Here we go 2021

The school year is about to begin here in Michigan. Yes, we start after Labor Day. Tensions are high for many as masks are debated while the COVID Delta Variant is causing cases to rise around the country. As an educator I am nervous. I know last school year was draining. We taught in person from Sept 28 and online. We practiced social distancing. We put in extra cleaning measures. Even with all the precautions we had quarintines and absenses. It was the hardest year I have ever had in my 20 in the classroom. Summer flew by. I don’t know if I (or many of my collegues) can take another year like last year.

As summer started it looked like COVID was waning. Vaccines were available to anyoe 12 and up. It looked like school for 2021-2022 school year would look better. I have been planning for hands on activites and group work. Returning my seating structure to small groups rather that sterile rows that COVID dictated. I have supplies ordered for labs that were abondoned or modified differently. Our students deserve better instruction than we were forced to deliever last year.

I know our students will perserve through what ever our school year brings. As a teacher I am going to be a positive leader in the classroom. Making the most of the time we have together. Learning isn’t lost it is just different as we deal with the interuptions that COVID brings. As we navigate the unknown that every school year brings, focus on our purpose: to grow. Grow as learners and citizens. Over the past 18 months it seems the focus has been on the loss. Loss of normal. Many have shown rage and how ugly humans can be towards each other during this time. Blame has been thrown about and hate to those that don’t act in similar ways to your actions. It is time for civil discourse when people disagree. It is time to listen and try to understand others why. Time to agree to disagree.

Let’s make the most of this school year. 2021-2022 has lots of promise. Time to help our students see it clearly!

Been Awhile reflections on pandemic learning

Wow! Its been awhile since I blogged about my thoughts, since the pandemic hit in fact. Last March I was getting energized at the MACUL annual conference in Grand Rapids when the education world was up ended by COVID. This pandemic has changed all of us. At first I tought it would be good to document the pandemic. I struggled to put it down in writing so I captured my thoughts on my Instagram account. From March to June I put out a daily message to my students to encourage them to continue the learning process. Summer brought homes of a return to normal that faded quickly in August.

The 2020-2021 school year was the most difficult in my 21 year career. My district made difficult decisions that were best for students. Teachers returned to school in August to teach all students virtually as the team planned for a return to in person learning. By September 28, 2020 we allowed all students back who desired to return to the building with masks and social distancing. This account for about 50% of our student population. To make this work our teachers were streached thin. Teaching seperate in-person and virtual schedules, our normal middle school schedules were up ended making way to a modified schedule to focus on esentials. As the year went on state reguliations required us to switch all students back to virtual at times. As the year progressed more students were welcomed back to school when they felt it would be comfortable.

The year was taxing on all of us. Teachers were forced to teach in new ways. Designing lessons that for virtual students and put an emphasis on social distancing. Normally classrooms instruction has been designed to engage students in conversations and hands on activities. This year was different, it focused on self exploration and individual discovery. I observed so much learning by students that engaged in the process. Learning the new technology. Learning how to self engage and stay motived. I also observed students struggles. Some online students struggled to engage and complete tasks to show learning. In person students stuggled in similar ways since they were enjoying socialization that hadn’t happened since the pandemic started.

As an educator this year wore me down. Working on lesson delievery for two different type of classrooms (online and in person) was time consuming and stressful. I felt responsible for ALL of my students’ learning. When they struggled, I looked for new ways to engage and motivate. My online students were sending messages at all hours of the day, while also not responding to my messages or replys. Contacts with parents and at home students was at an all time high. I felt that I needed to do everything possible to ensure my students could learn.

At first I welcomed all the “free” resources and PD. As the pandemic progressed, I became overhelmed with a focus on my students and my survival. PD was not what I needed. I needed time. I needed feedback, I needed more support. PD seemed to be education thought leaders could provide. Constant emails about PD, much of it was about tech tools and self care. NO thank you. I was worn down. My students feedback was to keep learning in a systematic way with tools they knew. Changing to new tech tools or in class tools whould have hampered our learning. Me missing classes or spending afternoon and evenings completing PD would have further burned me out.

