Hello, Ed Cases. I hope y’all are holding up out there. Things are weird here (duh), but I’m feeling confident that I and my school are maintaining a productive attitude, learning tons every day, and continuing to make improvements on the distance-schooling environment we had to create so suddenly.
We’ve even managed to work some nice outreach into all the assorted instructional strategery. We did a virtual Spirit Week, for instance (see the school’s Facebook page for photos), and this staff ‘greeting card’:
QUICK NOTE to colleagues who may be reading this: I can’t thank you enough for bringing pieces like these to life. For someone like me, who probably doesn’t worry over schooling’s human touches as much as I should, you are providing a powerful reminder of what our priorities should be in this strange and stressful time. Additionally, you’re doing wonders for my motivation through all the adversity. I’ll put it this way: if upper-school science teacher Mr. Chris McBride, with all he is currently managing (he’s a second-year pro, and he has five preps—FIVE!), can make our school do its thing a bit better for kids and families by pulling together something like the greeting card above, all of his own volition, I damn well can do more right now too. So again: thanks, all.
Remember: This is the Evidence-Free Zone
More than just a heartwarming way to kick off this post, however, the above updates and bursts of gratitude lead toward a few ideas that need heavy emphasis right now.
First, to everyone connected to a school’s closure or a school’s conversion-to-virtual—and yes, I mean every central office admin, every school leader, every teacher, every student, every parent, every policy expert, everyone: Please keep in mind that no precedents, proof, or playbooks exist for what we’re attempting to pull off here. I mean, flipping the switch and activating best practices in distance learning may sound nice and all, but let’s be frank: (1) widely transferable best practices in distance learning haven’t ever really surfaced anywhere, and (2) what we’re doing right now isn’t pure distance learning anyway—rather, it’s ‘forced, comprehensive distance learning within a disaster-pandemic context’, and that’s pretty f-ing different. Really, what we’re attempting to make work should be called disastance learning. (That’s right: ‘disaster’ + ‘distance’ = ‘disastance’. I’m going with it.)
Quite literally, we are now in the Evidence-Free Zone—another dimension, a wondrous land of imagination, and so forth. (Wait, check that: we know pretty definitely what I mentioned above, that piece about the distance-learning band-aid not having much sound evidence to recommend it. So whew, we’ve got that…um, going for us…?)
In the Evidence-Free Zone, Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
So please, Ed Cases, to start the coming group of posts: as you fire up your laptop Monday and are flooded with notes about how many tasks you should assign, how many video lessons you should record, how you should be continuing to build relationships, and all the rest, please keep in mind that our current disastance-learning experiment is happening in the Evidence-Free Zone. Anyone who tells you what kids need right now is really only operating from their own ideas about what kids need right now.
A moment like this one has never happened before, after all, which means that absolutely no one is qualified to say exactly what all kids and families need from their schools right now. And, judging from how much tension is being added to already-frazzled homes, how many kids are being missed altogether, how vaunted conferencing technologies aren’t fully ready for the instructional realm, and numerous other early stumbles, it appears that some of the self-appointed experts have wildly miscalculated. (Imagine that.)
Until my next post, then, do what you can to keep the main thing the main thing. (You may want to start by tuning out anyone you hear speaking with certainty in our Evidence-Free Zone. It may help cut the noise down up there, after all.) Focus on how you can best serve your students’ continued academic and personal growth. Stay true to your school’s instructional mission, monitor the expectations you assign to make sure they are meaningful and manageable, and be willing to adapt. We’re all learning here, and that’s okay.
And for goodness’s sake: make sure you’re making some time for yourself.
See Part 3B, ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Evidence-Free Zone’, for (in)formative attitudes and approaches I and my school are adopting, recommendations I’m making (and not making), etc.