Remember Whens

We will look back upon these fledgling years and say, “Ahhh, remember when…”

Remember when the thought of working from home was always something that someone else could do. I would never have the (what at times seemed to be) luxury of working from home. So many of my friends and family in other fields would casually say things like, “I wasn’t feeling great so I just worked from home today.” Must be nice, we teachers would say, inside our heads of course. Opening up and stating something like that out loud would simply bring on a chorus of, “Well, you never work weekends,” or “Whoa, stop there, I’d give anything for your work schedule.” The grass is always greener and there was no arguing any of the above. But still, the thought of working from home was just…foreign!

Remember when technology drove us apart? When it was deemed the big bad wolf. It took our attention away from the present moment. Drove a wedge into dinner time conversations, a wedge that grew and grew. It turned children into isolated automatons who couldn’t hold a real conversation. It sapped our ability to read maps and actually be able to determine if we should head North, South, East or West. Technology was the evil that was ripping families apart. Laying community to waste. We didn’t go out and walk or play. We just stared at a screen.

Remember when a pandemic was something we read about or watched in a movie or TV show? We would grip the arms of our chairs as the screen heroes wended their way through the red tape blocking their efforts at raising awareness. We would shake our heads at the denial in the face of the obvious. We would shudder at the pain and suffering. Wait in horror to see how it all turns out. We would know in our hearts that at least one of our favorite characters wouldn’t make it, but the others would be fine.

Remember when film stars were people who lived “someplace else”. They were from Hollywood, or maybe Bel Air. They lived in those homes you never saw, tucked up into the hills, behind gates, protected by the all seeing eye of surveillance cameras. They came out for red carpet events. We watched them on screens. We cried when they cried, laughed when they laughed, argued and agreed with their statements and causes. We sat in awe when they just leaped into a role and convinced us that the role was who they really were. We believed what they sold us, we hung on their every word.

Well, teachers, the future is here! And it’s a future we never saw coming. It’s a future defined by our remember whens. We now work from home. We reach out across the miles from the comfort of our homes and we guide our students and they learn. It started out a little rocky and the learning curve was huge but each week we put a little more polish to those lessons, refine those skills a little more. We embrace technology, it is the genie in the bottle. Little did we know that a device would mean the difference between reaching out and turning on our students’ minds and shrugging our shoulders and giving up.

And this future includes a pandemic. An honest to god, real, and irrefutable pandemic. Science Fiction R Us! We watched it come across the miles and miles until it arrived at each of our doorsteps. We watch our heroes fight back. We watch our leaders as they decide to take charge or not. It is a movie in real time. And we are the supporting actors. But we have also become film stars. Film stars to our students. As we one by one bite that bullet and film our lessons. Film our pep talks. Film our own versions of fireside chats. And we discover something important.

We can do this!

And when the time is right, we will go back. And then the remember whens will be the stories. The stories of our Remember Whens!

Wrapping Up

Anyone remember this lament?

“Now we have to get through the whole month of March before we get any days off.”

Because, well, it used to be true. September has interruptions, October has them too, November and December have more holidays and interruptions than teaching days, January has interruptions and occasional snow, February is short to begin with and has a few holidays…

then comes March. Thirty-one days of no holidays. No breaks. The idea kind of beat up on everyone. The month became something to be gotten through. Hey, in NJ, where I work, you couldn’t even count on interesting weather, weather-wise we are in a kind of limbo in March.

Then, along came the SOL Story Challenge. Five years ago this event was a game changer for me. Suddenly March had a purpose. There was something to do everyday. There were blogs waiting for me, people to meet via this experience, ideas to share. I began to look forward to March in a way I hadn’t expected.

But this year, March became the month that our world changed. Unprecedented. Inescapable. Unbelievable.

And this SOL community grew closer. The shared experience deepened. As our eyes grew wider our hearts warmed to each other’s experiences. None of us could believe what we were going through, but we were going through it together. We stumbled through March but held each other up by sharing and listening and responding.

I am so thankful for this community of writers. I felt stronger by our shared experiences. It’s really difficult to put into words but I know you know what I mean.

So March is a wrap. SOLSC 2020 has come to a close. We, as a nation, are still facing the unknown, but we are not facing it alone. No one is ever alone.

Til we meet again!

