As we look toward starting a new school year, many teachers are reevaluating how to continue providing the best learning possible in light of the very different requirements they may be asked to implement for the health and safety of students and other staff. The thought of instruction muffled through a mask or cracked hands from generous applications of hand sanitizer and hand washing is daunting, at best, but I am here to tell you, it is possible! I lead an international school that has been affected by COVID-19 since January. For months, we’ve operated a hybrid teaching model with students learning both virtually and also on-campus. We’ve been able to do this even as both students and teachers have been spread throughout the globe. No, it has not been easy. With each step forward, there have been many steps back, but the key is that we do continue to move forward. We adjust, we adapt, and we adopt new solutions day by day.
So as you think toward the year ahead, what is the most critical part of preparing? I believe, all the classroom preparation is for naught if we don’t adopt the right attitude and mindset! Here are a few helpful tips as you, too, start preparing for this new chapter in your classroom experience.
Focus on Big Picture Planning
It’s too easy right now to drown in a myriad of issues that for the most part we have little to no control over. Small changes, like the call to don masks without explanation or to implement a new procedure for using the restroom, could be all consuming and cause us to lose all sense of hope and joy. It’s important to take a second, pull back, and refocus our thinking on the big picture. Remember to keep yourself, and your students, goal oriented. The end goal is that our students know that they are cared for, that they feel safe and secure, and that they are learning and preparing for their future—whatever that future may look like. Yes, the learning may look different, but don’t lose sight of your “why” in the midst of the many changing “whats.”
We all remember Dr. Harry Wong and his words of wisdom from The First Days of School. We’ve also all seen the TikTok videos of teachers reimagining the many ways a six-year-old can use a mask during the school day. If ever there was a time, the time is now for Dr. Wong’s words, “Procedure, procedure, procedure.” Procedures must be taught and practiced. Think through the steps you will need to implement about how to properly wear a mask, for example, and then how to practice it with your students. Consider points in the day for sanitizing and what this will look like; consider how lining up will look different; and consider if there are expectations for yourselves and your students you need to recalibrate. Teach the procedure for these new expectations and then remember to practice them with your class. Establish these “new norms” as just being the norms that need to be implemented to start and continue the year.
The most powerful weapon we have in our arsenal for a successful school year is our own attitudes. Much of the difficulty of restarting school in unusual circumstances lies entirely in our own thoughts. Teachers are by nature accustomed to change and have grown flexible in their approaches to teaching year-by-year. Initiatives come and go, best practices are redefined, this week’s greatest methodology that “must” be implemented was last week’s worst idea ever, and yet, we learn, we grow, and we adjust. If you project the year ahead to be the hardest and worst year ever, it will be. If you decide this year will be different and a challenge, but doable if you’re willing to try, it will be. If you decide this year will be the most unique time in which to teach and can’t wait to see the awesome things you can accomplish, it will be. And the most amazing part in it all is that the attitude you choose to adopt will also be adopted by those around you. If you enter the classroom and demonstrate to your students the characteristic of perseverance in the midst of challenge, your students will also learn perseverance. If you enter the classroom, bitter and complaining that you have to wear a mask, your students will also complain. If you sit in the teacher’s lounge belaboring all the woes of teaching in a time of COVID-19, you will quickly see the adage of “misery loves company” come to fruition. You can choose to share your misery, or you can share your triumphs, whether big or small, and feel the change in the room among your colleagues. Focus on positivity and see how you can change the world!
Dr. Jennifer Birdsong is an educator with a passion for supporting teachers! In more than 20 years of education, she has been a classroom teacher, American public school leader and district level leader. She now serves as the Head of School at an international school in Asia