5 Things I Felt Grateful for in 2020
This year has been transformative in many ways. It has shaped who we are as teachers, parents, and students. It has forced us to think about the true purpose of education, assessment, and learning. Additionally, it has reminded us to be grateful for so many things that we take for granted. Below is a short list of five things that I felt grateful for during this year of significant change.
1. Strengthening the connections I have with students
Although I haven’t been able to interact with my students in-person, I have cherished the relationships I have built. I am grateful for the conversations I’ve had with students in Brazil, South Africa, China, and Mongolia. I’m also grateful for my relationships with past students that have grown deeper this year. In addition, I have enjoyed listening to stories and ideas from students around the world about the pandemic and their reactions to it. Through a podcast project called “Writing Stories for the Future” I was able to connect with students around the world and hear their stories. You can read more about my experiences with the project in Part 1 and the end result of the project (Part 2).
Not only have I had the chance to talk to students about the pandemic through the podcast project, but I have also had plenty of conversations with students about their everyday lives and how they are adjusting. When students enter a Zoom meeting, I greet them all individually. I ask them questions about their day, their weekend, their week ahead, and how they’re doing in general. I have also had some students request 1:1 time with me; not necessarily for help with their work, but just to talk. Progress checks have been replaced with mental health check-ins. I am thankful for not only the ability to have opportunities to engage with students on a deeper level, but that they feel comfortable enough to share their ups and downs with me privately. I respect and admire their vulnerability and their trust. It reminds me of why I do this job.
2. The support I’ve received
The transition from in-person learning to online learning has been a difficult change for many people to make. Problems like slow internet connection, lack of devices, and limited support for families have all contributed to the stress of adapting to a new way of teaching and learning. On my side of things, the support I’ve received in terms of software training, extra time to adjust to new schedules, and regular support meetings have been instrumental in my success. I am so grateful for having wonderful and supportive colleagues to navigate this new landscape with.
I have seen many teachers on Twitter who have initiated weekly Zoom meetings to discuss staff well-being, and who have extended this invitation to other members of staff in their city, school board, and province. It has also been comforting to see teachers set up free Zoom sessions, masterclasses, and support groups. These groups have addressed topics like setting up Zoom, student engagement, and technical support. Furthermore, the appreciation for these types of sessions has been lovely to see. I am grateful for people who go out of their way, and on their own time, to support others; it is truly inspirational.
3. More attention paid to inequalities in education
I wanted to pay tribute to the fact that more attention is being given to the glaring inequalities that exist in education. As Julian Sefton-Green points out, “COVID-19 has intensified and exaggerated fault lines in contemporary societies revealing back to us our ways of dealing with inequality.” In his article, he points out that COVID-19 has ravaged opportunities for this current generation of kids. It has also caused them massive amounts of stress and trauma. Furthermore, huge disparities stared us in the face: children (especially children of colour) continue to face issues like poverty, hunger, and fears of falling behind. It is troubling that in the developed world, people still face these issues on a daily basis. However, mental health issues and other pressing concerns have come to the forefront during these challenging times. Thankfully, they are getting the attention and recognition they so desperately need.
Even in the so-called “digital age”, the digital divide is widening inequality gaps. Close to 1 million Canadians don’t have access to high-speed internet; this puts many families at risk of losing out on quality educational time and teacher intervention. While these inequalities are staggering, I am grateful that they are even being talked about at all. I am grateful that people in positions of power are finally realizing the scale of the problem and addressing the issues that come along with it, like lack of high-speed internet and lack of affordable childcare for example. While it is depressing that a global pandemic had to occur in order to make some politicians aware of the scale of the inequalities that exist, at least some goals are being set to address these issues. Of course, more work needs to be done to address and fix these issues.
4. The shifts that are occurring in education
In an article a few weeks back, I wrote about how inquiry learning is redefining schools in the 21st century. In it, I discussed the rejection of outdated educational goals and how schools are meeting the needs of modern learners. Fortunately, COVID-19 has forced us to step back and reconsider how education benefits our students, and what the purpose of education should be. Gone are the days of preparing students for the rigours of hard, industrialized labour, rote memorization, or simply educating students for the purposes of taking a test.
COVID-19 has forced policymakers to reconsider the purpose of school and the way that we assess students. Educators are shifting from whole-class teaching to blended and personalized learning infused with elements of inquiry and project-based learning. Furthermore, many teachers and school boards are going the extra mile to offer an array of services. For example, translations and multilingual versions of lessons have been created so that parents can follow along with their child’s learning if English is not their first language. Schools and school boards are also partnering with local organizations to monitor family well-being and make regular calls to families that need extra support. While I acknowledge the difficulty in accessibility to these services for many families, I feel grateful to live in a country and in a province where these types of services and supports are becoming more widely available to families who need them.
5. Empathy, resilience, and perseverance
Finally, what I am most grateful for is the resilience I have seen from those around me. Students, parents, colleagues, and everyone in between has shown such strength, resilience, and determination to power through these tough times. COVID-19 has affected everyone differently, but to see the collective strength from members of the community has been inspirational. So many people continually show up and do the best they can for the benefit of their students and children.
Understanding and showing empathy for the current circumstances has helped us to understand the importance of every students’ individual needs. The effects of this pandemic on people’s mental health means that social and emotional needs of students will be more actively embedded into lesson planning in the future. Consideration made to developing an empathetic and sensitive classroom culture will be more intentional and integral in schools. Check-ins with students and their families will also be important and impactful.
This year has shaped who we are as teachers, parents, and students. It has reminded us to be grateful for so many things that we often take for granted in our everyday lives.
It has also made me grateful for the support I have received in the past 6 months since beginning this website. The emails I have received and the messages I get every week make me feel truly blessed to be a part of such a wonderful community. Your support means so much to me, thank you! It is my hope that we can all come out of this pandemic full of gratitude, compassion, and a renewed sense of community and purpose. Here’s to a great 2021!