BLOG POST BY PTAC MEMBER KAREN GENNARO
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” So begins L.P. Hartley’s 1953 novel The Go-Between. I lingered on this famous first line while walking amid the windy and vast uncertainty of last March. When Covid 19 began to spread last year, it forced an abrupt closure of our schools. Overnight, what was - was no longer. Since then, Hartley’s words have served as an affirmation of sorts - a reminder that we all travel through time as we move toward new destinations, and we carry things along.
Where are we going?
The early days of the closure were laden with an indescribable sense of urgency and a longing for clarity and stability. Ensuring the continued presence of a daily walk became my first step along an arduous journey, one that precipitated the need for persistent strenuous laborious action along with profound mental focus.
As a kindergarten teacher, I believe physical movement serves as fuel to ignite the brightness of inspiration and unite it with the starkness of analysis, and the revelations born of reflection. Walking induces actionable ideas to emerge and percolate freely through confirmed pedagogical beliefs. Conclusions are considered; solutions arise. Refined ideas are propelled forward, and, in so doing, confirm the next instructional steps and opportunities for collegial collaboration. Walking served to distance nervous thoughts from unwavering professional obligations- a way to gain mental momentum. The walk became a mainstay along the search for stability, replacing part of the lost structure of what was once the school day.
What must we leave behind?
Fear can truncate creativity and imagination. Fear replaces them with a recoiling sense of ‘nope’. A lack of hope and inconsistent opportunity contributes to a rising sense of fear and overwhelming dread. Phillip Schlechty’s work informed my decision to support and provide pathways for families and children to remain engaged with school in order to regulate, relate, and reason together until we reached a safe harbor. So began a deliberate search for ways to coax calm and to refresh collective purpose.
What must be maintained?
We need to preserve the active learning community that is school. We are critical go-betweens for young children and their families. We guide them from the known toward the new. We must support, strengthen and nurture our inclusive collective resolve to go forward together by ensuring there are links to school. If we do this, we can move away from the irons of indecision, uncertainty, and fear that threaten the integrity of our safe passage. Then, we can offer the critical continuity and stability young families need.
So, in those first days of the closure, I contacted my student’s families. Every morning I set up a series of short simple video lessons based on our school work to offer parents, children, and caregivers a link to kindergarten. This included key elements of our regular routine: calendar time, our songs, our Bear playing with math and working on problems, and a storytime. Notifications of these small videos arrived in family inboxes through an existing digital community posting app that all of the families regularly accessed.
Almost immediately responses returned. The children recorded themselves talking to our classroom Bear. They asked when the next posts would come along. Every morning I forwarded the next videos and learning experiences; every afternoon I responded to the children and families. In the evenings, check-in-and-chat phone calls with parents offered a place to stay connected to our kindergarten community.
Eventually, Google-Meet touch-points on different days and at different times allowed small groups of parents and of children to share thoughts, worries, and stories.
These were simple yet meaningful initial attempts to stay connected - this became our Go-Between school. In it, we found some comfort and stability. We found time to strengthen our resolve to forge ahead. Soon enough, though, we were to learn that we would stay at home for the remainder of the school year. And, the District took over. They established the platform. They linked us all to their plan.
What must we take along?
If the past really is a foreign country, as Hartley affirms, perhaps our navigation of this expansive Covid-void will bring about opportunities for educators to consider essential scholarly and pragmatic questions about the future of education. We need to carry critical questions along this journey. Here are just a few that I am taking with me: which substantive teaching and learning presences must survive and thrive? Which decisions about teaching and learning in kindergarten should be recalibrated? Without teacher efficacy, how will history and the essential and innovative teaching practices of a true kindergarten coalesce? How best can we serve? How can we link arms to forge equitable pathways forward?
What educators take along this journey away from the past will truly define the next iteration of public education. Along the way there is school. School endures. May Sarton, the Belgian-American poet said, “It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard.”
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee