Day 1 of Blended Learning

At long last, a group of 5 students from third grade became my first blended learning students yesterday! As a new teacher to this school, the majority of these students I had met just once before, at their First Communion Service. In some ways, having students come into the classroom after I had seen their home environments (albeit virtually) was a helpful change; a kind of home visit experience we all have been thrust into. I was pleasantly surprised that even though students didn’t know me perfectly yet, we had developed enough trust that it felt like a relatively familiar experience hosting them. One thing I didn’t expect: just how short they were. Zoom has been a great equalizer in terms of height, and for better or worse, it’s much different to meet people virtually than face to face. Believe it or not, I actually think there is less room for snap judgments (especially when you are forced to be together and have to make the most of things).

Check out the pictures to get a feel for our first day of Blended Learning!

Day 1 At a Glance

I placed the Student Schedule in a central location
Verdict on the Face Shield? Too much condensation.
After weighing the pros and cons of each seat, I assigned students to a desk based on their needs (groups not shown for privacy).
After a year of idling in my garage, this weirdly shaped pocket chart finally has a use: displaying groups of students (and their desk numbers) for Blended learning.
This replacement projector remote arrived just in time! During Zoom meetings, I could easily turn on the projector, connect to Zoom on my phone, cast my phone screen to the projector (so students’ could see their classmates), and turn off the projector/log out of Zoom once the meeting was over. I also used the connection between my phone and the projector to play a book from Kids A-Z while we ate snack, and clarify assignments.
Our day in detail! Some routines we practiced: Coming into the classroom and wiping down your desk/chair, and wiping your desk/chair after snack. lunch, and before dismissal.
We also practiced standing on circles to walk in the hallway, so that each person has enough space.
Students worked on Distance learning assignments at their desks before and after our morning and afternoon Zoom calls. They put their devices away and watched the Zoom meeting on the projector during calls (including explanations of documents through sharing my screen).
Here is an example of a student work station, with a divider, device, headphones, and backpack under the desk. Students also hung their coats on their chairs to make it simple.
When the kids are at recess with another teacher, I retreated into the storage closet to get some alone time. While we have used this closet as a coat closet in past years, it is currently off limits to students because of a lack of ventilation. However, it an excellent place to hide from the germs and mental stressors of the classroom as a whole.

Next Week

Next week, I will introduce these blue foam tiles to students as an alternative seating option. These tiles have been spaced out 6+ feet apart throughout the classroom, and labeled with students’ desk numbers. Students will have the option to sit on these tiles instead of at their desks while they are doing Distance Learning assignments (and not eating or watching Zoom).

My Favorite Strategy

Last of all, I finally got to test a theory yesterday about how to help students’ feel at peace during break times. As students face an abundance of screens, my thought is that they also need opportunities to listen (and speak) as much as they absorb information through their eyes. We got started by listening yesterday to 1) Bible verses from the Psalms on the Dwell app 2) Instrumental Worship music on Youtube as they worked, and 3) Rain sounds on the Calm app (this feature is free).

Final Reflections

While I only get to see each of my 3 groups of 4-6 students once per week (the other day they are with their Spanish teacher), I am confident that the small size of groups and once a week schedule will still allow us to get to know one another well (while not getting too sick of each other). I’ve been pleasantly surprised by students’ senses of humor as reflected through emogees, assignments, and other conversations over Zoom. I’ve learned that students’ needs are very different by grade: my 3rd graders need wiggle breaks more frequently, while my 4th graders love staying on Zoom just to chat for 10 minutes after the call is over. While their conversation has to remain school appropriate (and I disable the chat to help support that), about half of the class still loves having an outlet to be social. Today we talked about “Would You Rather” questions, and being goofy with them was one of the highlights of my day.

Now that we have begun to get students’ settled into Blended Learning, my next goal is to find manageable ways to differentiate students’ assignments based on their Scantron Data I sorted from September. Please let me know if you have any digital tools to recommend for 3rd/4th grade Vocabulary, Fiction, Nonfiction, Geometry, Data, Measurement, Algebra, Number Operations, and more!