Now that it is summer, I know that schools and learning has changed for ever. Students learned so much over the past 18 months, most of which will never be reflected in grades or test scores. This learning will be valuable and important as we move forward as a K-12 education system. Hopefully I will have time to reflect more this summer so I will be ready for school and new learning opportunities in fall.

Mortality and Legacy

Quincy Herald- Whig April 3, 1988

2020 has me thinking about mortality. Death seems all around. Everyday I am reminded of the value of life and being alive. Over the past weeks my life has been touched by death, none related to COVID. All lives cut short.

That is me above in the wreckage of a plane, I was the lucky one, sole survivor of small plane crash that took my parents. Lucky to spend 3 months in a local hospital where my father had worked recovering from broken bones. Lucky to have aches and scares to remind me of the moment of impact. At seventeen my life was rocked. It took time and constant pushing from my loving extended family to realize my survival had meaning. For awhile I asked why I survived, knowing it was due to where I sat in the plane. My parents’ lives were more important in the community being a prominent doctor and education advocate. I was just a high school junior. Why were they gone and me alive? My parents left a legacy on the community of Quincy, IL and with in their 3 children (My two brothers weren’t in the crash). The community celebrated their lives and dedicated a garden in their honor at the community history museum.

Quincy Herald – Whig June 1988 (Me in wheel chair)

Now 32 years later I have constant reminders that life can at any moment can end. Mortality and legacy thoughts fill my brain. How much longer do I have? What will I be remember for? Has my life been worth living or should one of my parents survived? It was only a matter of seating that I survived, what if my mother and I had switched seats?

I live my life focused on making sure it is a life that makes a difference one worth being saved. I have walked down wrong paths sometimes losing sight of this pursuit, getting lost in depressing thoughts or caught up by physical pains. Thankfully my parents memories were captured by the community in a legacy book that has faded over the years. I pull it off the shelf and refresh my focus. Working to pass on my families values and work ethic on to my 3 bright and energetic children.

Recent trip to Mackinaw Island July 2020

My oldest son, Griffin, is approaching the age I was when my parents died (17) and the twins are the same age as my little brother was when they passed (12). What would they do if I was gone? Are they prepared to exist independently? I plan on being around for much longer but these questions persist. What legacy am I leaving them? Am I making sure they have skills and values to reflect our family values?

With recent events I have gotten to spend more time the past 5 months with them than in the past. I get to eat breakfast with them, see how they learn and enjoy movie and game nights. Things that never happened growing up the son of a doctor. My children reflect my wife and me. Ecstatic that they represent my family name in the community. Although these months have been trying at times, when I return to face to face teaching and they return to the classrooms I will miss this quality time together.

Cherish your time with family. Leave a legacy with in your children. Life is short let yours reflect your values.

#WeWantToTeach

Seeing NFL players tweet #WeWantToPlay today has many teachers reflecting on the school year. The CDC can out with guidelines for schools. Soon after the guidelines are announced both President Trump and the Secretary of Education quickly announced they want schools to open despite the guidelines. Huh?

Lets think about this for a minute:

NFL players make millions, teachers make less than a players game day check.

NFL players provide a form of entertainment, teachers educate the youth.

NFL players will have access to regular testing and entertain once a week for 3 hours, teachers will be teaching 7 hours a day, 5 days a week without any testing protocol.

Which is more essential the NFL or schools.

Schools are doing their best to open, but there are so many questions that need to be answered before this happens. Districts are working hard on multiple plans for the 2020-2021 school year: Online School, Hybrid School and a return to face to face schooling. Budgets are tight without federal or state guidance on what funds will be available for the coming school year. Districts have to make guesses on the finances. Evaluate their infrastructure looking at HVAC systems and their technology capacity. Teachers are honing their skills learning as much as they can to be ready for what ever fall brings. ALL this is being done while fighting the perception that we closed.

