Wednesday, August 12, 2020

 Day 8 - COVID19 Pre-Planning:  Hanging on is Exhausting

Yesterday we had technology training that was pretty overwhelming for those that had not had a lot of experience on MS Teams.  Luckily that was the platform I grabbed onto last spring, or I probably would have been underneath my desk too.

We are closer in the journey to Monday, and all trying to hang on and not get too frustrated, to breathe, and put one foot in front of the other to get through the hills of work to be done before we "see" our students.  Our neighboring county did a test run with students online on Monday, and the system freaked out - I am hoping they got it settled as they are starting today.  We of course are hanging on and hoping for the best with our technology on Monday - I wish we would have done a trial run like they did.

I would be remiss if I did not talk about Kamala Harris today.  I am absolutely thrilled she is part of the Democratic ticket for the presidential election, and I feel more confident in a win save for any fraudulent activity on the other side.  I am proud for black women today that are waking up to see one of them break further through a ceiling that is multiple times thicker than it is for us.  I think she is and will be a phenomenal vice-president or "co-president" as Biden as said he will need 2 equally at the hands of the job ahead after the election.  Now we all just have to hang on and hope for a win and turn in the tides in November.

Being back to school, even if it is only working in my room, has been more therapeutic for my soul than I could have every imagined.  Still, I look around my room this morning and it is not set up like it would have been for students to come back in a few days, so I am really feeling that part this morning.  As I said yesterday, maybe students will be able to phase in as suggested by our county after labor day, but it would be another month before we see them.  Maybe the phase in will start, maybe it won't, maybe we will end up staying virtual all semester - we are all just hanging on to see what path COVID19 will take next.  It may well keep on its journey until next year, but I hope with all my soul that there is a new administration to deal with it come 2021.

I really do not have much more to share today.  Just hanging on for the start of school to be as successful as possible, for technology to work next week, for possibly seeing students if we can be safe enough, for the election to turn the tides, for COVID19 to finish its path through our lives, to see what life becomes after COVID19.

And sometimes hanging on is just exhausting.

Three Positive Things

1.  My new furbaby follows me around the house and is always on my lap or sitting near me - it fills my cat heart fuller than I ever thought it could be!

2.  It was awesome collaborating with my colleagues from my former school - good to have another group to share with.

3.  I am going public on teams with kids today and look forward to hearing from them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

 Day 7 - COVID19 Pre-Planning:  Building Community in Remote Learning

So our district does not start bringing back students until September 8th, and only if the numbers are low enough.  The phase in plan is very slow starting with K-2 for 90 minutes a week for maybe a week or two, and then phasing in in chunks the next few weeks.  

Right now we do not even know if that will begin as other districts went back face to face and are having to close.  If it does begin, who knows how long it will work.  If everything goes off perfectly, I still will not see kids until end of September earliest, and then who knows for how long.

I think it's pretty safe to say we will be in remote learning for most of the semester - I wish they would just call it, but for many reasons they don't.  

Given this, it is more important than ever to build a strong community with parents and students to navigate through this first every school start not in the classroom.  A few things I am thinking of for the start of the year:

1.  Teams meet and greet at the end of the week with students.  I will let them join the class in the next day and then sign-up for 10 minute sessions with up to 4 students per session.  For one of my preps I have a lot of my students from last year, so it will be nice to see them again!

2.  Parents - there is no student orientation, curriculum night in the form of face to face this year, so reaching out to parents and building a strong line of communication during a completely new system.  My thoughts are to develop a parent team for each course and hold office hours for parents once a week to answer questions and keep them up to date.  Yes this will take extra time, but so will answering a bunch of emails.  Parents can adjust as long as they know you care and are invested in the kids.  Being pro-active in communication builds a relationship with a parent before an issue arises.  It is always better to tackle and issue if a foundation is formed ahead of time.

3.  We are given 30 minutes at the end of the day for office hours, which I will use for sure, but I think I will also offer one evening office hour per class each week.  Many times students are not ready to ask questions right away after school and need a break before starting their work and even knowing what they want to ask.

Just some thoughts - it is dedication of a lot of time to do this, but less collaboration will demand the same amount of time, but in a less productive way.  I have always preferred the proactive route and back in the day when email was newer I started a weekly group parent email that was well received.  That process waned when websites became a thing.  I now see the virtual platform as a way to get a closer knit community of collaboration going again.

Three positive things for today:

1.  I got on my Peleton bike for the first time in 2 weeks.  I pushed myself to get there since the beginning of school takes over everything and gives back exhaustion.  I needed to push and remember how much better I feel when I exercise.  Goal is to repeat Wed, Sat, Sun of this week.

2.  I got A LOT of things done yesterday for my classes.  

3.  I get to collaborate with some of my colleagues at my former HS today - looking forward to "seeing" them!

Monday, August 10, 2020

 Day 6 - Pre-Planning During COVID19:  Unnecessary Necessary Tasks

Our district backed up the start of our school year to August 17th, so that means we get 2 weeks of pre-planning, which I personally love.  It is so nice to know you are getting the time to get used to being in the building, time with PLC's to plan effectively, acquire plenty of technology skills and training.  This was "necessary" necessary work time for us to be afforded; I feel blessed to have it.

Last week one of our training sessions included a new data system to monitor student data, which is common to all school districts, but they also introduced a "grade level readiness" test that we will be asked to give to see where they are at after COVID schooling last spring.  The test is a 2-day, 45 minute test each day... what?

Now I understand that this is an accountability thing, and that it will most likely be tied to some type of funding be it covid-related or other, but now?  Really?  To me, until the unknown is more know this is an Unnecessary Necessary.

Here are my concerns:

Students social emotional health is more at risk than ever across all racial lines and socioeconomic levels.  There are students in our district that have heard their parents worrying at home and on social media that they are going to "get so far behind", and now they will take a 2-part test after remote learning and summer soon after getting back to school, which will bring that claim to life.  How much anxiety will this bring them?  What labels do they have to fear are qualifying them to be unable to move forward as they desire?  Good, bad, indifferent, they have been taught to always be ahead and live in a world where they can be - how do they cope when they think that is gone?  

Worse yet, there are other students in our district who face labeling and judgement the minute they walk out of their homes each day everyday.  For those students a gap was always there for them in the face of a system that is not equitable, and now they face an even higher mountain to climb.  We have to ask them to work even harder in a system that does not work for them at least yet.  They do not need the reminder that the gap already existed and is now bigger.  At the same time asking them to sit through a 2-day test as the reminder.  

Teachers can do this without a 2-day test to verify every little thing that is missing - we have prioritized standards to identify and make sure they learn.  Teachers can and do work together vertically and most likely already know what their teachers were unable to cover.  If not, they will see it in daily instruction and work assigned and make amends to their lesson plans.  Those that don't do not do it while school is face to face and/or do not utilize any data used from a readiness test.

If it has to be for accountability purposes, can it not be shorter? Can we not check readiness instead before each unit?

Standardized tests are damaging to students.  They are not equitable, they are curved and do not represent an accurate view of overall learning.   The time and need to uphold their existence gets carved away from valuable teaching and learning growth across the board.

This type, this way is even more damaging.  It is definitely an unnecessary necessary we have to do.

Three positive things:

1.  I was able to have dinner with a close friend and colleague last minute on Friday night; glad time           timing worked out!

2.  I adopted my new little furbaby on Saturday, and she is settling into our home nicely with her new         brothers and sister.

3.  My best friend and her boyfriend were able to join us for dinner last night - hubs fixed some                   awesome steak fajitas and southwest seasoned grilled corn.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Day 5:  COVID19  Pre-Planning - Reflections on Professional Relationships

I had planned on a different topic for today, but it seems so heavy for a day that feels light - I will hold that one until next week.

This morning I got to work and found a message from one of my former colleagues who is also a great friend.  She is retired now and glad to be, but she was checking in and sending her empathy for us still teaching - hearing from her was a great way to start my morning.   She was an amazing teacher who loved what she did and loved working with kids both as a math teacher and a coach.  She was a geometry guru and one of those teachers who always rolled her sleeves up and dug in to reach as many kids as she could.  She was always learning and growing and looking for better ways and resources  to hone her craft.  The profession really needs her right now, but she is enjoying retirement, and I am happy that she is off enjoying life - she deserves it!!!

Last night I talked with another former colleague that I worked with for the first 7 years of my career.  She and I both taught math, and we shared a love of reading.  We were both on facebook talking once again about books and sharing ideas and suggestions.  We are both reading/studying social justice issues right now, and we were sharing knowledge and specifics of Thomas Jefferson in light of our reading. She no longer lives in Atlanta, but this friendship and shared love of books has lasted through time and across states.

Yesterday afternoon one of my closest teacher friends in my district - we worked at 2 different high schools together and started teaching the same year - called me on MS Teams.  We got caught up on our personal lives and shared our pre-planning experiences so far this year at 2 different schools.  Our friendship started with the best story and has grown so much over the past 15 years - I am sure I will dedicate a blog to our journey at some point!  We had touched base over the months of COVID19 quarantine and interact on social media, but is was nice to see her "in person" even virtually.