Take care,

Haley

Personal Reflections: Pace, Emptying, and Receiving from God

Lately, I’ve been pushing myself to my limits in both faith/ministry and teaching. There have been times that I press in joyful intensity for what I do, and other times out of necessity, as coronavirus takes me in directions I would not have otherwise chosen (for example, meeting all of my students this year for the first time online). In the past month, I have had several friends concerned on my behalf about the tightness of my schedule. With good but sometimes overprotective intentions, they’ve wondered whether I would burn out. While I appreciate their care, I have sometimes lacked words to describe how radically different serving feels when you love what you do.

I recently was in a meeting where someone took offense to my desire to try new things, seeing it as a threat. They threw back at me a prayer request I had shared the week before, about being in a season of learning to receive from God, insinuating I should slow down into passivity instead of continuing to press in, surrendering the curiosity I had for what God could do through our conversation. After sidestepping the judgmental nature of their response, it made me plumb the depths of what it means to receive from God.

In beginning to answer this question arises another: “What does it mean to receive from other people?” When I think about receiving from people, passivity has never been my path. I feel most energized in the company of others seeking after the same things from God; expectantly and experimentally collaborating to construct something beautiful together. In spaces where people are active, expectant, and joy-fully dependent on God, I am mutually fed. However, in the occasional meeting, lecture, or training that has become merely routine, where people expect little and are marginally engaged, I tend to walk away feeling tired. In spite of having a full schedule, managing the details of daily life isn’t as challenging as the discouragement that comes from sensing people’s low expectations.

On the contrary, I sense an invitation from God to press in during this season, to contend for the next blessings he will send, not just for me, but for my community. I slow down, sense what he is saying, pray in agreement, and partner with him to bring the next thing forth. I watch as God reveals how this next move illustrates the larger story that he is writing. As a woman protects an unborn child, laboring until it is brought forth and then celebrating once it arrives, so it has been in the past, contending in God toward answered prayers. Now that new (largely financial) barriers have appeared, once again I start the ascent up that great hill, asking for more of God. Today I feel myself in the ascent, feeling the instability, early in the process of a new thing. Even so, the Lord will bring fruit.

Sensing this incline/pressure has made receiving from God feel both different and the same to the past. The same, in that there is an invitation to be still and listen to his still small voice. Different, in that it requires a greater emptying, both of my own will and logistically of other activities I would otherwise use to fill my time. For example, I’ve found it useful to spend the first 15-30 minutes at home just reading after I come back from teaching (instead of consuming media). I’ve also continued to monitor what media I’m consuming by setting parental locks on certain shows that would distract me from God (one more layer of difficulty often does the job of keeping me away, even though I know the passwords). As old rhythms rupture, one effective replacement I’ve found is listening to the Dwell app as I work, an audio bible app. By being able to listen to the word, I’ve found new connections between verses I would not have noticed by reading alone. It’s true that faith comes from hearing, and I’ve been grateful to let these words wash over me. I’ve also been blessed by new tracks by Psalmist Raine, one of my favorite worship artists. I love her sincerity!

Finding these new ways to receive from God has helped offset the visual overload of too many screens in a time of coronavirus. I’m already planning to have play verses and students and I eat lunch at our desks in the classroom, giving them a chance to take in information through their ears instead of their eyes, put their heads down for a little while, and just rest. As I retool my daily schedule, develop anchor charts related to social distancing classroom behavior, and finish preparing our space for their arrival, imagining how we will be able to receive from the Lord together has been so peaceful.

These resources have helped reintroduce the slowness I’ve needed. Two truths remain true about change during this time: 1) human beings can find ways of adjusting to just about anything and 2) slowing down is emotionally courageous. As mindful listening displaces my anxieties about financial provision, health, or other lack of closure in other areas of my life, it is like I am on an island with the vastness of time and God spread before me. It takes courage to be so slow, because you realize your own powerlessness. Like this author’s transparency in explaining how her membership in AA emotionally prepared her for the pandemic, you revert to taking things day by day, with fewer false securities. To meet God, I have to accept my powerlessness and instead, develop awe as I stare out into this great expanse. Refine me in this place, God. Once again, I make my home in the unknown, trusting that God who started a good work in me will bring it to completion. Ironically, in this emptying vastness, I receive a spiritual daily bread that re-energizes me to dive back sometimes still, sometimes active nature of my life. Just as the migratory patterns of leatherback sea turtles cause them to sojourn in stillness only to launch themselves across the world, the slowness and speed can’t be separated.

