A Remote Reflection (b)for Hiatus
Updated: Jun 24, 2020
Hey family, friends, and readers! This entry has taken me longer than I anticipated. My original draft was suppose to be a continuation of my last entry, but then COVID-19 happened. My next draft was about my experience with COVID-19 teaching and learning, then our country racially broke open. So this final version is influenced by personal goals I set for myself, my experience with Remote Learning, and reflecting about race and culture in our public school system. I will try not to restate what I said with my interview with Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu from 5/8/20, but I might have to say a few things a bit louder for those in the back.
(CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! CLAP!)
Marked the final calendar day of school year 2019 thru 2020 for Boston Public Schools (BPS) and it was so...damn... necessary. These last few months have become an exercise in diminishing returns for all the work I was putting-in. I would have less students attending my Virtual Lessons and completing less of my online assignments ever week, and it pained me. I blamed myself, a lot, thinking perhaps I did not build as tight of a classroom community as I thought I did. Thinking perhaps I am not considering the inequities my students are facing and how I could be stressing them. Thinking how can I treat Remote Learning as a teachable moment when no one wants it. While all of my thinking could be true, the truest reality is that my students had needs entering Remote Learning and BPS's goal was to meet them all. It is amazing to consider all the meals offered (and will continued to be offered over the summer), laptops and internet hot-spots delivered to families, phone calls and emails made to parents and guardians, all the student support meetings I've been in, and the headache inducing legal problem-solving regarding grading and individualized educational plans.
I agreed with the decision for no-harm grading, but telling students they were all being promoted to the next grade had some unintended consequences. Some students, rightfully, assumed promotion meant they would get credit in all their classes because that is what students have been told gets you a grade promotion. Some students decided to stop engaging during Remote Learning and breath a little easier knowing they would be promoted. That is when I realize that the disruption of COVID-19 put public education in a state of emergency and our public school system attempted to make it a state of interruption.
You are suppose to perform triage in an emergency. Education's triage is to put Maslow's hierarchy of needs into play, but our Commissioners, our Superintendents, our Principals, and our content leaders did not find a way to consider the integration of "Esteem" and "Self-Actualization" into our academics. I did not consider their integration and I am embarrassed. I am embarrassed because I claim to be a student-centered educator, yet I did not consider how each of my students' esteems could have been affected during this emergency. I did not deeply consider what the correct decisions were once a student was not in an emergency. I did not consider how small my math class was to the racial disparities of COVID-19 cases and deaths, to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Flloyd, Rayshard Brooks, potential lynchings, and to the Amy Cooper/racists practices and structures that are in our public schools.
Who is and what is next depends on us. The public education system has been a reactive system for too long, and all stakeholders need to think and act proactively. We need to reconsider how we laud high schools who have high college acceptance rates or claim to be college preparatory, and stop using college as our main goal. COVID-19 and Remote Learning has placed public education (and honestly all types and levels of education) in a position of forced innovation and pushed schools to think what content is essential. How are we capturing that innovation and driving our public education system forward is on all of us because we are all stakeholders. How are you capturing this moment? I have decided to capture this moment through two themes that will drive what I research, teach, advocate for, and celebrate this summer into the rest of my teaching career: Community and content.
Community & content
I have had many experiences during Remote Learning that kept reinforcing the themes of community and content. From working with Educators for Excellence on their "District Action Team," facilitating a small group discussion on "Racism and Implicit Bias" with WGBH Education over zoom with educators from all over the Massachusetts, to the courageous and uncomfortable conversations my entire school staff is having about systemic racism. I was also required to take a mandatory minimum of 5 hours of professional development to support my implementation of Remote Learning. Along the way, the conversations with my wife and friends, the protests, the holidays (Loving Day and Juneteenth), and various podcasts I listened to have also reinforced those themes. Below are my thoughts on who and what we do next for each theme.
