August 6, 2020

Not Where or What, but Whom

This upcoming school year will begin like none other in the memory of anyone alive today. Some classroom teachers are preparing to try their hands at another potentially-trying round of distance learning, while others have been told by school boards to be ready for in-person instruction. Among those physically returning to classrooms, some will go in full-time to an environment that may roughly resemble what they left behind last spring. But most will encounter one degree or another of COVID-related alteration – i.e., trying to provide engaging, relevant instruction from behind a face shield, continually reminding kids to comply with mask and social distancing rules, juggling “blended classroom” intricacies, etc. Even homeschool parent-teachers will feel the pinch of coronavirus as they wrestle with myriad changes to or cancellations of their kids’ community-based activities and events.

As a former classroom teacher, recently “retired” homeschool educator, and concerned community member, I’ve been thinking a lot about educators. I read their anxious social media posts. I see the sadness in their eyes when we talk in person. And I am greatly grieved for them all: the chemistry teacher pondering how to engage his students in video simulation labs; the new kindergarten teacher who can’t display brightly-colored posters or dole out reassuring hugs; the ELL teacher who knows his low-income students can’t access online instruction; the homeschooling mom whose gifted gymnast daughter has to choose between the danger of completing intense workouts in a mask or skipping the season entirely.

Virus-related realities threaten to pluck the wind from our sails and steal our joy.

I don’t have an easy remedy, and I don’t want to offer up tired clich├ęs. But as I think about all of this, one word resonates.

Relationship.

Why did you first choose to go into teaching? What motivated you to educate your children at home? For the vast majority, the answer to those questions boils down to relationship – i.e., a desire to connect so well with young people that we can influence their hearts and minds in a positive way. The key is in the connecting. In the relationships.

Truth be told, content delivery will probably “suffer” this year; most kids simply won’t learn as much or as well as before. But they can – and will – “catch up” later…if we keep our focus where it ultimately belongs, which is on our relationships with them. When children and teens know we value them as uniquely-designed human beings, they can weather cultural storms. When they see that we’ll listen – really listen – their stress decreases and their openness to new learning improves. When they understand that we’ll prioritize them over a math lesson, they’ll be more able to try again another day.

It won’t be easy, but, as you start this new, unprecedented year, aim to keep your eye on that which really matters – not your instructional environment or even what you’re trying to teach, but whom.

 CK

Photo Credit: Nenad Stojkovic

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