Lord, give us the wisdom and self-control to surrender, to meet you in that great ocean of the vastness of time. Give us also the courage to remain expectant, remain childlike, remain joyful, and remain active. Christ, come dwell in our hearts through faith—that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. Amen.

September 2020 Monthly Summary

Instructional Firsts

September, like the rest of 2020, has been a month of many great changes.

Zoom panic
Zoom joy

I had many moments of Zoom panic and Zoom joy this month as I learned more about my students, set expectations for our virtual meetings, and co-facilitated parent meetings.

Here are some of my favorite instructional activities (for the Holy Trinity, character traits, narrative Writing, 4th grade place value, 3rd grade multiplication and division, D.C. museums (Social Studies), writing dialogue, reading poetry, vocabulary study, and understanding emotions) that I shared with my students through the Seesaw app:

Building Bridges

As a non-affiliated Christian working in a Catholic school and attending an Episcopal seminary, I want to take a moment to celebrate some of the most beautiful things I’ve noticed about these two traditions. As members of one body and one eternal church, I am proud of the way these communities glorify God, and honored to worship God alongside them.

  • My Catholic school: healthy reverence for God’s mysteries, faith in God’s supernatural power, meeting God through art, respecting the dignity of the poor members of my neighborhood, bilingual love of immigrants in this neighborhood
  • My Episcopal seminary: respect for the activity of the Holy Spirit as revealed over centuries, openness to hearing God’s voice across disciplines, importance of agreement to develop a formal cannon, international bent, dignity for other faiths

Lord, please tear down any barriers in these communities that stand in the way of individuals knowing you and receiving a fresh revelation of your love. We want to know you as you are, and we love you. Amen.

Unexpected Victories

This month, I was blessed by:

  • a conversation with a like-minded school leader who is hoping to put together a network of vibrant, spirit filled educators and leaders
  • as a new member of staff being invited to host a Vocabulary A-Z training for teachers at my school
  • interviewing members of the Mount Pleasant D.C. community and gaining more perspective for how race and identity have formed (and/or resolved) local conflicts
  • discovering potential opportunities to gain credit hours for my studies
  • Successfully attending mass and figuring out how to ask for a blessing instead of receiving communion (as a non-Catholic)
  • new levels of mutual warmth and rapport between myself and students’ parents
  • receiving many donations of plants to make my classroom as peaceful as possible

Contextual Study

As a project for seminary, I will be studying my bilingual Catholic school community for the next 7 months in the form of a Contextual Study. This study is segmented into distinct modules which will examine my school from a number of perspectives including history, statistics, the surrounding community, theology, spirituality, and leadership. Through interviews, learning more about the school history, and attending to current units of study, the purpose of research is to determine the effect that a communally constructed common memory can have on an educational institution’s identity and current student scholarship. As of one month into this project, I have been able to dive deep with colleagues into conversations about school identity, been humbled by the vibrancy of my community’s Catholic faith, and seen firsthand areas of our ongoing needs. I have begun to pray that the communal self-reflection inspired by these interviews will open up new doors to celebrate the wonderful work of my community, even opportunities to apply to grants that will address some of our greatest needs. This Contextual study has also become a de facto internship in school leadership, as I am working closely with my very supportive principal to understand the logistics of running our school.