The first day of pre-planning this week I texted back and forth with my friend who teaches in a neighboring county about what it was like to be back and what our school systems were doing.  There is a fair amount of added stress in her district right now, and I feel so much for her.  I met her through Twitter Math Camp and the twitter network a couple of years ago.  We are both transplants from the midwest, so we have that culture connection along with our passion for teaching math, and I love having friends in different counties in the Atlanta metro area to network with!

Through this past week I have been collaborating with a couple of teachers at my former school that I used to coach.  I connected one of them with my colleague here that is teaching the same content course since and sent an amazing activity on geometric proofs with uno cards.  The other teaches the same course right now, so we have agreed to stay connected and plan together this year.

One night this week on twitter one of my colleagues/friend in North Carolina posted and shared a cool journal writing activity she is giving to check in on and and monitor student well being.  We chatted about that on Twitter, and I thanked her for a book suggestion she gave me over the summer.  We did a zoom meeting to discuss the book "How to be an Anti-Racist" by Ibram Kendi.  We then also shared how our schools were handling this coming school year between different states.  I told her I wanted our department to do a book study together, and she made a great suggestion of "Weapons of Math Destruction" as a first book.  She was also someone I met through the Twitter math network and a conference last summer.  

Our Blaugust coordinator from Oklahoma reached out to me also no Twitter to things I have share in my blogs this week - it was great inspiration to keep blogging, which has also greatly enhanced my week of pre-planning.  It gives me structure to my day, reflection, and purpose in this crazy time.

My two algebra 1 colleagues/friends and I continued our 3-way daily texting throughout the week and all of its events - this kept us sane through the summer, and it has proven to continue to do so.

And lastly, I cannot express enough how therapeutic it has been to be around my colleagues this week even if it is mostly virtual or at a distance with a mask if a couple of us are in a room.  We are all used to being apart in the summers, but this past year was a longer stretch with being home for 2.5 months before summer and not reconvening even at the end of school.  

We are all stressed, crazy busy with little knowledge of what we need to busy with sometimes, worried about the kids and ourselves, but at least we are closer together.  We had all these feels the past few months too, but we were all isolated at home away from each other.  Now at least we can eat outside as long as we social distance (and we do), talk to each other one on one at a distance, and we meet together everyday virtually.  We bonded as a department last semester with two out on sick leave for weeks and having to scramble and then going through COVID19 in a new remote world.  It is nice to be back closer together and know we have each other.  Together we will get through this - together we are better!

So the theme for today is how important all of my professional relationships are to my career my journey of teaching.  This is not a full list, but what an amazing many for even just a week in!  The is absolutely no way I would have made it through this career without the colleagues I have worked and resulting friendships I have made along the way.

As teachers we need these connections, we thrive when connecting to others that share our passions.  I am fortunate to have found many of those connections.  We educate children - that is no easy task, and no one person does that alone with any effectiveness.   It takes us working together within our content area, across content areas, and also connecting on social media; now more than ever our support systems are critical.

To all my friends/colleagues with in the local, state, and national levels - thank you SO much for your collaboration in education, your friendship; this blog is for you.  The energy I derive from working and socializing with you keeps my passion going and enhances my career and my personal life.  

Three other positive things for today -

1.  It's Friday!!!

2.  Talked to my best friend in Minnesota for awhile today!

3.  Today is cat adoption day!!!

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Day 4 - Virtual Pre-Planning

So yesterday I was in virtual meetings from the time I walked in the building until 2pm.  MS Teams/Turnitin, Department, PLC, and Readiness and standardized assessment training; the last one mentioned gets its own blog tomorrow.  

All of these were pretty much back to back, and many of them not productive.  At 2pm I was absolutely brain dead and exhausted.  I tried to pull some planning together for this morning, but I was far too scattered.  Worse, I did not get to go walking at lunch, so at my desk sedentary all day save for bathroom breaks.

The epiphany here is this is our students new reality everyday virtual classes all day long.  They get a 10 minute break between classes and a 45 minute lunch, but still - pretty brutal.  Now I am not saying that I think we should turn the tide - anyone who read my post yesterday would know I support remote learning for safety reasons.  I have always realized the drawbacks, but yesterday I lived them.

Now after walking through this reality I understand our administration's call for fewer/smaller homework assignments and more work during class periods.  I would not have swayed from the request anyway, but I see it now.  

Some things I think are worth considering as we head into this new platform with our students:

1. Make the beginning of class personable.  Conduct a class poll to check in on students and talk about
    results.  My department chair did this yesterday in our meeting, and it was a great ice-breaker.