Heroes

One of my students logged on to our Google Classroom a bit later than usual (for her) this morning. Here was her first post of the day:

“Good morning everybody! I would have been on this earlier if something didn’t happen with the chrome book.I didn’t see any new posts and I wasn’t  able to post anything. Of course the most simple thing was the”hero”.The restart button.”

That got me thinking about heroes. Because everyone needs heroes. And they come in all shapes and sizes. I watched Captain Marvel the other day (practically a year after watching it the first time). I realized while watching it that I was viewing it through a different lens. A year ago Superheroes were awesome and fun to watch. They take their hits but in the end they push back the enemy, usually with some losses (ugh, think Endgame) but all in the name of the overall good. Remind you of anything a lot closer to home? Wow, we are fighting a superhero battle right here on our home front. And just like any Superhero film (or comic book) we expect a certain outcome. The steps Captain Marvel had to go through, understanding exactly who or what the enemy is, identifying weaknesses, devising a plan of attack, shoring up your defenses… Well, we are in the midst of all that, aren’t we?

But like I said, heroes come in all shapes and sizes. So I’d like to relay a story from several years ago. A true story. A hero story.

One morning, while reading to my class, I noticed a “non-listener”. He was not staring at me, the Queen, who was delivering the most animated rendition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone this side of the big pond. No, he was staring out the window.

“Joe, what are you looking at?”

“That squirrel. Out there,” he pointed out the window, “the one that’s wearing a red hat.”

Ok, that got me. Actually it got all of us and as a unit we stood and looked where Joe was pointing. It was a squirrel. It was jumping up and down and twirling around. And it had a reddish Cheetos type bag stuck on its head.

“Hi Pat,” I spoke into the the small brown intercom phone hanging on the wall. “Um, this is going to sound strange, and I don’t actually think you will be able to help, but, there’s a squirrel outside with a bag stuck on its head.”

“What!” came the shouted reply. “I’ll send Kevin.”

Mr. Kevin, our go to maintenance man, came immediately. I pointed. He looked. The class worried. Then Kevin said, “I have an idea.” He looked about the room. “Can I borrow that?” He pointed to the long pole I use to open the enormous windows in the room.

“Sure!” I hadn’t a clue what he was planning.

So out he went and we all lined up at the window. Instinctively the class got very quiet. Mr. Kevin walked very quietly towards the squirrel. It couldn’t see because of the bag but it could probably still hear. And he didn’t want to cause it any more stress. Slowly, inch by inch, he stretched the pole towards the squirrel, and more specifically, towards the bag. He was finally able to touch the bag with the tip of the pole and, with the squirrels momentum, the bag popped off!

The squirrel dashed away at the speed of light.

“Yay!” we all cheered. We could hear other classes cheering as well. They must have seen Mr. Kevin in the yard with a pole. Mr. Kevin became an instant hero. And we all had a superhero story to tell that ended with a happy ending. Just like they are supposed to!

So, remember, heroes are everywhere. You are probably somebody’s hero. And this Superhero story we are living right now isn’t better yet because it isn’t over yet. I’ll close with my favorite quote:

“In the end, everything will be ok. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Fernando Sabino (translated from Portuguese)

Purpose

I was out walking yesterday and stopped to talk to a neighbor. I inquired after her son, who I was pretty sure was a senior in high school this year.

“Yes,” she said, choking up,”he, he is a senior. And he’s just so sad. He,” she paused here, kind of waved her hand in front of her eyes as if to fan away tears, “sorry, I’m getting choked up. He told me the other day he doesn’t even know if he’s ever going to be able to go to college.”

We then continued talking about their family business. They own a local luncheonette but are questioning whether to stay open. “It’s so much work and I’m so exposed to the public. And I feel like we are doing all this just to pay the rent. Is it worth it?”

She shared with me the decision the whole family had made, to close the business for 2 weeks and hit the reset button. In the meantime they were going to paint and spruce up the place, look at the menu and streamline what they offer, and find new ways to reach out to the community (since the local businesses, a big part of their lunch time business, were working from home).

And that got me thinking about purpose. We all need a purpose. The high school senior cares about the end of his or her high school years because they are the closing act to the next stage in their life. The purpose is clear. The small business owner provides something to its customers. The work is deemed sustaining because the purpose is clear. Educators march off to school each day, tending to the varying needs of the children they are charged to educate. Purpose clear.

