Finding the Little Joys in Teaching During Remote Learning

We are in a hybrid model this year – one day a week we are all online. The whole month of December we were fully remote, and it seems like our one day a week online is miserable to them now that we are back to some in-person learning. I think there is a dread of sitting in front of the computer all day long without being able to socialize with peers hanging over their heads. There has been a lack of joys in teaching this year.

Little Joys Exisit

Today, in one of my classes we got on the topic of weird food combos. (I have no idea how we got here- it’s middle school.) So, I asked my students: What’s the weirdest food combo you have tried or seen?

Here are their responses:

We can choose to bring joy into our remote classes. Our students need it, and so do we. Find the little joys in a crummy situation.
  • – Ketchup and Eggs
  • – Cornchips and Nutella
  • – Chips and Chocolate
  • – French Fries and Ice Cream
  • – Pizza and Ketchup
  • – Pineapple and cottage cheese
  • – Pretzels with ketchup
  • – Mac and cheese with ketchup (I am noticing a theme here.)
  • – Steak and Ketchup
  • – Yogurt and chips
  • – Cookies and salsa 

And the best one?

A student said their dad likes syrup on noodles 

I had to ask, “Is your dad Buddy the Elf?!”

This is just one of the little joys that made my day. 

However, I am hoping that these small moments of off-topic conversation and laughter bring a smile to their face throughout our virtual day attached to the computer. I know the moments where we go off-topic to see everyone’s pets or talk about random things makes my day go a little smoother and feel a little lighter. 

Finding the Little Joy in Online Learning

There are other teachers who will send their kids on a scavenger hunt to find something so the students can get up and out of their chairs for just a minute. Our student council is running a food drive, and one teacher had their students turn off their cameras to grab a can and bring it back to encourage helping out a good cause. 

Our students need some of these little joys, conversations or connections, and games during this time. It is encouraging to me to see teachers trying to make the best of it regardless of hybrid, remote, in-person, or completely virtual. We should be building relationships with our students during this and it is one way to keep getting to know our students and have fun with them even when they aren’t in the room with us physically. 

While we head into the second semester, I want to encourage all of us to keep building those relationships with our students. Keep reaching out and making interactions fun. It can mean the world to one student to be able to have a little joy-filled moment to hold onto for the rest of the day.  Keep finding the little joys in teaching this year.

Forget About 2020, Just Hold onto Its Lessons

Bring on 2021

With the new year and the hurry to forget about 2020, we are all surrounded by new years resolutions, diets, exercise programs, learning opportunities… and the list goes on and on. 

This past year has been a struggle for all of us. None of us were unaffected by the virus. 

Students and teachers across the nation have had to rethink how they approach learning, schedules, teaching, and technology almost overnight. It hasn’t been easy, but we did it. We survived. 

Surviving not Thriving

I wish I could say that we all thrived as much as we had hoped we would in 2020, but I know many of us haven’t. It’s been a fight to stay on top of the constant changes, keeping the fear of the rug being pulled out from under us at bay, and the elevated anxieties below the surface. 2020 has messed us up. A lot. 

So, I want to encourage you to reflect on the things you did this year you never thought you could do. Look back at the start of the school year- you learned new online platforms, digitized lessons plans, created interactive lessons to keep students engaged in online meetings… 

Students have stepped up to the plate to learn in a new way- remote, hybrid, online. Students learned new time management, planning, and tech skills. Students have also learned the importance of self-care and connection with others.

Now, what for 2021?

This year has shown us a lot- good and bad. Yet, we have managed to make it to the end of the year stronger than when we started. 

I am not sure what 2021 will bring, but I do know that 2021 is getting a completely different people than any of us have been before. Let’s use 2021 to help hone in on the strength we gained from 2020. This time, the New Year is going to be a year of continued training of our strengths so even when we hit another wall we know we can run right through it. 

So let’s forget 2020 and continue to hold onto it’s lessons it taught us in 2021.

Remote Learning Well-Being

We have been remote learning for a few weeks now and I gotta say, I am definitely over it. The students are too. 

Although there have been some positives coming out of remote learning and I am grateful for any tiny sliver of hope. As we wrap up the semester, my students have come up with innovative ways to share their genius hour presentations and they are learning podcasting with grace. For my other students, I am just glad they decided to sign onto the google meet. 

Something happened last week that really struck a chord with me. One of my top students snapped at me about his book group. He knows I am willing to discuss and hear them out on just about everything if they disagree. So when he copped an attitude with me I was stunned. 