2.  Keep direct instructional time as interactive as possible - that was what one meeting leader did to 
     keep me engaged in one meeting yesterday.

3.  Keep direct instructional time short - if you need to instruct more, provide a follow up video for 
     them to view on their own at their own pace.  20 minutes is plenty.  

4.  Provide for plenty of group work with reinforcing activities frequently.  In my classroom normally I
     do a lot of learning checks and board share for class analysis, so that being gone - working together 
     with me popping into channels is needed.  MS Teams is a great platform for this.

5.  Allow for stretch breaks if there is direct instruction.

6.  Talk to students about taking a break between school and any work at night at home.  Some will 
      have sports in between, but many will not.  Encourage them to get outside during lunch if possible. 
      They need to be reminded daily for a while until habits form in this new normal.

7.  Have them post or record their thoughts and/or questions somewhere at the end of class.  Another 
     poll for understanding level would be great at this time.  I intend to use virtual name tents, and I
     have a friend in NC who is using online journals.

8.  Checking in through polls, discussion, group work, etc. will keep them invested, engaged, and 
     realizing that their presence as a member of the class is important, wanted, and needed.  It allows for
     an inclusive environment on a learning platform that is designed to work against us all if we do not
     navigate it in productive ways.

Never have we been more challenged more as teachers AND students than we are now.  We cannot bring old practices to this environment, and some of them need to be left behind anyway.  In rising to this challenge we learn as educators right along with the students and hone our craft.  I already realize that there are many things from teaching virtually that I will want to keep, and there are some things that I did before that I am ready to toss.

It's is and will continue to be hard, exhausting, nerve-racking, but I do believe we can find reward in this process as well.  It will take rolling up our sleeves, willingness to be uncomfortable, and allowing ourselves grace in stumbling and rebooting.   

It will also call for us to have that same grace and patients with our students.  They will be absent, they will have internet issues, they will need understanding for what they have to balance with family obligations - some of those very likely to be sickness in this time period.

Patience, kindness, and understanding are critical for all of us as we navigate this new school year.   Be relatable with students and share your struggles and the fact that you understand their stress as you are experiencing it too.  In doing this you appear real and more tangible to them as well as more approachable for what they may need from you.

We are all in this together, and we must band together to get through it.  

Together we are better!

And finally - 3 positive things as I start my day today:

1.  I have most of the day to get work done for my classes.

2.  I have a hair appointment after school - that is always a treat.

3.  My department chair and I had a good talk yesterday afternoon that left me feeling energized about 
     leading the Algebra 1 team.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

COVID19, the New School Year, and Frustrating Realities...

I would like to ask you to take yourself back in time to August of 2019...  Close your eyes and go back there, to the pre-covid days at the start of a new school year.

Now look at this picture below - If I had asked you back then "What do you Notice?  What do you Wonder?" ....  What would you have said?

I am guessing you may have wondered "why are there a few students wearing a face mask?"

Let's forward to now - August 2020 with the same question of what you notice, wonder.  I am guessing for a lot of us, unfortunately not enough of us, would be something like this:  "why are there ONLY a few students wearing masks????"  For teachers - we are definitely asking this question, and the picture is frightening.

What a difference a year makes, and not in a good way.  I long for life before COVID19 like anyone else, but I realize that is gone forever and act accordingly.  I am infuriated with the ignorance we now see in the face of a global pandemic that we still don't know enough about to be making the decisions some people are making.  I grow tired and weary of those in our population who choose only to pay attention to the science that serves our instant gratification and ignore the science that challenges us and makes us uncomfortable.  I am angry as hell at the decision many of us have made to just turn the other cheek and walk away from the patience that mother nature asks of us until she and modern science come to an agreement.

This is a picture of a high school in the suburbs of Atlanta this past Monday on their 1st day of school.  It is not the only high school that went back full face to face, and pictures of this and many others are planted all over the news here and nationally.  As seen here, there is no social distancing and very few students wearing masks even though they are "strongly encouraged" to be doing so.  The hallways are FULL, which means the classrooms are FULL; very few students wearing masks.  Masks are not mandated in Georgia, so there you have it.

This school and many others are serving as a laboratory experiment for what happens when we reach only to our comfort levels, do not let science run the course of discovery/invention and prevention, and open up schools during a global pandemic.  A global pandemic where thousands of people are dying everyday and those who survive are facing long-term, possibly permanent physical effects of this disease.  

