Recently I’ve been having a LOT of conversations with a wide variety of people about what the future holds for us next school year. Parents of incoming kindergarteners want to know what their child’s kindergarten year will be like. Teachers want to plan for what the learning environment will look like. Neighbors have even stopped me while I’m out walking the dog to ask questions about what’s going to happen. The question I’ve been hearing the most is, “When will we be able to get back to normal?”

I understand the concept of the question. Part of our human condition is to be averse to change. Change creates dissonance, and dissonance makes us uncomfortable. But… I think it’s also worth pointing out that dissonance is where learning and growth happens. If we don’t feel a little bit uncomfortable in our learning, we aren’t stretching ourselves.

Earlier this week though, I saw this quote pop up in my Twitter feed:

I think sometimes we must take a moment to reframe the things that people are asking us. Instead of a focus on what we want to get back to, let’s take a moment to reflect on the learning and growth that has happened in this past school year. What are the things that we want to carry on? Here are a few that stand out to me:

1 – The power of the video chat. As we’ve shifted through various modes of learning here in my district, one of the things that has been a constant is the utilization of Zoom in our classrooms for both student learning events and professional learning. Think about what this technology does for us! We can reach out to anyone in the world and bring them into our classroom. Want to talk to the author of your current read-aloud? Reach out and see if you can set up a zoom. What about an astronaut while you’re studying space science? Or maybe you could hold a virtual celebration of learning where students can share their recent writing piece in the classroom while parents can watch it live from home or their work, or later on a recorded version! There are so many possibilities here!

2 – Options for flipped learning. I’ve had conversations with a couple of teachers who have leveraged the use of recorded lessons that students can watch and return to anytime to do the teaching of the minilesson, which frees up additional time in the classroom for conferring or for individual or small group support. An added benefit? Depending on how your students process information best, a live minilesson might be a challenge for some kids. They need to hear things multiple times; they need to stop and think or jot some notes. Having a video allows them to do all of this without a teacher needing to repeat themselves. Also, those videos can be used by students as a review tool later. Worried about the time it takes to record in advance? Record your minilesson live and then post to your learning management system. The benefits of going back to a recording still exist for your students!

3 – The ease of setting up parent meetings. Think back to pre-Covid times. How hard was it to set up a parent meeting? We’d have to email everyone involved to find a time that would work. Parents needed to be able to leave work or home in time to drive to school which probably added at least a half-hour of time on either side of the meeting for parents. Childcare for siblings could be an issue at times, and that would limit options for meeting times. On the other hand, with Zoom (or similar technology), I have set up meetings on the same day, or sometimes even within just a few minutes later to hold the meeting. Parents can hop on zoom from just about wherever they are.

4 – Relationships. Coming into this past school year, one of the things we were most nervous about was how to build relationships in this new environment. Our school district began the year in a virtual learning setting, and we didn’t know if it would be possible to really get to know our kids when they weren’t here at school. To help with this, we took our first two scheduled student days and set up individual zoom calls between the teacher and student. Parents were invited as well. By about lunch time on the first day, I had teacher sharing with me how powerful this was. Think about the beginning of the typical school year. When would you be able to have a 15 minute, uninterrupted conversation with any of your new students? What we have found in teaching this year is that many teachers feel that they have stronger relationships with this year’s class than any other class before. Considering that we had significant chunks of the year where all or some of our students were learning from home, this is amazing! We plan to create opportunities to build those early relationships with students again next school year even though we will hopefully be starting the year in an in-person learning model.

I am sure that other things come to mind for all of you who are reading this now. Instead of wondering so much about getting back to normal, let’s shift that thought and wonder about how we can get to our next reality!

Share with us in the comments below if you have things that you are planning to do differently moving forward. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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