The next day I received an apology email from him, unprompted. I wrote him back and accepted his apology, but I asked him if he was ok since this was uncharacteristic of him. He told me, “It was just ‘a wrong side of the bed type of day,’ and I think not having anyone around while I am home is hard. Everyone else seems to have siblings or parents that work from home. It’s getting old.” 

Gosh, that struck me about our (teacher and students) wellbeing during this remote learning. 

After having to quarantine twice this year, I recognized when I started to slip into a funk I needed to pause and check in with myself on how I was really feeling: Had I gone outside for a walk? Did I eat junk all day? How’s my water intake? Have I  talked to someone on the phone/facetime? Have I done something that I enjoy? 

Majority of the time I had answered negatively to those questions, meaning I hadn’t been really taking care of myself mentally and physically. I strongly encourage you to check in with yourself using the above checklist. 

Run through it in times of high anxiety or sadness. This isn’t easy for any of us. We are built as social creatures and while a computer screen with people on a call is ok, it’s not the same. 

These next three weeks are going to be a challenge for us as teachers and our students. Let’s do our best to keep an eye out for each other. 

The Pressure of a Label

When we label kids, it often becomes their identity through and through. This is hard when they are younger because their not given a choice. 

A label can dictate who they are friends with, the things they are interested in, the work ethic they have. This label tells teachers what to think about them before they even meet your kid. Many times this label can make or break a kids school career. 

So why do we try so hard to label students? Well, there are a lot of kids who need to have specific needs met in order to be able to function in society after high school. This allows schools to help better prepare future generations. These labels help more than they hurt. (Majority of the time) 

When a child is labeled as gifted in the second grade (more than likely that is when they were first identified) teachers are asked to help these students grow into their already big brains and wit. While some teachers are able to foster this and help a gifted child grow, there are some who unfortunately just continue to teach to the middle of the road or the low end because “Every child is gifted.” 

Parents of gifted kids, you know every child is special in their own way, but a gifted child…. That is a whole different animal. 

 The National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) defines gifted children as such: 

“Students with gifts and talents perform – or have the capability to perform – at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains. They require modification(s) to their educational experience(s) to learn and realize their potential. Student with gifts and talents: 

• Come from all racial, ethnic, and cultural populations, as well as all economic strata. 

• Require sufficient access to appropriate learning opportunities to realize their potential. • Can have learning and processing disorders that require specialized intervention and accommodation.

 • Need support and guidance to develop socially and emotionally as well as in their areas of talent.

 • Require varied services based on their changing needs.”

This definition alone shows that gifted children are very different from their peers and need to be treated as such. So when this label is tacked onto a student they are looked at as if they should be performing better and above their peers academically. This is all well and good until teachers and parents forget that their child is still just an eight year old who is capable of doing pre-algebra. Teachers and some parents tend to forget that while their child might be capable of higher level academics, their emotional needs and social needs are still that of an eight year old. 

We can expect them to understand big adult emotions or high level emotions because they just aren’t there yet in their brain. A big reason we tend to think that they can handle these emotions is because they are functioning at a high level and we assume that they are able to handle it. Most of the time they aren’t. Teachers and parents need to be aware of the emotional load their students can and cannot handle. They are dealing with a lot of social/ emotional experiences and needs already. 

Students who are gifted struggle with being gifted and being different from their friends. They struggle not being in classes with their same age peers. They worry about being too smart. They worry about looking different. They worry about getting perfect grades, scores, and excelling at homework. Then you add in the peer groups, relationship drama and ever changing hormones. There is no way they can understand the raw emotions of a psychological thriller movie or the roller coaster of sensations experienced when watching the news everyday. 

Watch what you are exposing them to. They may appear that they can handle it based on their intellectual ability, but they are more likely to have a melt down emotionally. Parents and teachers need to keep this in mind when it comes to school work too. Make sure the assignment is still emotionally appropriate for your kids. Never let the pressure of being labeled gifted cloud your judgement on if they can handle the material on a social/emotional level. 

How to Advocate for Gifted Students

Something I see a lot of in my work is how parents are unsure of or they are uncomfortable in speaking up for the the needs of their gifted child. Why? I am not sure. Sometimes parents are teachers in the school district trying not to be a teacher and a parent at the same time. Sometimes they don’t know what their child needs in the classroom. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable asking important questions to learn what is being taught in the classroom.

It’s a sad moment for me when I have a room full of parents and two of them are near tears telling me the difficulties they are having with their students in the school system. I breaks my heart as an educator and a parent.