What a disgusting thing to do to children, teachers, administration, and other vital staff in the building.  Here's the kicker - what a disgusting thing to do to our population - students go home to loved ones every day.   We fail our whole society on this one.  We fail teachers when we are this careless - they have been made to be expendable teaching in buildings where students are not required to wear masks, and they are not supplied enough protective gear.  We have failed our children by putting them in a situation where they can get sick or die, watch their peers and/or teachers get sick or die, or bring it home to family that could get sick or die. 

And guess what - we have also failed students because we have taught them to be selfish and careless - both socially and with respect to science.  In the words of my biological scientist best friend, mother nature will bite you, science has the propensity to help us with that if we give it the time to do so, but we have to have patience and change our behavior.

We have a real chance with this generation to teach them to be citizens of the world, and as a teacher of this generation, I can honestly say this generation is eager and curious to learn about this world and how to be responsible and caring in it.  Our chance is now, and we cannot just talk at them - we must lead by example.  So many of us are, but conversely and most dangerous is that many of us are not. 

To those of us that do act for the good of all, our hands become tied when we have leaders at the local, state, and national level that do not make responsible decisions for the good of all and in caution of a disease that is constantly changing and adapting new patterns.  Our hands are tied when we have leaders that act only on "preliminary information"  to the charge of children do not get sick as much or that they do not spread disease.  

How do we even know that?  They went out of school at the beginning of this, and they have not been back in school until now.  Around the world the countries who truly flattened the curve and take monetary care to properly protect everyone have been successful reopening schools.  Those that went too early have had disease spread and closed again.  Are we so arrogant that we think we will be different?

It appears we are from this picture, from the school leaders that support the measures for opening the school in this picture and so many others to the government leaders that have not mandated wearing masks.  Also included are the citizens of our country who believe their rights exceed all other facets of everyone's lives.  School leaders and businesses are being asked to make the decisions that government leaders should have.  

How did we get there?  The answer to that has so many stripes - too many to talk about here.

So -

To the parents that stand out with signs and protested for our school leaders to let their students go back to school because they "will be so far behind"  or  "need it for their emotional health":

Will you be proud you held that sign if your child end up on a ventilator in a hospital and you cannot be there with them.  Or if you have to look over your child's casket in worse case scenario?

Will you be proud you held that sign if you have to bury a loved one that gets seriously ill from COVID19 or dies?

Will you be proud that you held that sign if your child's emotional health suffers from the loss of a friend(s) and/or their teacher(s)?

Will you be proud that you held that you held that sign if spread of the virus includes new mutations that render a new vaccine useless and prolongs this pandemic?

Will you care how far behind your child is in school when they are seriously ill or are no longer alive?  

If you can still say "yes" to all of the above questions, then that is your platform, and we can agree to disagree, but at least you hold consistent.  If you say "no" to even one of these questions, YOU are the problem; and there are too many of YOU.

It's not too late to change our path - the question is will we before it's too late.  Do not forget that the right that we ALL do in fact have is to vote in November.  I pray we change course before then.

To all my teacher friends heading back into schools in direct risk - my heart absolutely goes out to you.  I know you will wrap your heart around those kids and teach them because it is what we do.  Stay as safe as you possibly can and know that even those of us who do not have to go back yet have your back and are thinking of you daily.  

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Day 2 Pre-Planning During COVID19 - Feeling Better...

I was actually excited to be in the routine of getting to school this morning.  I had not looked forward to hair and make-up every morning again, but I forgot what a quiet bit of time it gave me to wake up in the morning and sift through my thoughts.  Also - right now with people working remotely in Atlanta, the traffic is a blessing in disguise, so the drive to work is peaceful too.

Lots of virtual meetings yesterday, but it was nice to be on Teams together because we could see each other's faces, relax, and get some laughs in.  Big topic of the day was the grading plan set forth by our district, which is pretty nutty although it does leave room for some needed growth and change.  

One big thing the grading policy during remote allows for is reinforcement of building relationships with students, and I see it as an opportunity to build relationships with parents in a way we have not done before.  Remote platforms allow for easier conferencing and opportunity for "parent office hours" - best of all, that does not have to go away even when we are face to face again someday.  In my early days of teaching when email was still the main source of communication home, I sent weekly parent emails/updates and was the first in my department then to do so.  The parents really appreciated it, and I liked the pro-active communication versus first contact only when there was an issue.  Relationships need to be built immediately in order for trust the grow productively.

Well, desktop updates suggest the day is ramping up with first meetings.  I hear laughter in the hall right now, even more added improvement for today!

Three positive things for today:

1.  The traffic to school is light making the drive easy and peaceful.
2.  I feel like I am in my old routine again - it is like putting on a pair of old pajamas.
3.  I am going to be adopting a new cat this week - more fur baby therapy at home!