Slice of Life: Drumroll, Please

Newspaper Announcement

Last week, for Slice of Life, I mentioned how I had been told I was a finalist in a short story contest here, sponsored by our local newspaper. Well, I didn’t win it all but I did come in what they are calling First Runner-Up (sort of Second Place, I guess) and this morning, my story was published in its entirety in the newspaper (in wicked small font!).

Newspaper Story

I’m pretty excited about it and I will bring the newspaper into the classroom today, too. You can listen to the interview I did with the local radio station and hear me reading the story out loud, over the phone, if you are interested.

Now, for my next story …

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

Giving Ourselves the Gift of Forgiveness

forgive“forgive” by timlewisnm is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We’ve been in the midst of our parent-teacher conference week. Forging strong connections with families is always important, and it is even more so during these Pandemic times of hybrid and remote learning. All of our conferences are taking place on Zoom, which at times began to take on the role of a video confessional booth, although I didn’t mind when it veered into that direction.

Before we even ventured into the topics about academics or student progress, I consistently started out with the question: How are you (the family doing)? That question caused a pause, and then often a sigh, and then it sometimes opened a floodgate of response, and it was soon very clear — most families are just barely balancing the demands of their own work and lives with the school lives of their kids, and their collective nerves are frayed.

Some parents leaned in to apologize for not doing enough to help support their child’s learning during the Independent/Remote Days (in our Hybrid, we see students two days a week in the building, and then they are home for three days, doing independent work). Some families, primarily those with more than one child at school, admitted they just can’t keep up with the emails and notifications from different teachers, and have stopped looking.

More than one parent started to tear up. Many asked for more advice on how they can best support their child at home. Most said something along the lines of, “We’re doing what we can, but it doesn’t feel like it’s nearly enough.” They have not given up, but most seem resigned to the reality of the situation.

More than a few asked pointed questions about whether we are seeing gaps in academic performance due to the Spring shut-down and current Hybrid model, and if so, what would those gaps mean? I spoke reassuringly about what we are seeing, what we are doing, and the direction we are heading as a school. Parents seemed relieved by information and anecdotes.

All expressed heartfelt thanks for the teachers and the work we are doing, which I appreciate (particularly given some contentious decision-making by our local School Committee over fully re-opening the school and eliminating the six-foot-distancing rule, which families pushed back against, hard, leading to a reversal of that decision for the upper grades).

I found myself, often, urging parents to find forgiveness for themselves, to remember that we are still in a Pandemic and, unfortunately, the Pandemic is getting worse right now with winter coming, not better. I reminded them that all we can ever do, is the best we can do, and that taking care of our families is priority number one. For some, that means working from home. For others, it means trusting children to be productive in their independence.

Be kind to yourself, I told one single parent, who was distraught as our conversation unfolded. Family first. We will work together to address any school issues, I told them. You are not alone in this. Forgive yourself, for you are doing what you can in this moment of uncertainty, I reminded them. That is what our children need — love and support and stability — more than anything else.

Maybe I was reminding myself, too, as much as giving them a gift of forgiveness to give themselves.

Peace (to you),
Kevin

Video: Letters to Veterans

Most years, our elementary school hosts an amazing breakfast and all-school ceremony to celebrate our military veterans in the community. We live near two National Air Guard bases, so many of our families have military people in them. We often have dozens of veterans attend from all different services and from all different experiences, and introduce themselves to the student community, and students sing songs of appreciation. I’m a veteran, too, and I always appreciated the celebration.

This year, we can’t do that kind of event, due to the Pandemic, so I asked my sixth graders to write letters to our community veterans and then gathered them together into a video format. It’s not the same, but it’s something.

Peace (in the world),
Kevin

A Lesson in Civics and Local Politics

CYB Civic Engagement for Young Professionals 127“CYB Civic Engagement for Young Professionals 127” by cityyear is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

After nearly 2 1/2 hours of discussion and comments from dozens of parents and teachers (including myself) about whether the School Committee should vote to bring all students back to the building, one thing stood out in my mind: this is how civic engagement looks at the community level.

Believe me, there were strong opinions in favor of full re-opening (from our current Hybrid Model), to a soft full re-opening (younger grades only), to keeping the current system in place. But everyone spoke respectfully, and the School Committee listened patiently to all concerned parties.

The only tinge of negativity was some parents saying they were nervous about speaking in favor of a full return because they feared retaliation from their children’s teachers (us). That saddened me, for nothing ever close that has ever happened at our school. But I guess the concern is real, from a parent viewpoint.

The meeting went later than I could attend, so I am not sure how they voted (and I don’t see anything in the newspaper’s online edition this morning). I spoke out in need for more communication between the School Committee and the town, and with our teacher union, and urged the committee to find ways to hear the voices of all parties, including students.

I suspect that meetings just like this are happening, or will be happening soon, all over the country. Maybe not all will have the respectful tone of ours, even with differing opinions, but the fact that people are engaged in the civic discourse and conversations because they have vested interest .. maybe that will spill over into some longer-lasting resonance effect of being more engaged in local politics.

One can hope so.

Peace (vote for it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Listening To Student Voices

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The School Committee in the town where I teach is poised to vote this week on whether to start bringing everyone — hundreds more students — back into our school building. The committee has been getting an earful on Facebook, apparently, from parents, demanding school fully re-open so they can get back to their jobs.