There is a need to strengthen gifted and talented policy and advocacy within our nation in order to ensure we are providing gifted and talented students with the resources and support that they need in order to be successful. The gifted programming at local school districts will not improve if the state doesn’t come out with strong policies and regulations on gifted programming and assessment (Brown, Avery, VanTassel-Baska, Worely II, and Stambaugh, 2006). There is a desperate need to have a more universal identification process across the nation, but as of right now there is typically a universal standard within states themselves. This is a good start; however, many districts are still confused about how identification should work when following the state guidelines.  Brown, Avery, VanTassel-Baska, Worely II, and Stambaugh (2006) also state, “Knowing what works and what does not is crucial for states in exercising both quality control of programs and services and developing new initiatives.” (p. 22) While every state may have different policies and regulations, it is important to see what has worked and what hasn’t in other states in order to help provide the best programming options for their demographics.

The other major piece of this is the maintenance of the policies in place from the state level. This needs to not only include identification procedures, but also putting into practice the required Advanced Learning Plans and training our teachers how to work with gifted students. The development of policies and practice is complex because of the lack of funding for the research needed in order to develop those policies (Plucker & Callahan, 2014). Policy and programming need to be sure to address the student potential versus adequate progress and stronger policies. This would help insure gifted students abilities are being addressed rather than holding them simply to adequate growth (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).

The biggest action that need to be taken is there needs to be a consistent amount of support from parents, teachers, and administration in implementing these policies and advocating for gifted students. The strength of a strong advocacy group is knowledge of what gifted students need in order to be successful in their education and future career (Delcourt, 2003; Enerson, 2003).

To ensure the advocacy group has the correct and latest information there needs to be more professional development, endorsements, and parent informational meetings at a local level.

  • Advocacy groups also needs to have:
  1. A continuous working knowledge of decision making process at the state and local level in order to be successful (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher, 2011).  
  2. Have several members become experts on gifted and talented education when speaking with legislators as this would help strengthen the advocacy group. (Delcourt & Enerson, 2003)
  3. Have consistent goals in advocacy groups in order to accomplish changes in the legislature (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher; 2011). When parents and educators have different goals in mind and are presenting them to the local and state representatives, it leads to inconsistency.

The needs of gifted and talented students and advocacy groups are more successful when team members collaborate in order to reach the same goal (Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher, 2011).

One of the biggest limitations of this type of advocacy is the depth of studies on how policies are implemented at a state level and how they are maintained throughout the state with a goal of providing equal opportunities for gifted and talented students in the United States.

An overview and analysis of gifted identification and practices in place at a state and district level appears to be a major weakness in the world of gifted education.This would help with the misunderstood responsibilities of the schools and school districts, lack of programming options, and help increase teacher preparation (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).  The current advocates of gifted education have done a lot of work on defining gifted education, looking at teaching pedagogy, and creating learning standards for the classroom; however, when school districts decide what shape gifted education is going to have, without a strong policy in place at the state level, the policy implementation is left to the ideas of the state education department in conjunction with the district and what they deem right (Roberts, Pereira, and Knotts, 2015).

This work done in a local advocacy group can help provide insight into policies we need to change or create in order to ensure the field is identifying a diverse population of gifted students. This gives an advocacy group information and data to use to start making changes at the state level in gifted education. Winslow, Fowler, and Christopher (2011) quoted Gallagher and Gallagher (1994) in at the end of their study:

Failure to help gifted children reach their full potential is a societal tragedy, the extent of which is difficult to measure but which is surely great. How can we measure the loss of the sonata unwritten, the curative drug undiscovered, or the absence of political insight? These gifted students are a substantial part of the difference between what we are and what we could be as a society. (p.4)

Policy and advocacy has a long way to go until there is a cohesive movement for gifted and talented students, but if  the research is utilized to evaluate existing policies and implement new ones this could go a long way toward helping our gifted students feel like their needs are being met effectively.

What can you do now? (This is for anyone looking to help advocate for Gifted students- parents, teachers, administration, GT specialists)  

  • Join your local school districts Gifted and Talented Advisory Board or Advocacy Group.
    • If your school district doesn’t have one- contact the director of Gifted Education or Advanced Academics to talk about getting one started.
  • Research what your state policy is for Gifted Education
    • Look at the funding, what districts are required to do for GT, and what policies look like for implementation.
  • Talk to your schools Gifted and Talented Specialist
    • How are they working with teachers to help gifted students, identifying students, and working one on one with your student?
    • If your school doesn’t have a GT Specialist, ask who is in charge of your student’s ALP.

References