As I’m writing this, our country is on fire, literally and figuratively, in numerous ways. At every moment, we are faced with critical choices — how we collect and process the onslaught of information and images, how we respond or are silent, how we act or do not. Many of us have experienced the paring down of priorities. As the pandemic took root, the health and safety of our families, our students, and larger communities were at the forefront. We also saw clear evidence that racial groups were not impacted evenly by Covid 19, due to systemic issues like unequal access to healthcare and environmental conditions, including the likelihood of living in a high-density area and/or doing essential work, availability of paid sick leave, and other factors. This virus is new; these issues are not. Concurrently, we saw repeated examples of Black Americans’ lives being threatened and taken in rapid succession; this is also tragically familiar. It’s clear that health and safety are not now, and never have been, equally attainable goals for all. Some of us are experiencing the dangers of heightened health risks, protests with violent reactions, the militarization of the police, and the empowerment of vigilante groups as a shocking upset of our equilibrium. For others, safety in public spaces could never be taken for granted, due to race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation or gender presentation, disability, or other factors.
Connection with others has remained a priority for most of us, but we might find ourselves looking through an altered lens, reevaluating which of our connections and groups seem relevant in this time and space.
With whom do we need to connect more frequently or deeply?
Are there family members, friends, or acquaintances we need to distance ourselves from?
How do these acts of addition and subtraction change us?
The National Writing Project (NWP) and the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP) have long been sources of learning, support, and growth for many of us. With the pandemic, most if not all NWP sites have had to make adjustments. As was the case for many groups, our transition was quick and non-negotiable. When West Chester University closed the campus in March, our face-to-face activities came to a halt. A 40th anniversary celebration was put on hold. Thoughtful and sometimes painful decisions were made as to which programming would transfer well to an online format, and what to pick up again next summer.
Our monthly children’s book writing group, which had been meeting face-to-face, now meets via Zoom and has decided to continue meeting over the summer, which we have not done in the past. Facilitated by Dana Kramaroff and Matt Bloome, this group contains an eclectic group of writers who focus on different age groups, genres, and formats. As NWP people know, roots grow deeply in a writers’ group. This time and space, on the first Saturday of the month, provides opportunities to share vulnerability, challenges, questions, and strategies. We celebrate each others’ efforts, big and small.
On the third Saturday of the month, we have our Social Justice/Anti-Bias Study Group, which has also moved to Zoom. In this group, facilitated by Liz Mathews, we read a variety of texts with social justice themes, co-construct meaning, share personal connections, and work towards turning our learning and thinking into action. We will also continue to meet during the summer, and would be interested in hearing from other sites that might have similar groups.
In recent posts at this blog, several colleagues have shared how they have created or maintained authentic communities within the constraints and opportunities afforded by online learning. In a recent “Write Now” newsletter, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl shared “Resources for Justice and Peace” here. We encourage our readers to peruse these resources and share additional ones, from other valued professional and collegial communities, as well as their own inquiry.
We don’t know what the new school year will look and feel like.
What will change because it has to? What will change because it should? What will remain the same?
What will our agency as educators be in participating in these decisions?
How will our identities as teachers change? What core values or practices will remain, even if the logistics are different?
Maybe more important than where will we be is who will we be? How will we respond to the curriculum of the present, and the past that led to it?
What other questions are you reflecting on? We invite you to share your thoughts.
Janice Ewing has been a reading specialist and literacy coach, and an adjunct instructor in the Reading Specialist Program at Cabrini University. She is currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project. She also values her memberships and participation in ILA, KSLA, NCTE, PCTELA and CEL. She and her colleague, Mary Buckelew, are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).