Meanwhile, numbers of virus cases all around us are rising – two neighboring cities just went up a level in the state’s data map of Covid-19 trends. I don’t see how we would do a full return, to be honest, as in our current Hybrid Model (half kids two days, the other half the other two days, Wednesdays full remote for building cleaning), the desks for my largest class of 11 kids at 6 feet apart take up nearly the entire room.

After the last School Committee meeting, where they discussed this possibility of a full return (meaning about 600 people would be in our building), I waited to see if they would be surveying families (nope); or staff (nope); or students (nope.). It seems to me, on listening to the discussions, as if Facebook is what many are listening to (and that scares me almost as much as anything – in that same Facebook group, some parents have apparently begun to turn on us teachers) as well as emails and letters from interested parties.

It galls me that we don’t regularly ask the very ones who are affected most by those decisions what they think: our students; their children.

So on two recent mornings, I asked my two homeroom cohorts the question of a full return, and what a lively and thoughtful discussion we had on this stop of a full return. Clearly, these sixth graders have been thinking deeply about this topic, but not often being asked.

My general sense is that students are happy to be back in school, even in the current model with all of the restrictions and safety protocols that limit their interactions with each other and teachers, and many want to remain that way until the virus is brought under control. There were some strong arguments in favor of bringing everyone in, however, including socialization and friendship and the pace of education.

I made sure to frame my questions as neutral — neither favoring a full return nor advocating against it — and I opened the floor to anyone who had a point to make, and the back-and-forth and follow-up-questions made me proud of these sixth graders. I just wish the small group of elected officials who only meet remote on Zoom out of safety precautions would find a way to listen to the young people who are in our building, doing their part to stay safe by bringing a level of cautious normalcy to our community.

Peace (listening),
Kevin

Audio Postcard: The Sixth Week of School

DSC01722 (2) -01 DSC01722 (2) -01 flickr photo by suzyhazelwood shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

This is the sixth and final audio postcard for a research project I have been part of, documenting the first six weeks of school in a Pandemic year through weekly audio postcard. In this one, I mull over how exhausted it feels to be a teacher right now, worries of my students’ well-being and emotional health, and concerns about upticks in the virus numbers and what might happen if we reverse course with our current model (hybrid).

Here is:

Peace (now and forever),
Kevin

Further Ways to Use #WriteOut in the Classroom (Postcards)

Postcards from the Parks activity

Last week, I shared out how my students were exploring National Parks as part of our Write Out adventure. I even shared my adapted HyperDoc for others to use (I hope you found it useful).

This week, I am having my students continue the adventure with a Postcards from the Park project, that first uses creative writing and park explorations as students write a series of “postcards” while on an imaginary journey across five different National Parks. Then, they will be writing a real postcard to a real park ranger (one who has been sharing prompts with us) that we will mail off.

This link will make you a copy (if you have a Google account) of this week’s HyperDoc activities – You may need to adapt or add a slideshow template component (here’s a link to that template for making a copy, if it helps). Also be sure to look at the Write Out Postcard page for downloadable PDFs of postcards.

We’re also writing every day with the Park Ranger-led writing prompts, as I pull the daily prompts into Google Classroom to kick off my students’ days for our independent learning from home (we are working in a hybrid model, so this is perfect!).

Peace (further explorations),
Kevin

How I Am Using #Writeout With Students (Week One)

Write Out Hyperdoc

This year, as part of the Write Out project, which is a partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service, I am fully integrating the concept of connecting writing to place into my online learning platform for my students who are not in the school but are at home, doing independent work. I’m tapping into the concept of a HyperDoc as a way to provide instructions and a flow to activities.

So far, so good.

First, I created a series of park explorations in a HyperDoc that has them looking at maps, videos, images and text about all sorts of National Parks. Then, they are choosing a National Park, and creating a presentation about that park, which will get shared with the entire sixth grade. (feel free to get a copy for yourself) This HyperDoc is a remix of another that I found in the HyperDoc community, which I greatly appreciated. Thanks to @kellyihilton and @SARAHLANDIS!

Second, I invited Springfield Armory Park Ranger Scott Gausen to a Zoom meeting, and nearly 20 students showed up yesterday morning to hear him chat about the National Park Service, and his work both at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site but also the Oregon Caves park. It was great. Scott and I have worked together for a few years as part of a local partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory.

Third, each day, I am pulling the Write Out prompts by National Park Rangers into our Google Classroom space, and students are writing responses each day to the prompts, either as creative writing or as informational writing. Some of their writing has been amazing. (see all the park ranger prompts for week one here in a slideshow format)

Next week, we’re going to be doing a Write Out postcard project, but I’ll share that out another day. Oh, and the National Day on Writing is coming next week, too, on October 20. And I haven’t even started to use the many storytelling videos for Write Out, but I will.

Peace (in parks),
Kevin

Slice of Life/Audio Postcard: Week Five

DSC01722 (2) -01 DSC01722 (2) -01 flickr photo by suzyhazelwood shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

We’re now entering our fifth week of the school year, and I am still taking part in a research project documenting educators’ first six weeks of school through audio postcards. Here, I address how things are going, as we start our fifth week; what’s working so far; and maybe what’s not.

Here is:

Peace (finding our footing),
Kevin

Audio Postcard: Week Four of School

DSC01722 (2) -01 DSC01722 (2) -01 flickr photo by suzyhazelwood shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

It’s the fourth full week of school. As part of a research study on the first six weeks of educators returning to school, I have been recording weekly “audio postcards” for the project, and sharing out. This week, we were asked to explore how we have been reaching out to families, something that has been more important than ever, it seems to me.

Here is

Peace (talking it up),
Kevin