Learning at Home

Supporting home learning is not new to me! When I first started in teaching, a friend and I had the vision of supporting homeschool families with curriculum and resources, support through progress consultations, end-of-the-year program evaluation, and a standardized testing option in conjunction with our school’s administration of standardized testing. We enjoyed meeting new families and working with them to implement successful learning at home. This program lasted several years and successfully supported a group of families that had chosen to educate their children at home.

Much has changed in the years since that time, while technology in education was in it’s (what I would call) in its infancy, we all recognized that over the horizon there would be a variety of options for learning and some would include technology.

Skip forward 20 or so years and here we are. Educational technology has yet to grow up, in my opinion. It’s not only the educational technology but how we use it to teach. As we experienced in the spring, there were many hiccups in delivering instruction through technology. But there were also many successes. Using that knowledge and experience, my goal is to work with students to learn and succeed.

Lessons Learned

For learning anywhere–

Lesson #1: A learning environment is a collaboration between the teacher and the learner. A conversation with each student about what they wanted to learn and accomplish, how they want to learn, what time of day do they think their learning effort would be most successful, and what are their strengths and how could we use that to help them succeed.

Lesson #2: Materials such as a textbook or workbook can provide significant support for each learner. Over the years I’ve implemented my instruction with many different curricula, and while they aren’t all the same, I’ve learned that the best learning comes from the one that is accessible to the student. It’s important for learners to comfortably read and understand the lesson enough to take the risk to apply it to their initial practice. When a learner struggles to read a text, then they will also struggle to learn the concepts and skills. One of the best things to hear is, “I’ve got this!” then I know the student can rely on themselves rather than just me. We will have a much richer conversation about the mathematics they are trying to acquire. An accessible text allows me to provide context and connection, as well as, clarifying and correcting mistaken thinking, and assessing the learner’s level of understanding.

Lesson #3: Technology cannot be a hurdle. Learning is a struggle if you want students to learn deeply. That struggle cannot be with the technology, it needs to be with learning those concepts and skills needed to help learners better understand the world. So deciding on a “lean” infrastructure to communicate is the best.

Learning with Linda: A Sample Scenario

Step 1: A family contacts me and lets me know what their requirements are and we set up a time and a “place” to meet.

Step 2: We meet up and exchange questions and answers. We might talk about materials and times during this meeting. The student might also attend this meeting so they can ask questions also. We will also talk about what technology is available to use. Desktop, laptop, or tablet? Printer?

Step 3: The family would then schedule and pay for the first installment of instruction or tutoring. You will be able to schedule up to a month ahead. If you are scheduling for a unit or a course I will reserve the times you select into the future.

Step 4: The purpose of the first class will be asking questions to help me understand how the student learns, their general attitude toward math, their facility with the technology, etc. We will start with a lesson where we would discuss the routines and responsibilities.

I hesitated to put a sample plan down here, but felt it important for you to see how we were going to create a learning environment for your family. If you have any questions please let me know, I am excited to meet you and get started.

Lessons Learned: Remote Learning (Spring 2020)

As my colleagues and I scrambled to pivot the teaching and learning at our school to online we also had an opportunity to gather some insight about what makes a learner successful.

What we learned was that the most successful students had a strong connection to the teacher and were willing to overcome a measure of frustration with technology in order to make progress. We had students that did not have the support at home, were school resistant, and their connection to staff at school while positive, was not strong enough to overcome the barriers. For those students, we continued to work at making a daily connection to them through check-in phone calls and mailing learning materials home, sometimes with the support of the parents.

We had some students that were able to overcome the technology issues, but were challenged with learning remotely. Staff had a steep learning curve to implement more sophisticated tools like hyperdocs, videos, Google slides, and the use of the app Explain Everything. Again, strong relationships with staff allowed students to persist. In addition, we were quite honest with our students and invited them along for the ride. We did not take ourselves too seriously and worked to enjoy the process of integration which certainly had its ups and downs.

We realized that students would not have the stamina to be online for the six periods of the on-site school day. To that end, we made two 2-hour blocks: one in the morning and one in the afternoon with screen breaks and encouragement to exercise and go outside. We collaborated with our students to identify those courses that they would be most motivated to work on remotely.

The classes were taught asynchronously with the staff available when the students were ready. For the most part students worked on making progress in three to four courses per day and set a routine for themselves. What we did realize was that having a more flexible schedule allowed students to continue more than an hour when the work held their interest. On the other hand, those classes where interest was not as high, spending less time by negotiating a reachable goal helped students continue to make progress.

As I begin teaching independently and online with new students, my checklist is as follows: establish good communication with learners through conversation about how they learn best and families about their expectations; work with the families to estabish routines and baseline access to technology; be conscious about the effects of additional technology on the learning environment; be conscious of technology lag times; and encourage independent learning habits.

Summer 2020: Transition

Once again I am at that place. I no longer feel safe in a building with other teachers and staff, as well as students. The potential of contracting COVID-19 is too great. Last weekend I turned in my keys and emptied my classroom.

Many tears were shed by me, my colleagues, and my administration. As the dust has settled, I started thinking about what is most important to me as a teacher. Mostly, I just want to help. I am a teacher and have come to the conclusion that I will never retire because I will always be looking to help someone learn something new or learning something new myself.

As parents are struggling with decisions about how to keep their children safe and continuing their education, there is a growing pool of certified teachers that are just not ready to give up. Stay safe, yes! Give up, no!

