Summer comes to an end for me today. It was a summer like no other. There seemed to be little physical rest, even though I have maintained a tight lockdown at my house and canceled so many plans. There was little brain rest despite a nearly empty calendar. The pleasure books on my shelf were mostly untouched, and despite my every intention to unplug, I was online more than ever before.
This summer, I actively worked to make sense of virtual teaching and learning, and I spent hours and hours looking for information, ideas, webinars, and workshops so that I could feel more prepared and confident to turn my brick and mortar classroom into a virtual one. My teacher toolbox overflows with ideas and strategies.
Anxiousness, uncertainty, nervousness. I try to remain calm. I’ll face this challenge.
But so many tools and tips, platforms and PowerPoints, blogs and Bitmojis clog up my browser that I find it more than daunting to decide which few will work best for me, my students, and my subject area. When choosing the tech I will learn and use, I know for sure that I want to stay true to my pedagogy, my beliefs about learning and learners, teaching and teachers. After all, I am the same teacher though the method of delivery has flipped me upside down.
In their book 180 Days, Gallagher and Kittle (2018) begin at the beginning: “Start with Beliefs.” How do our beliefs shape our practice? What matters? The authors recognize that it is hard to “break out of the herd,” but “planning doesn’t start with what and how questions. Planning starts with why.”
When we are stressed, we tend to rely on what is comfortable. We revert to our old ways, even when we previously incorporated a new practice. There is no doubt that this year will bring stress and discomfort. How can we stay true to our beliefs, to what matters, to what we know to be true?
As I create interactive lessons and digital documents, my beliefs become my litmus test. They anchor me as I make decisions about reading and writing, as I prioritize choice in a “pacing guide world”, as I structure synchronous and asynchronous lessons, and as I interact with students, caregivers, and colleagues. My beliefs serve as the foundation for my practice.
What do I know to be true?
- I know that choice equals engagement.
- I know that providing choice is a form of social justice.
- I know that our reading lives matter.
- I know that talk is essential to learning.
- I know that volume does not equal rigor.
- I know that when I serve as facilitator, I create an environment that supports student ownership over learning.
- I know that we all deserve do-overs.
I identified these beliefs a few years ago and wrote them on a sticky note that hangs on the desk I will not use for several months. Now they live on a digital sticky note on my desktop.
What are the philosophical underpinnings that anchor your actions? What do you know to be true about your students and your practice?
Take some time this week to curate a list of a few belief statements that are close to your heart and guide your teaching. Write them down and post them at your workstation.
May they be your anchor. May you remain true to your beliefs even when pulled into the many platforms and PowerPoints, blogs and Bitmojis that distract us from the real center of our work, our students.
Abigail Turley is a 2019 Writing Project fellow. She is beginning her 22nd year as a high school English teacher in the West Chester Area School District, and she works as an independent literacy consultant. Abigail is currently preparing for virtual teaching and learning alongside her husband, also a teacher, and her three children who will be completing 5th grade, 9th grade, and freshman year in college online. In her free time, she enjoys peace and quiet and books. You can connect with her by searching the hashtag #twominutepd on Instagram and by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org