I recently took part in a three-hour professional development session in Zoom (groan, if you need to). I want to be upfront and say: I liked the presenter well enough, as they demonstrated strong knowledge and understanding of their topic, and this video session replaced an in-face session that wrapped up an interesting hybrid course on the teaching of reading that unfolded over a few months time (when we were all still in school).
It’s not the instructor’s fault they had to do this final session via Zoom. It’s the Pandemic and social distancing. They did the best they could to cover the material they needed for the job they were hired to do. I get it. It’s also possible that I went in a little weary of video conferencing, as so much time is spent doing so with students and administrators and others. That’s on me.
But … I thought afterwards of some lessons I learned by being a participant in the Zoom session as I think about being in the role of presenter in online gathering (as I am leading some work next week for colleagues.)
These are my observation notes to myself:
Avoid sharing three-hour online PD agenda, with only one scheduled 10 minute break. I was sighing at that before the session started. I’d say, in a three hour session, there should have been at least three or for breaks, chances to get away from the screen. And make those breaks visible in the agenda.
Avoid talking for 60+ minutes straight. There’s something about the sound of a single voice, with the eyes on the screen, that starts the mind (or my mind, at least) to drift. Find ways to break things up.
Regularly stop, and encourage engagement. Offer writing moments. Share polls for questions (and add an off-subject zinger in there now and then). Collaborate. Come at the audience from left field. Startle them back to the task at hand.
Don’t cover material that was already covered through reading or other course/PD work elsewhere. Engage the brains with something new, not reviewing what is already known (some refresher tips is fine, of course, as long as it sets the stage for something to come).
End with some sort of collaboration, to allow participants to reflect and think on next steps. Gather ideas together and share back out. Open the teaching to everyone (particularly in a room full of other educators).
Use an exit ticket to learn what worked and what didn’t work in this new world of online professional development delivery. (Write your own reflection on what you think went well and what didn’t, and what you might change).
I’m no fan of this new push into video PD format but I understand it is our world for the foreseeable future, and so, we need to find strategies that make it work for everyone. Listening to a voice talk for long stretches never worked before and it works even less now on screens. We need to think about engagement, more than ever.
I’m nearing the end of my collection of songs written and recorded during this Distancing Time of the Pandemic entitled Notes from a Quiet Corner. This song is just acoustic guitar and voice, with little production, entitled Word Left Behind (The Wheel Won’t Spin). It will be probably the final song on the collection of songs I am curating for release on Bandcamp in the coming days.
This short instrumental track is a new one to my collection of songs I have been writing and recording for this time of the quarantine, in a collection entitled Notes from a Quiet Corner. I still have a few tracks I am working on before I pull them all together. This beat track is inspired by the long walks we are now able to do, as we are home and can take frequent breaks from work to stretch the legs and get some air.
We have an Old Soldiers’ Home about 15 minutes down the highway that has been decimated by the virus, with more than 80 veterans now killed by Covid19. All sorts of local, state and federal inquiries are happening over the reasons why this happened, but it clearly points to poor leadership at the facility, lack of sufficient oversight by the VA, and, in the larger picture of the country, the slow fumbling of this crisis at the very top that, research shows, probably led to tens of thousands more dying than needed to.
So, today, on Memorial Day, we remember our veterans and we continue to look for leadership from the federal government, even if it looks like no one is really in charge anymore (other than the one looking out for his own political interest).
I’m making, and have been making, webcomics about this time of Distance Learning and the Pandemic, and now and then, I will share out some of those panels from my collection. Most of these were already published on Twitter.
This first comic — Strange Times — is about how the shift to home/teaching has affected the regularity of our hours as educators, and thinking on when our students are engaged and awake, as opposed to when we, teachers, are awake and engaged. Everything is still spilling together.
I was walking on my usual hikes (with the dog) throughout the day when both the title of this instrumental beat/loop track — Every Day The Same But DifferentEvery Day — and the beginnings of the melody lines began to converge in my head. When I got home, I went right to work on it, trying to capture the ideas brewing of both the tedium of days in social isolation and the noticing of the small things that are different each day — the new buds blooming on the bush, a fading flower, a trinket left on a wood stump, a fallen tree branch, the frog pond higher or lower, and more.
There’s a lot of purposeful repetition in the piece, but also, if you listen, there’s small things happening underneath as things move along — percussion and keyboard lines and other elements that intrude upon the forward motion.
In the piece, the most entertaining moment (I think) is where I placed the single triangle, the light tapping of pause in between the main elements — a point where the listener leans in and takes a breath, before the music propels forward.
I wrote and shared the first draft of this new song with my students, as a message staying connected in the time of isolation and as an avenue to peel back the process of writing. I have a handful of students who are writing songs, too, and sharing with classmates in our closed spaces. I wanted them to get a glimpse of how I go about writing a song.
In the first video (below), I showed students my scratched-up, penciled lyric page, and then played the song on acoustic guitar. The more polished version (above), which I am sharing today, was done over a series of days, and I like the rock/pop feel to it.
Along with teaching, reading, parenting and all that, I’ve been making time to play guitar and fiddle with sound loops, making music. I’m going to share some of it out now and then.
This three-chord bluesy song – I Ain’t Moving (From My Easy Chair) — is no doubt inspired from some listening to John Prine and how he used humor in his songwriting. I was hoping to capture some of the oddities observations of the times, and the character’s sense of being alone and being left alone. I hope you’re OK.
I Ain’t Moving (From My Easy Chair)
Is it a Monday?
or is it a Sunday?
I seem to lose track of time
Is it morning?
Or is it evening?
I’m sure I’m losing my mind
No, I ain’t moving from my easy chair
tell the world, I disappeared
You can’t move me if I don’t care
tell the world that I disappeared
Is that a news show?
Is this a game show?
I don’t know the truth anymore
When home is the work site
and work is the home life
I pull the plug and shut the door
When the food is gone
and the cupboards bare
and I’ve chewed through every box that was there
Still I won’t go
I’m hanging on
I’ve got soup cans and dried beans somewhere