In order to support my research practically, this month I:

  • created and began sending a consent form for interviewees electronically through Docusign
  • developed partnerships and met with a group of teachers from my school and the surrounding area who will advise my project
  • began interviewing individuals over Zoom
  • and shared updates with my research advisor at VTS

Simple Pleasures

  • The beauty of the bilingual mass I attended with other teachers at my school this past week, and Francisco the cat, who was determined to distract me from it
  • The grasshopper I saw munching on a yellow flower in Rock Creek park
  • Riding bikes with a friend through the National Arboretum (in spite of coming home to an untimely sunburn)
  • Guessing people’s nationalities by eavesdropping on the National Mall
  • Learning to make smores in my toaster oven
  • Praying with D.C. Anacostia residents as we gave away groceries with Wounded No More

What I’m praying for:

How you can pray for me:

  • Please pray for continued health and protection as small groups of students begin coming back to school on October 12th
  • Please continue to pray for financial freedom!
    • As the school year started, several tutoring jobs I had taken on dissipated. I have understood this to be a response to a prayer I had prayed asking whether God wanted me to pursue tutoring as a vehicle for financial provision. Prior to these jobs ending, I had been sensing that my schedule might not be able to handle the strain of additional work, and God answered my question by closing that door. Praise God, who will find another way to provide.
    • As of today, I am still planning to apply for scholarships in order to pay for seminary. I am sensing an invitation from God to apply to one scholarship primarily, but it feels like a risk to apply for less. Please pray that God will give me discernment in which scholarships to apply for and confirm or deny this impression, so that I will not waste any energy and time (which is in short supply these days).
  • Please pray for an ongoing issue I have with a medical bill. Last year amidst great emotional turmoil and due to a toxic workplace culture at my previous school, I received counseling services at Christian counseling organization. Due to misinformation and miscommunication that this organization has denied to take accountability for, there has been an ongoing dispute between the two health insurances I had at the time (since May). After speaking with the insurance companies, both are cooperative and willing to work together to cover the bill, but this provider is unwilling to submit the claim due to a technicality (despite being invited to by the insurance companies on various occasions). The provider is trying to demand that I cover the bill out of pocket, which is not a financial possibility at the moment. Please pray that God would send a quick solution to this problem, which has already consumed so much of my time and energy.

Looking Ahead

As September draws to a close and many students return back to school, I am excited to meet many of my students in person! In many ways, it’s been a crazy-making, fruitful, and unexpected start to the school year. I pray that whether my students are together or apart, whether school plans stay the same or change, we continue to focus on God and the finished work of the cross.

Take care,

Haley

Classroom Design 2020: Stirring up the Peace of God

As I’ve been preparing to welcome small groups of students back come Mid-October, I’ve been as intentional as possible to create a calming classroom space. Here are some elements I’ve chosen to include to develop that kind of atmosphere for my students.

As many plants as possible

With the help of a handful of donors, some local Facebook groups related to plants, and more, I’ve been able to secure about 10 plants to grace the tops of my bookshelves. As COVID-19 has made the prospect of students’ sharing printed books more daunting, it is much more likely students will be reading books on websites like Kids A-Z. With fewer books on display and greater mental/emotional strain on both students and teachers, my plants have become a priority.

With a toy brontosaurus guarding our ivy and the leaves of the golden pothos trailing the floor, we are more than ready for students to develop their stewardship through plant care.
I am have added this light-changing essential oil diffuser with the hope that when students are overwhelmed, allowing themselves to be captivated by the calming lights will help them feel centered. Please pardon the spilled mulch. 🙂
Year after year, students have loved planting seeds in the soil of this terrarium, watching seedlings grow roots, and gradually tending them.

Scripture on the Walls

May our students be captivated with wonder for the beauty of God’s word! In order that they will love the Lord with all of hearts, souls, strength, and entire beings, love to share verses on the walls. In addition to teaching about God in conventional and unconventional times of day, Deuteronomy 6:9 advocates for “writ[ing] them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates”. With two posters of verses from the Psalms, one from Jeremiah, and another from Hebrews, I hope that these verses will lead my students into productive day dreaming about the majesty of God.

These books are a reflection of my three focus areas for this year: faith, nations, and the natural world.
Verses from Hebrews and Jeremiah guarding the going in and coming out of our storage closet.

Focus on the Nations

This year, I’ve sensed such a real opportunity to teach my students to pray in intercession for the nations. I’m hoping to use National Geographic Kids country profiles and other resources from Kids A-Z to focus on 2-3 nations per week, teaching several facts about each as we intercede for them in prayer each morning. Just as I want my students to internalize their responsibility to steward the Earth through plant care, I hope that they will internalize a responsibility for the nations and Church worldwide through prayer.