But when that purpose is yanked away what happens? Does that high school senior lose sight of his or her future? Does that small business owner throw their hands up, wonder what it’s all for anyway? Does that teacher stop occupying his or her mind with the needs of their students? Well, no, because that would be giving up. And surrender is not an option on life. What we do is focus on purpose. And if the focus is fuzzy, we figure out how to sharpen it, to make it real again.

And that brings me back to my conversation with my neighbor. Her family is instinctively switching their focus, their purpose. They are making a shift. Their high school senior, like so many others, will also find new purpose. New ways to fill that gap left wide open by the absence of classes, sports, part-time jobs, and friends. As a teacher my shift was made for me. I was sent home with a computer and a mission. Reach out and teach from a distance. Purpose clear. But so many others have to make the shift for themselves. Serving customers in new ways. Reaching out to the public to let them know, we are still here! Engaging family members who have maybe lost their purpose, providing them with a new purpose. And who knows where all these shifts will take us. How will our shift in focus change us as we move ever onward?

What’s Important

My grade level colleagues and I have spent a lot of time “together” lately. It has been a time of bonding, of hashing things out, of agreeing to disagree and disagreeing with what we agree on. That is what happens when a group of Queen Bees, because aren’t we teachers all Queen Bees, has to narrow down what they plan on teaching to the exact same thing.

But what’s important to my kids?

We have played tug of war over each subject. Too much, too little. How to word it, when to assign it. Do we need one, or two, or three. Ultimately we all feel quite proud of ourselves and each other. Good ideas spring from the tumult. And sometimes those ideas are even great.

But what’s important to my kids?

Because, you see, we are sticking really close together right now. Norming our expectations across a grade level. Developing unified plans to stay strong as we move forward through these uncharted waters. There are really good things happening, but my kids keep reaching out to me.

“When are you going to read us, The Wild Robot Escapes?”

That is what is important to them. We finished Peter Brown’s book, The Wild Robot, on the Friday we said good bye to our classroom, our home. They knew I had the sequel in my magical drawer (its a big drawer full of books!). They knew I said I would read it to them once I learned how to record myself reading and post it to Classroom. But it’s not what my team has agreed to do, not yet. “Soon,” I keep responding to my kids. “I’ll read it to you soon.”

“When are you going to read us, The Wild Robot Escapes?”

So now, as a group, my colleagues and I are moving towards “read aloud”. Video recordings of ourselves reading a book aloud to our class. We all agreed to start with one book. Dip our toes into the water. See how it goes. And then, once we are all on that page, perhaps then, it will be time.

Because some things are actually important to our kids.

Timing Is Everything

The other day one of my students posted this to our Classroom stream.

“Somehow I was able to figure out how to post it myself. I think its easy. I turned on a timer on the camera feature so I can get in the background,” she wrote.

She was not the first to post a photo to our stream herself but she was the first to describe how she did it. Prior to this I had been posting photos from the emails parents had sent me. This was an exciting moment! The comments came rolling in.

“Wow, you’re so smart!”

“I don’t even know how to post pictures.”

“Same.”

“Cool.”

Then there was this from our roaming photographer, “thanks I finished school yesterday (she meant her assigned Distance Learning work) and “explored” the chrome book and saw camera and desided to add another egg to the family (we had been collecting an egg pix family) and I saw the add button when you post and pressed google drive and pressed upload and then pressed upload from device and I saw the picture of the egg that I took. (Yeah, she finally paused for punctuation) And pressed on it then pressed add.”

Brilliant, right? Not only did she figure something out but she included the step by step instructions for anyone else who wanted to replicate her results. I was impressed. And told her so!

“You are so smart! Exploring is an excellent way to learn about things. That’s how humans learned everything we know about the earth and space and the oceans, we explored!” We had been learning about early explorers before we switched to distance learning so I figured I would make that connection.

This brings me to my point, timing is everything. When we learn something or when we need to do something affects how we learn it. If my student had wanted to accomplish the goal of taking a photograph and putting it in a Classroom stream while in school she probably would have relied on me to show her. I probably either wouldn’t have been able to help her or would have said something famous like, “We’ll have to look into that,” and then never gotten around to it. But because she was home, wanted to accomplish something, and had the extra time, she persisted and met with success!