All the intentional work I did to build community in my classroom did not translate to an online teaching and learning environment. The classroom not only provides formal opportunities for teachers and students to exchange knowledge, but also informal opportunities for teachers and students to get to know each other. Those moments students have in the hallway before entering a classroom, those moments when students do not want to go to lunch and rather chill with each other or with a teacher in a classroom, and those moment of intuitive teacher responses (from reading a student's body language and tone of voice) and classroom banter were all gone. When Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu asked me what should schools feel like when we safely go back, I said it should feel like everyone is cared for, like everyone is supported. We can do that by having the experiences that push us to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Teachers need to have sustain discussions with each other and their unions about race, implicit bias, and cultural responsive teaching. Districts need to support teachers in having those conversations across their district and need to lead the charge in supporting more SEL integration in schools that is not an add-on, but woven into the fabric of the school's values and norms. States need to think how can we build cross-district communities to have discussions and learn from each other, instead of tracking our data differences and labeling us to compete with each other. Massachusetts has many districts were the majority of its students are people of color, and has many more districts were the majority of its students are white. Many mostly white school districts have chosen to avoid the necessary conversations about race, implicit bias, and cultural responsive teaching because it is 'uncomfortable', allowing their mostly white students and staff to remain uninformed about those issues and the nuances of microaggressions. BPS is only marginally better because we can't avoid race as we see it everyday given our student body, but we avoid having the deeper conversations that challenge us to do the necessary work for our students. Public education operates in successive concentric circles of communities (classroom level, grade level, school level, district level, county level, and state level) and we need to have the necessary uncomfortable conversations at all levels because our country needs those conversations. Our country needs to genuinely change.
Some of the strongest communities we are a part of, are the ones that invite us to be vulnerable. You witness this with your close friends, with your partner, and we should witness this with our schools. If you know a teacher who leads their classroom community by fear, call them in, because they can not build a community that invites vulnerability if students are scared. Imagine what our public school system, our cities, our country would be like if we all became comfortable with being uncomfortable to do what is necessary. To do what is overdue.
I think it is necessary to think about what courses and content students need to be knowledgable, engaged, and competent citizens in this country. It is often stated that our schools are not very different from what schools were 50 years ago, but that has really focused on the physical appearance and classroom set-up of schools. What about the content? Does the current high school course sequence truly reflect the current world our students live in? Is US History 1, US History 2, World History 1, then World History 2 an appropriate modern sequence? Why not reshape our course to be more thematic rather than linear? Perhaps a sequence like History thru the Lens of Ethics and Symbolism, History thru the Lens of Wars and Protests, and History thru the Lens of Race and Law would be more appropriate. Is Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus an appropriate modern sequence? Perhaps a sequence of Measurement (like areas and missing sides or angles) and Data (like two-way tables and scatterplots), Functions (like variables functions that represent word contexts and systems of equations) and Equations (like linear and polynomials), Representations (like infographics and blue prints) and Relationships (like coordinate planes and scatterplots), and Limitations (like end-behavior and limits) and Predictions (like conditional probability and expected value) would be more appropriate. I certainly do not have all the answers, but I think we are in a space to at least discuss what a modern course sequence should be. If you are in the camp of, well I learned things the way it currently is and I turned out fine. I say, what if you could have been better?
Public education should be pushing innovation up towards colleges and universities, and this movement needs to start with teachers. Galileo was persecuted for stating that the Earth revolves around the Sun because the Catholic Church's dogma at the time stated it was the other way around. Galileo was right. I think our public schools, especially secondary schools, is the Sun that colleges and universities revolve around. Our State Districts are the Catholic Church in this analogy. I'm not asking teachers to be Galileo, but I am asking us to be Copernicus and to lay the iterative groundwork for tomorrow.
I will begin a social media (outside of a few selective podcasts) hiatus thru July 6th. As I reflect on what is next for myself and for my students, I need to take some time to recharge, clear my mind, and massage my spirit. There is so much challenging and beautiful work that I want and need to be do next. But for now, I will spend some time reading a few comics, celebrating my wedding anniversary, rewatching Avatar the Last Airbender, some Marble racing (by Jelle's), and exercising.
When I am back, I welcome you to join me in being the change we have sought.
With Love, Laughter, and Social-Emotional Sweat,
PS: I also recorded a little something for my schools Virtual Talent Show, so here is a treat for reading my blog