Learners with Gaps: Social/Emotional Perspectives

Classroom management, building an empathetic classroom where all learners are invested in having their classmates learn (empowerment is a powerful idea), developing empathy in yourself so that you can identify early on students that are showing up for class not ready to learn, engaging with those students early on, find a proxy for getting their needs met. Key: early on…the longer you wait, the harder it will be for both you and the young person to forge a tie to success.  For some students it’s humor and for others it’s a private, kind word. Letting them know how important their success is to you, that they can do it (you believe in them), failure is how we learn and that you have failed (and learned from your experience).

Classroom management (did I already say that?) Never waste your students’ time, make that first 5 minutes count AND make the last 5 minutes count. Attend to fairness and justice for each student and all of the students. Be willing to admit you’re wrong and then work through with the students what your goal was and how better to achieve it. Value their feedback will model them valuing your feedback. Then stick to it.

Find mentors that will lift you up and encourage you to persevere. Try not to engage in complaining about students for the sake of getting things “off your chest.” I find that describing behavior in the hopes of generating some problem solving solutions is much more restorative and helps avoid feeling defeated.If you want your students to persevere then you will have to not give up on them. Always put the responsibility back in their court. You may design another strategy for them to succeed, but ultimately it’s their responsibility.

Major learning gaps needs major support, not an easy thing to do and is very individual. I like to try to find the tool that levels the playing field (sometimes that’s very hard to identify). Also know as breaking down barriers to learning.

Focus on engagement. Engagement and classroom management may be related inversely.  High levels of engagement in your learners lowers the level of classroom management needed.

Learn a little about trauma and its impact on students and learning. Learn a little bit about executive function skills and social/emotional skills and try to inject a few of them into the culture of your class. You would be surprised at how much success can be gained by helping a student get organized or making some suggestions about how to handle frustrations in a more normative way.

Unlearning and Re-learning

I’ve turned a page…my work as a school principal has come to an end.  And so now I can begin to write the next chapter…

My hope is that I can share what I’ve learned, what I am learning, and that it’s helpful, practical, and most importantly stirs some excitement in the possibilities and opportunities for each one of you.  From time to time I might have an opinion about something.  There are a couple of interesting projects going on in our old houses which are worth sharing, especially the ins and outs of renovation and restoration.  Finally having the time to write is such a huge blessing.  Writing on top of 50-60+ hour weeks really never worked out for me.

It’s time for a change of perspective.  I have always enjoyed learning and using learning to excite other learners and I think that’s what I am going to share with you.  Whether I was drawing some concepts in math so that a learner could visualize an idea better or working with teachers or administrators on a problem to solve or structure to develop, this was what was the exciting and enriching part of what I did.  It may take awhile to settle down and create focus, though.

What does that have to do with unlearning and re-learning?  The term “learn, unlearn, and relearn,” comes from a quote from Alvin Toffler specifically about creating new possibilities in education, that was reiterated in a video I watched recently where Carol Dweck was talking about the “growth mindset” and perspective-changing in education.  Her point was that in order to provide our learners with a relevant educational experience that they were willing to be high engaged in, it was necessary for educators to unlearn those ideas that we hang on to about how to teach (which is mainly how we were taught) while reflectively learning and relearning new and old strategies and ways to develop a learning environment that invites optimal learning.

Since I started school at the end of the 1950s, my teaching career has stretched me far beyond many of the strategies that were used to teach me.  But I also realize that there were very many things that kept me engaged in school and helped me maintain a lifetime love of learning.

During the 1960s and 1970s a generation of women, including me, came into adulthood by engaging in the workplace rather than choosing to remain in the home.  The thought that women can do it all and have it all was the “marching orders” of the day.  There is much to unlearn and relearn in reflecting on the angst that filled me when faced with not “bringing home a paycheck.”  I have happened upon some writers that have thought deeply about this topic and their perspectives have provided an opportunity for some rich thought.

Finally, there is this river of the 21st century that is full technology solutions including communication that is tremendously meaningful to learning and learners.  Much of my career has been about driving technology solutions for education.  It just seems to make sense that there is more work to do.



From Students to Learners

In February I left a position that had been close to my heart for about 10 years. Beginning as a teacher and then becoming principal I worked with court-involved youth order to a  residential crisis-stabilization facility on a temporary basis (less than 60 days), where youth were supposed to re-gain control of their lives. The young people who came to us were invariably suffering from traumatic stress.  Many of them experiencing ongoing, long-term trauma.  

The education team’s job was to support crisis-stabilization and to maintain the education of youth.

While that may not sound “close to anyone’s heart,” children struggling to make sense of their lives, understand their choices as well as other’s choices (parents, siblings, etc.), and put their circumstances in context, was challenging.  Helping them gain perspective, gain control of their lives, and begin to make choices to improve–challenged us all.  There were some days when your heart wrenched for the angst, expressed anger, and our futile attempts to truly help a youth.  

My hope would be to continue to find ways to advocate for students that struggle so that they may become “learners.” My hope is that I can provide some insight for educators who want to reach and help those students that struggle succeed.  Why is that so challenging–because these are the students that challenge us with their defiance, non-compliance, absenteeism, and eventually truancy.

I have been a witness to these challenging youth transforming themselves into successful learners so that when returning to public education many were able to transfer the skills and mindset developed in our education program back into school providing these students (now learners) to successfully re-engage in education.