BLOG POST BY PTAC MEMBER COLLEEN REINER
I got a reminder on my pop-up calendar yesterday. It was letting me know that one of my students was having a birthday. I thought about the birthday box that I usually fill with markers, treats, pencils, and a few other items. We all sit around while I present the birthday box and we sing “happy birthday.” It is something that my students look forward to, that special recognition of a milestone in their life.
I have been so busy trying to get everything set up for online learning that I completely forgot his birthday! The birthday box and supplies are locked at school. Even if I had remembered, the birthday box wasn’t going to happen. The box itself and all of my birthday supplies were at school.
I know how important a birthday is to a child. It is almost as important as their name itself. An idea came to me as I was fretting about this child having to celebrate his birthday, isolated at his house, without any friends or classmates. I went on to our class SeeSaw and put a call-out to his classmates. I asked them to make cards and videos and post them to this young man. Being the administrator of the account, I was able to see all the posts. Some were homemade cards while others were videos by themselves, with pets, or with a sibling. I wouldn’t call this relationship building because their relationships started on the first day of school. It was more relationship strengthening.
Today, I watched a post by this boy. He wanted to thank all his friends for their cards, videos, and well wishes. “And yes,” he said, “I watched every one of them.” He said this with a great big, ear-to-ear, smile as I, myself, had tears in my eyes.
In this time of uncertainty, we are bumbling around trying to make sense of everything, trying to gain power over something we have no power over. We are trying to scour the internet for ideas to teach our students online and help them get the education that they need. What we should really be doing is looking at our children and asking ourselves, “What do my students need socially and emotionally? How can I help their mental health through this crisis?” Our students are experiencing death. It is death of school as they know it. It is death of the predictability of school. It is death of their school relationships. This is really traumatizing, especially to our younger learners who have no idea what is going on. To have their school close indefinitely may add stress to what some children are already dealing with at home. We need to provide opportunities to process this and move through it instead of just brushing it under the rug.
I have attended many meetings over the past few weeks. One thing is clear. We need to continue to maintain relationships with these children. I miss my students terribly and know that they miss me. I try to connect with them through email, messaging, videos on SeeSaw, and occasional Zoom meetings. I am realizing now that there is another relationship that we need to continue to nurture. It is the peer-to-peer relationship. Because of social distancing children are discouraged from play dates. Some have parents who are still working and are being ‘supervised’ by older siblings. Some of my students live in town while others live in the rural farmlands of our district. They can’t easily just talk to each other in their neighborhood and maintain a 6-foot distance between them. We are social animals and want to gather together to talk, play, and know that each of us is ok. How can we give our students the opportunity to do this?
It is hard to come up with ideas that are student to student centered. I include time in a video chat to check in with each, and every, student. I also give time for my learners to chat with each other when we are together. I encourage them to include others on their videos and posts in See Saw. I am also thinking of working on some collaborative lessons in which they will need to work together virtually.
The events in these few short months have certainly made us stop. The roadblock has been put in the road of how we know education to be. It is up to us to carve out that detour with ingenuity, creativity, passion, and perseverance that teachers possess. Priorities will change. Delivery systems will change. Education will change. But that relationship that we build with our students, and between our students will always remain steady.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee