Announcer:

This podcast is produced by Benchmark Education.

Kevin Carlson:

When it comes to online teaching, it's not about perfection. It's about connection, and your preparation for teaching online is not about pretty schedules. It's about being creative and offering both structure and flexibility. I'm Kevin Carlson and this is Teachers Talk Shop.

Julie Wright:

The biggest thing I've learned is something that I feel like it's foundational practice in the classroom is that choice really now matters more than ever.

Kevin Carlson:

Julie Wright is a teacher, instructional coach, educational consultant, and author. She matches her pedagogical beliefs to her practices, and she helps teachers plan curriculum and instruction that meets students collective and individual needs. Her most recent book is, What Are You Grouping For? Recently, she spoke with educator and author Patty McGee.

Patty McGee:

Conversation today is all about the distance learning and trying to keep it simple and being able to, you know, not be perfect at what we're doing, but to reflect and think about what we're setting up for students and how we're creating these distance learning spaces, but also creating that connection. So, you know, any trials and missteps, what have you seen works and what hasn't?

Julie Wright:

I'm still lingering on your words about simplicity. I feel like, I don't know if any of us have figured this out yet. You know, I think that the honesty that's coming to the forefront is just pretty amazing about us being humans. I know you and I have talked about that in other conversations, and the teachers that I'm talking about, talking with do the same, which I think is such a really great thing right now and not trying to have all the answers. I'm thinking about my own kids first, because right now I feel like that's one of my main focus areas, and I've been trying really hard. I'm not sure if I've been successful. I think there are days I feel like I am and others where I'm wondering about trying to remember to ask them what they need. I think that I started this whole thing thinking it was temporary and I created schedules and I made all these decisions and asking them, you know, like, what do you need? And in doing that earlier rather than later mostly because I was like listening to them, and it wasn't always their words. It was their actions and their body language, trying to run around being super everything to everyone to make everything okay, because we want to control things.

Kevin Carlson:

One of the most important things Julie discovered about planning during remote learning was also one of the most basic. That's coming up after the break.

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Looking for more information about distance learning? Benchmark Education has created resources to support teachers, students, and their families. All developed specifically with remote teaching and learning in mind. Learn more at benchmarkeducation.com.

Julie Wright:

I feel like the biggest thing I've learned is something that I, like, I feel like it's foundational practice in the classroom is that choice really now matters more than ever. Because kids don't always understand all the things and all the changes that are coming at, or maybe they understand too much. I mean, that's the other thing, right, depending. So, like choice in where you work and choice in how you work, and assuming that there are parameters that have been set up by schools that allow for that, which I feel like everyone I've talked to there's so much flexibility in it, which is a good thing.

You know, I had these scheduled breaks for my kids and then they were like, what? You want us to what? Well, it was like I worked so hard at it. So I think that, you know, like now they have figured it out and we have some, like, parameters around it. But like them being able to say and sometimes it depends on their mood, right? A day brings about different things based on how they're feeling and what the weather's like. So, yeah, I laugh about it. You know, I thought I was so savvy and, like, getting everyone out of the family room for one of my kids because he had to sing for a choir class and he ended up, didn't like any of the things I had set up for him. And it didn't work for him. And the dog was bugging him, and he figured out, I want to go to your car and set up my own music studio without the car running, but I'll be by myself. And that has worked every week, which is, I would never have come up with that. You know, those are the kind of sweet spots, I guess.

Patty McGee:

Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, some bigger conclusions that we can draw from that story are: One, that when we try something, it might not work. And two, maybe it's not wise to just keep plugging away at something that isn't working and get creative with something that is or that might. And by asking, well, what do you need in order for this to happen? So I think those were the things that you were saying.

Julie Wright:

I agree, and I had to, like, as a parent, let alone an educator, I had to decide, is this convenient for me? Is that why I'm making a decision? You know, I think I get some of that, too. And sometimes you have to, like, have a parameter because five people meet on high speed Wi-Fi at once, you know, around here, whatever. And other times we can be just flexible. And I think that's the key is like taking like a moment and like breathing a little bit and, you know, being good to ourselves. And, you know, moving aside sometimes.

Patty McGee:

Let's start to like move into some simple things that we can do to support this distance learning. And I have to say that I've noticed a big difference with my daughter in distance learning now that she has had some video check-ins with her teachers. And I just feel so much for the teachers that have young children and especially a few young children at home. And in that time, I think it's become really evident that when they do check in with my daughter that they just take a couple of minutes, they schedule the time and they're just saying hello. Often, they have their kids on their laps or they're doing other things at the same time. But something as simple as that has made a really big difference. I know that we can't always do that depending on the tech that's at hand, but that's one really simple move that I found is made a world of difference.

Julie Wright:

Yeah, I would I would agree with you. My kids just have had a change. They've had multiple phases of this in our, my kids school district, as have some districts that I've supported. It's been interesting. And they're calling it phases or stages and none of it really mirrors exactly. It's all about the environment and what they have available and what kind of things that they want to accomplish and how long is this lasting and, you know, all these decisions that go into it. And I think that when my kids have had a chance to check in with people too, you see a difference. And they also see teachers as, not that they don't see teachers as real in the front of a classroom or at the side of the classroom with a small group or from there. But there is a reality. My kids’ favorite thing is learning about their teachers at home.

You know, we learned this week that one of my kids’ teachers has three kids under 3. You know, my son knew that she had three kids, but he didn't know they were under 3. And that's, changes your perspective a little bit about what they're, I think, well, when I can't juggle everything, I'll just channel that to Jerry because I don't have three under 3. I have three but they're not under 3. You know, I've noticed a big difference with my kids when teachers check in and say, how are you doing? Can you rate yourself? How do you feel right now compared to yesterday? And then, like, what do you need? I think that's a significant question. Is there anything you need from me? Is there anything you need from home? And that's a lot of data for people to sort through. And there's a lot of, you know, can they respond to all of that, but I think the simple task of figuring out ways to ask or to notice is really important.

Kevin Carlson:

After the break, Patty and Julie share some simple ways to make instruction more effective while teaching remotely.

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Patty McGee:

Let's get really practical now in terms of just some really simple ways to make distance learning more effective, I guess. And we were talking about it being both structured and flexible. When we were preparing for this conversation, one of the things that you brought up that I think everyone would really benefit from hearing is the concept of like, the planning time.

Julie Wright:

Yeah. You and I, I don't even know how we got on that topic. Maybe that's a question that we were posing each other. But we had a great conversation around just this idea of like, how do you, if you used to plan in units, how do you still hold true to this like connected learning and tissue and the threads that go through? And how do you make it so that kids feel that, you know, because you don't have that same structure going on? And so some of the teachers that I've been working with, and I'm not suggesting we have figured it out, we're not standing on a mountaintop and saying, oh my gosh, this is, do this because there's not one way to do it. But something that feels like it's working is planning in one and two week chunks. And that can mean lots of different things for people. But, you know, saying to kids this week, we're going to try to go after whatever that thing is. And here are the series of learning opportunities. Here are the must do's. Here are the can do's. Here might be a menu of choices. You know, some teachers and I, we made a misstep. We gave kids all these choices because we thought choice was good. And then we learned by kids either telling us or by the work, that it was too many choices. So now we're sizing down our choices because we're not there to support them.

So, you know, some of those kinds of things, the types of choices that we give them before we plan to say, does this feel like a three-day kind of thing or a five-day kind of thing and trying to be in the shoes of kids. One little thing that I did with a teacher yesterday, which I, you know, we were both like, oh, we should've been doing that two weeks ago as we planned a little learning progression. And then we and I know the kids in her class. So we each picked like two kids and we said, how are they going to wrestle with this? How do we envision them? And it helped us change our plans a little bit because we channeled specific kids for one reason or another. So, that might help.