I have a colleague who insists she is not good on computers. We remind her all the time of all the things she does every day but in her mind she is not good on them. And no one is going to convince her otherwise. When she has a problem at school she has someone in every corner of the school to show her what to do so it is ok. But not now. Now we are all “learning from home”! The other day I got this text from her right after we had a team planning session on doing something new;

“Hey, I got this far (screen shot of where she was in the process), can you help me with the next step.”

“Sure but can you wait for a bit, I’m in the middle of something,” was my reply.

“Ok, sure. Maybe I can figure it out.”

And sure enough, within 10 minutes, I received this; “I did it.”

Timing is everything. My colleague had to figure it out for herself because there was no one available to do it for her. I think this distance learning is going to open up a whole new level of learning because of this obvious fact, we are more on our own now then we have ever been. And when you are on your own you have to rely on yourself a little bit more. You have to figure things out. You have to explore the possibilities.

Kind of awesome, right?

“This is the rainbow my mom made trying to spread some cheer,” posted by a different student. I think the sunshine and the photos are going to keep on coming!

Trading Bubbles

I used to come out of school at the end of the day and just sort of gawk. I’d lift my head, look up, look around, and marvel at the day (or evening if it was one of those days). Sometimes it would be freezing but crisp and clear. Sometimes the chill would be accompanied by the threat of weather, a presence in the air, a warning. Those were the days I would just hurry to my car.

Some days the hood would come up, head down, run (or walk really purposefully!). Yikes!

Some days were different though. The air would actually smell good. There would be a memory there, and a desire to remain, just a little bit longer. To feel the sunshine or the lingering warmth of just missed sunshine for a moment. To ponder what had been missed.

You see, in those days (like, all of two weeks ago), coming out of school was like coming out of a bubble. All day long I would exist in that bubble. Buzzing about, doing my thing, living my work life. I would peek outside the bubble at lunch time.

“Mrs. Scannell, do we need our coats?”

I’d refer to my watch, report the temperature. “Well, it’s 46 degrees today. I’d wear a coat. It’s sunny so it is going to feel nice.”

Decisions would be made, coats abandoned for sweatshirts or coats retrieved as an afterthought. They were venturing outside the bubble. I could have gone out, but the lure of sitting with adults, indulging in conversation and food, would usually keep me in. Inside the bubble.

I’d get home, husband would arrive. “Wow, cold out today,” or “It was such a beautiful day, chilly but sunny,” or “Felt like (insert some type of weather here) all day.”

“Hmm,” I’d reply, “I wouldn’t know, I just got out of the bubble.” It always bothered me, but it that was just the way it was. Entire swaths of weather would glide on by week after week but I’d be in the bubble.

And now I’ve traded one bubble for another. This bubble allows me out to walk. And I do appreciate that. It feels good to stretch my legs and move. But it’s a lonely bubble. It’s the wrong bubble. I picture each of us existing inside bubbles but unlike the old bubbles which were buzzing with noise, people, activity, these are safety bubbles of aloneness.

But all bubbles burst. School getting out in June, or for a break, would have been one way to burst the old bubble. Going back to school will be how we burst this present bubble. Trading bubbles.

Reaching Out

My third grade team came up with a great idea yesterday. It all began when our two inclusion teachers let us know that they had been called upon by a parent to reach out to her child who was showing some anxiety. So they did. And that led to a second call to a student who the team felt would more than likely benefit in a similar way. This led to yesterday’s text.

“As a result of these two phone calls we (the inclusion team) have decided to call all of our students. We wanted to let you know in case you wanted to do this as well.”

This was late in the afternoon on Tuesday. There was immediate feedback.

“I love the idea.”

“Let’s plan it together.”

“You can use Parent Square to sign up for calling times.”

“I like the idea of signing up so it’s not hit or miss.”

“When should we start?’

“Someone needs to help me!”

“I can draft a letter and everyone can do their own time slots.”

“It can be like a surprise for the kids.”

And that is what we did. We sent out a Parent Square inviting the parents to sign up for a time that would be convenient for us to call. We used the “Request Volunteers” tab to set time slots for parents to choose from. We included a unified, yet personal, message. And then we hit “Post Now”. This all occurred by about 6:30 last night.

