Highlights from our Staffulty Week Preparing for Online Teaching and Learning
by Sheryl Chard, Sofia Center Director
In Hope in the Dark, the writer and cultural thought leader Rebecca Solnit reminds us that the word emergency contains the word emerge—that “from an emergency new things come forth.” This is a hard one to wrestle with when the emergency, for some, is accompanied by loss that cannot be undone, grief that will become abiding. It’s disorienting enough to grasp the current emergency, let alone imagine what might emerge from it as a possibility. And yet, it’s exactly this possibility that we as educators are called to engage right now.
The emergency of COVID-19 has closed the doors of schoolhouses around the world, and we’re left with some essential questions, among them: While we’re learning to work in an entirely new medium that has significant limitations, what possibilities might exist that didn’t before? How might this new way of schooling open up the spaciousness needed to invite our students to engage more deeply with complex questions—a core value of our academic mission? Might a world of online interaction require us to communicate with even greater care and clarity—with colleagues, as well as with students and families? Is it possible that this emergency is an invitation to think carefully about what really matters in an education?
These aren’t questions with easy answers, but inviting them in provides a framing for our current work. Bosque staffulty spent the canceled Winterim week (March 23-27) engaged in learning and planning for moving our highly-immersive and experiential program into an online platform. It was a big lift, one that required teachers to figure out how to translate their phenomenal superpowers of content knowledge, facilitation, and relationship building into a virtual classroom. While the learning curve for all of us has been steep, it was the staffulty’s distributed and shared expertise—core values of a professional learning community—that made our collective learning possible. It was also what brought joy and connection to a week that held a lot of loss.
So what did our learning week look like? Our mornings included division, grade-level, and department meetings where the leaders of those teams led thoughtful conversations about how best to serve our students: How much screen time for a 6th grader versus an 11th grader? How much synchronous learning versus live offerings that students can tap into when possible? How much new content versus a deeper dive into content already begun? How do we ensure equity and access? Late mornings offered a range of staffulty-led sessions including Mr. Middleton leading a tutorial on creative ways to use Screencast-O-Matic; Ms. Beare teaching us how to use EdPuzzle to embed questions into videos; Ms. Bailey sharing her Google Classroom savvy; and open discussion forums focused on how to nurture community and connection in an online setting, strategies for meaningful online assessment, and ways to structure group work when students are working from home. Mr. Bland and Mr. Fike offered a through-line of tech support for all of us, offering multiple tutorials covering Google Classroom tools to the basics of setting up video calls. We built a Google Classroom for our own learning, gathering best resources from around the country.
While a robust digital toolkit is essential for online teaching, so too is teacher wellness. As our faculty and staff were managing working from home and the grief—shared by all of you—of the longer-term school closure, we wanted to offer optional inspiration and wellness sessions that might contribute to our successful navigation of this challenging time. We hosted afternoon online writing and workout sessions (thank you, Ms. Sanchez, Ms. Booth, Dr. Roth!) and Michelle Duval, director of The Mindful Center, offered a virtual mindfulness session for all staffulty. We know that teacher well-being is a critical component in the learning experience of young people, and we’re committed to doing all we can to support our teachers as they continue their essential work with our students.
Driven by their passion to offer meaningful learning experiences and to nurture community connections during this bewildering time, staffulty learning will of course evolve daily as we make our way through the remainder of the school year. And when it seems daunting, the collective belief that something surprising and meaningful—even deep or tender—will emerge from this emergency is part of what inspires. For all of us as educators—even while navigating our personal experiences with the pandemic—our responsibilities just grew to include paying close attention to what can emerge in deeply troubled times. Classroom teachers, specifically, are virtual frontline workers who are retooling their craft to meet the needs of this moment. As education philosopher Maxine Greene wrote in her well-known essay, Teaching as Possibility: A Light in Dark Times, “The light may be uncertain and flickering; but teachers in their lives and works have the remarkable capacity to make it shine in all sorts of corners.” Here’s to our Bosque teachers for their remarkable capacities, their care of our students, and the extraordinary light they shine.