Patty McGee:

Yeah, definitely. And once I think about what I want students to do across a week or across two weeks, I wanted to keep it really simple in terms of like we only need a certain amount of materials. We need books and we need pencil and paper. Right? Where the simplicity also is in like eliminating worksheets and kind of like task-y things, and in turn, think about how we can support true and authentic writing and reading at home. And when, you know, in a world where schedules come out, like we just talked about before, that are all color coded and we find they're not working, I think we can eliminate that and just really think about what are the things that we can show kids in some way, whether through video or through sharing a strategy of some sort, that really will contribute to authentic reading and authentic writing.

Julie Wright:

We say process over end product. But in this time, process matters so very much. There's a teacher extraordinaire out west who is trying to figure out how kids can study their neighborhood without like being in stores and things. And then, you know, she's gonna go after process of like the products that they create, the process is going to matter more than the end product. And so we did a bunch of noodling around the types of really easy things you can do. And she's just beginning her journey with this little study. Things you can do, you know, with a clipboard and with a piece paper and how you can show what you've learned in your thinking. So, I think that's really important.

The other thing that I think is a really good tip is the idea of like trying it on yourself first, you know, create that model for kids, study right alongside of them. My kids and I, my two boys here at home where we're in a little book club, a reading and writing book club together. And at first they didn't care for it, but when they realized I was doing the work too, we each have our own writer's notebook. We each have our own book. We have our book stacks. And I think that they saw the investment there that like, okay, she's not just making us do it, we're doing it together. And I think that goes a long way with kids.

Patty McGee:

Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think that's one of those things that we were talking about this as we were preparing for this conversation, but we're noticing that things that are really important in the physical classroom setting like us modeling our own thinking, us sharing our own pieces, like I have just a few like right next to me, as a matter of fact, of the things that I've done as I've created those for distance learning. But that's strong teaching whether at a distance or, you know, sitting side by side. And really, you know, when we think about it, I guess what's helpful for us as educators is to just pause, take a deep breath and think about, what do we value most, and how can we support those things that we value. So, if we value pencil to paper time, how can we promote that happening at home?

Julie Wright:

A great example of that is a teacher last week said, I'm so used to sharing kids work under the dock camera. And I said, oh, yeah, right? That's like a pivotal practice. And she said, I think I'm just going to tell kids that we're going to start, she was having kids create some lists of things for reading and writing. And she said, you know, it's actually easier to share more now than ever. I just need to, like, change the way I'm sharing it and make sure that I talk about it. And so I do think that some of the practices we do, we just have to think about the new platform in which we're sharing. But some of those same practices still ring true so that we don't go back and pull out a crossword puzzle that may have had value in some way, shape, or form in an indoor recess kind of way and not make it be our main instruction because we don't know what else to do.

Kevin Carlson:

Self-care and silver linings after the break.

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Patty McGee:

It's been a real journey and learning about distance learning and supporting students, teachers, and my own children with it. But one of the things about it is, you know, it's okay if it doesn't go well. You just pause and, you know, I think you call it pivot. We pause and pivot when it's not going well. It's okay when that happens.

Julie Wright:

Yeah. I was telling it, you know, I said to a small group of teachers that I'm doing a bulk of planning with and we're planning and then we take a break and then they implement it. We get together and we reflect about it. We came up with this little checklist. I'm not sure this is the checklist everyone should use, but we needed something to hang on to. And so we asked ourselves, like, is what we just planned for kids, is it doable? Like, can people do it? And then the big one for us is like, is it sustainable? Like, it sounds great. But like we're gonna be here for a little bit. So, is it sustainable? And then we always ask, like people who work alongside of me, we say, is it efficient and effective? And are our efforts gonna be efficient and effective? And, you know, that's hard to gauge sometimes. But this idea of we've been working in like a studio mindset, like, let's imagine that everything that we do is a week-long studio or a three-day studio where we have time to have like in our craft, our piece of art is really the curriculum. And I know that it sounds a little flowery, but it's actually helped our mindset of saying we don't have to accomplish everything in one day. We can spread it out a little bit and then react or do that pivot when we think we need to. It also helps us, you know, gives us time to breathe a little bit too, and to poke into kids work as they're completing it. Or helping kids who maybe aren't completing it to figure out why not.