We want to teach. We know that teaching face to face is the best mode for our students to learn and provides equity. Teachers need to know that guidelines for safety are being followed, don’t they deserve the same precautions the NFL (or other sports league) is following.

Testimony to State Education Committee July 16, 2020

Tweet that inspired me to act!

As I woke today I read an article from Michigan Advance “Michigan Teachers not invited to legislative hearing on reopening schools.” Emotions quickly filled my heart: anger, frustration, resentment. Concerned stake holders should not have to turn to media to get their concerns heard like Jessica Mathews. Instead of allowing these feelings to overwhelm me, I decided to testify for the committee via video. I hope the members listen to my words and concerns. I attempt to cover the 3 major concerns I have. I didn’t cover all of my feeling because my teacher voice isn’t the only one, I encourage who ever sees my testimony to share it and create their own. ALL involved in the educational process need to be given a voice on this matter and have their voice heard. I don’t know a teacher who doesn’t want to go back to face to face instruction but there are huge safety and budgetary concerns. Our government is supposed to be “For the People, By the People.” Lets make it that way. In my testimony I forgot to include student and parents voice. These voices are also missing. I hope the committee seeks them out. Please raise up your voice so educational stakeholders concerns are heard. Lobbyist and special interest groups from out of state should not be the primary voices for reopening our schools.

Rating: 1 out of 5.
My Testimony

Thanks for listening to me. Lets work on a plan that involves all state stakeholders to reopen schools.

Schools Never closed

March 13, 2020 is a day that will live in my memory forever. It was the day the COVID19 invaded our state. Our Governor ordered that schools close for student attendance. While our doors were shut, staff was busy working. Staff worked to clean the building. Staff worked to provide food for students and their families, Staff worked to shift instruction from a traditional model to an online model. Staff worked to create instructional and communication plans for the community. For most of the school staff this shift was huge. It required more time working especially for administration who coordinated all of these efforts. Everyone was learning a completely new job. All staff was trained to meet our students needs face to face, few on staff had ever expected to be required to do so in this emergency remote learning environment. This was a shift.

Schools shifted from their normal operations to new 2020 pandemic operations in similar ways as businesses. Lead by administrators as guides teaching staff embarked to discover how best to meet all of our students needs. Exploring all options available. Reaching out as best we could. This required hours of work. Creating new plans and a new path forward. Staff ended up working like first year teachers learning how to deliver lessons on the fly. It was hard for students too. Without the normal structure of the school day, students struggled with online schedules. Teachers ended up supporting students on-demand. Teaching shifted from instruction during school day, to instruction on demand 24/7. It added news stresses to an already stressful job.

As the debate rages about “reopening” schools in the fall, let’s remember that although the buildings were closed, SCHOOLS WEREN’T CLOSED, they SHIFTED. The media continues to use “closed” when describing schools. This devalues all the hard work that happened and continues to occur as teachers want to be prepared for fall no matter how we are asked to deliver lessons.

This summer has administrators working on multiple plans for fall. Everyone of them desires to return to face to face instruction when safe to do so. Teachers are full of anxiety on how the fall will look in their classrooms. Busy learning about every online learning method that they can. Hearing the so many shout out that schools need to “reopen” knowing we never closed. All in education worry about our students and what they are missing during this shift to learning from a distance. Now as districts are finalizing their 3 pronged plans, politicians are threatening funding if we don’t “reopen”.

Schools don’t have to reopen, most are delivering summer school programming right now. All districts have teams of staff working on best modes for delivery of lessons this fall. Educators are working hard so success is found in the fall for what ever road the local leaders feel is safest for us to head down.

Just remember Schools never closed. We will continue to shift as our community needs to provide education for ALL of our students.