As of right now I have 13 of my 19 students signed up. I can see that only one bounced back because we are working on getting an updated email address. Everyone else received and/or opened the post. I expect to hear from the other 5 families today or I can simply reach out again. Beginning at 10:00 this morning and up until 11:30 I will make my first 5 phone calls. This will continue tomorrow and Friday. And tomorrow I have afternoon “office hours” as well. Four time slots of 5 phone calls each.

Reaching out became a reality. All because of one text to a team. It goes without saying that the feedback from parents has been tremendous. They included notes along with their sign up, “Thank you so much!”, “She will be so excited!”, “This is so nice!” and the like are the little messages we are receiving. It feels good. It feels a little more normal. It is the little stuff, right?

Personality Plus

What does this mean? Truly? Is it intended to shed glorious light upon the person one is speaking of or, well, let’s just say (nod your head here, smirk a little, maybe raise an eyebrow). Because let’s face it, there’s personality, no personality and then there’s PERSONALITY PLUS!

I got thinking about this notion yesterday when reading a blog about a horse. Yup, a horse. A horse with personality plus who runs around and, well, kind of terrorizes the other horses in his pasture. The blog got me to thinking about a pony my aunt had when I was a young girl. Linda, a Shetland pony, had personality plus. She could really take you for a ride. Or not. My aunt lived on an apple orchard and so that is where we typically rode, through the orchard. But if you weren’t careful Linda would grab the bit and take you for a ride. A ride through the orchard at a lightning fast pace, right under a low hanging branch, are you picturing the scene? Off you would go! The rest of the day spent chasing that cute little “personality plus” pony around the orchard.

This train of thought got me to thinking about the kids I went to school with back in the day. Some of them were definitely in the “personality plus” category. I remember one boy I went to high school with. Everyone loved him, who wouldn’t, he had personality plus. There was a faculty vs the seniors basketball game that the entire school community turned out for. Big event, right? Just the venue for a personality plus prank. The game was exciting, everyone was having fun, but that wasn’t enough, was it? Nope. At just the right moment, when a winning shot was being blocked, Teacher A went up, Personality Plus just happened to be holding his shorts, and oops! The whole school got a story to tell. Personality Plus got detention.

So, I go back to my original query, what does personality plus mean? Because we have them in our classes every year. They warm our hearts and drive us crazy. They lighten moods and darken countenances. They bolster with their bluster and add bluster along the way. And right now, while we are all far from each other, they are still the life of the party. And I am grateful for the smiles they bring to our lips, the stories they provide us, and the charm they can wangle on a moment’s notice. Especially when they know they’ve been outed!

And let’s face it, some of those Personality Plus types grew up to be educators. Thank goodness!

Schedules Save…Everything

Whether you love them or detest them, schedules can help. I’m really bad at maintaining a schedule. My attention tends to flit about like a butterfly. Speaking of butterflies, that makes me think about those Monarchs. I meant to plant a my milkweed garden but now it may be too late. Oof, I’m just going to have to…

Sorry. Back to schedules. I am writing about schedules today because they can help you accomplish things. A schedule is a path. All you need to do is follow the path, one lesson at a time. Yes, but, hello, what about all the interruptions? It’s a rare day that plods along exactly the way it is supposed to. Why, I’ll bet in the last…

Oops, I did it again (you can begin humming here because I am). Double sorry. Back to schedules. All kidding aside, there are times when a schedule is a vital step to success. And honestly, right now, if the middle of what we are going through, schedules are needed more than ever.

Because nothing is as it should be!

My school district is in its second week of distance learning. We are being encouraged to live by schedules. We have provided our students’ families with schedules. Schedules that they can use to keep their little ones (or not so little, I teach third grade but we do go up to eighth grade. And speaking of eighth grade) Stop that Suzanne! Stop flitting after butterflies! Stick to a schedule!

Exactly! Our families aren’t the only ones who need schedules. We educators need them too. Because we are all in uncharted territory here. And if we aren’t careful we might fall deep into a rabbit hole. Like Alice. And look what happened to Alice! Why would anyone actually eat an unknown item that says “Eat me”? Makes no sense…

There I go again. I have had some fun with you today. Because what is left if we don’t allow ourselves a little fun? So build yourself a schedule. Then build yourself some fun. Do you want to build a snowman?