Patty McGee:

Yeah, exactly. And I think that goes into something else where we as educators, you know, wear our hearts on our sleeves and we are always doing everything we can to connect, to support, to reach out, to be flexible. But I don't know if we all do that for ourselves as educators. And so I think it's important that there's time for a little bit of educator self-care, too, and especially if these are educators that are creating distance learning experiences for their own students and then also supporting distance learning for their own children. You know, day-to-day togetherness like that, there really needs to be some self-care for teachers.

Julie Wright:

Part of my self-care is acknowledging that we're going to have some missteps and making that okay and almost self-talking around it. It's like an internal dialogue I have with myself all the time. Also, like, not trying too many things at once, like we're, teachers are like problem solvers by nature and we want to help people, all people. Doesn't matter if you help learners who are adults or learners who are kids, we sort of got into this business to be the support.

When this whole thing kind of started, I felt very ungrounded, you know. What's my role and how am I going to help people? And I decided that, like, every week and I'm saying this out loud, but I can't say I've been completely successful all the time. That's the misstep to say it's okay. It's like I said to myself, what can I do for like my home? Because being here at home, we're here a lot. What can I do for myself? What do I care about? What do I want to learn or do? What I want to do for others? The others is a big bucket of people, both professional and personal. And then I think, like the self-care comes from everybody making their own buckets of like, what are the buckets that you want to try to accomplish? It's given me a sense of purpose at a time where I feel like I'm not sure, I have lots of purpose, but I'm not sure how to spend my time or I end up spending it too much in one place.

Patty McGee:

So one of the things that we really wanted to end with was thinking about the silver linings of these moments, of this time together, distance learning and what we're walking away with. I think that's also a form of self-care is to pause and think about, what are the silver linings here, even though there are hard parts going on, there are certain things that are good right now.

Julie Wright:

For me, being able to take the time to take a pulse. I feel like busyness is so, you know, sometimes it gets the best of us. That's a huge silver lining for me, my work, my family. We're having conversations around views that we never had before, at least not to the magnitude that we're having them now, and I think that's really good for our family unit and maybe our world. I treasure my backyard. I always treasured my garden, but now I just, I wander through my garden that has nothing in it right now in different ways. I don't know, staying connected with people. I haven't seen people, haven't given them a hug. But I've seen them and talked with them.

Patty McGee:

I also think that one of the silver linings was seeing more humanity in each other. As students, we're seeing our teachers like they're human! They're moms, they're dads, they're people who are doing the very best they can. And also, you know, we're just really recognizing the heart within other people during this time.

Julie Wright:

At a professional level, I talk to people all the time about how, you know, you have to have a thinking partner. This work is too important and too complex to do it alone. And at a time when people feel isolated, the number of people reaching out, looking for thinking partnerships, wondering about things, being curious about their kids, like, that has not ceased. It has actually skyrocketed. So the idea of like that's a huge silver lining. It's really hard right now to shut your door and isolate yourself, which is a really beautiful thing for kids 'cause they benefit from that and just enjoying the simple things.

Kevin Carlson:

Thank you to Patty McGee and Julie Wright for sharing their thinking on simplicity and connection in distance learning. Next time on the Teachers Talk Shop podcast, Patty is joined by author and educator Travis Crowder, and they discuss a topic especially relevant to teachers and students during times of quarantine and social distancing.

Finding the joy of the ordinary. That's next time on the Teachers Talk Shop podcast. Thank you for listening. I'm Kevin Carlson.

If you like what you hear on the Teachers Talk Shop podcast, please leave us a review and a rating wherever you get your podcasts and let other people in your professional network know that you like the show. We are all learning together. Thank you for listening. I'm Kevin Carlson.