momentum that inspires and fuels our work.
We know as educators that one’s practice is only as sound as the comfort and understanding of one’s authentic audience. As part of our work, we have held live parent tutorials, updated our community through newsletters and videos (even with babies every morning playing a role), and asked parents to share their needs with us. Throughout these past two months, we have listened (and continue to do so) to our students and families. At the core of all suggestions is the concept of time. Daniel Pink’s When is a must-read now for those who have yet to read it. Our teachers are listening to kids. What time are they waking up? What time is the best for communication? When will we get the most out of students during a Google Meet? How do we make sure we aren’t wasting their time? Are our Google Classrooms consistent in structure and layout? Are teachers on a grade level or in a department consistent with their content and delivery? Are we as an organization providing consistent leadership? We reflect, analyze, and build each day because education is about our community of partners.
I see this journey through the pandemic as an opportunity to get better. The reminder that educators NEED to be connected so their students can be champions. The chance to get things right because when we do, we will rewrite the narrative of education. Teachers and educators always find a way to give voice to their students. Whether it is through a smile in the hallway, a pat on the back, a nod, the asking about their families or pets, or the gestures that scream, “I am your teacher and I have your back.” THIS is the hardest part. The unknown. The impossible guarantee of health and protection. The missing comfort that lies within glances of approval and the genuine power of collaborative tears and laughter. For this reason, remote learning will never be enough. But, when we have to teach/support/counsel/lead in such a way, we will walk with pride and keep our shoulders high for we will be as parade ready as ever.