With God’s favor, I found this complete puzzle for free on a curb in our neighborhood! Not even a piece was missing, and several students and staff in the building were able to take a brain break from their tasks to help me construct it.

What next?

While our control might be limited as to the contexts of teaching and learning, it has been obvious from our first month of digital instruction that the students are still learning! Some students who even struggle to remain focused in a 20 person classroom have even benefited especially from learning at home. As we learn new ways of being together, accepting that there may be a time to refrain from embracing, we can celebrate knowing that again there will be a season where we can enjoy learning in person.

My favorite children’s book (that features illustrations with art from around the globe) has a timely word for this season.

Designing a Coronavirus Compliant Classroom

Starting a new job this year has been nothing if not eventful. But after a warm welcome and a week of meeting my colleagues, I was finally in my classroom! The bare walls and open floor plan cried out, “So…what about coronavirus?”

At this point, nearly every active teacher in America has been reflecting on the CDC’s classroom coronavirus recommendations. In order to design a healthy, sustainable space (and before moving in all of my teaching supplies), this was the challenge:

  • Desks should be spaced 6+ feet apart
  • There should be only one line of traffic to the cubby closet (like a loop)
  • Most previously shared materials needed to be placed in small kits for individual use
  • Students should not be facing directly opposite one another
  • There should be plenty of sanitizing products and masks available for use

I am happy to say that my school has been nothing but supportive in supplying masks, that we have more than enough school supplies to design individual kits, and that most high traffic areas of the classroom are relatively easily to label. As an independent school with just under 220 students and 25 teachers, creating cohorts of 9-10 students to attend school biweekly was comparatively simple.

But what about student seating?

Now it was time for math. With large measuring tape, a set of 1 inch graph paper, a ruler, protractor, and writing tools, I began creating a model of my classroom.

First, I took measurements of my classroom with a tape measure. Ultimately I learned that the classroom was 22 x 29 ft, which is considerably larger than many of the classrooms of my colleagues across D.C..

Next, I used 1 inch x 1 inch graph paper to construct a model of my classroom. Scaling my model to 1 inch = 1 foot, my model became 22 in x 29 in. I then created scale models of the trapezoid tables (2.5 ft x 5 ft x 2.5 ft x 2.5ft) we have (using a tape measure for length and width, and a protractor to determine that the corners of the tables were 60 degree angles). Important stuff.

Third, I played around with the trapezoid table construction paper pieces until I was certain that atleast 5 feet was between each of my students (in this model, lovingly portrayed as glue sticks. Because I’m hilarious, I represented myself as largest glue stick. I even drew a little smile on the lid with sharpie).

At this point I gave myself over to humor and created bookshelves, scale models of my rugs, and labeled the exits and entrances. With a little feedback from my vice principal, we settled on this tentative design.

Ultimately, by the end of this activity I felt like I was designing a doll house, and any concerns I had had about coronavirus were considerably relaxed.

While coronavirus is intimidating, I feel confident that we have what it takes to have a wonderful, safe school year. While the small size of my school, the cohesion of the staff, and the wisdom of our leaders has made it so that this current classroom design fits coronavirus guidelines, most people’s schools probably won’t make drastic changes. Especially for the neighborhood I work in, which is a coronavirus hotspot for D.C., I sincerely hope that parents, school leaders, policy makers, and politicians keep these limitations in mind in making informed decisions for the public good. Project accomplished! And yes, I will still be keeping all these cut outs to tinker with for when and if plans change.

If you know a teacher who would benefit from designing a coronavirus-friendly classroom, feel free to share this idea! You can download the graph paper template I used here.

Last of all, if anyone has technical expertise in creating apps, I can’t tell you how many teachers around the world would probably benefit from a classroom design app that is pre-loaded with the CDC’s classroom environment guidelines. If there was ever a time for app designers to serve educators, now would be great!

In my next post, I will be exploring how I have repurposed classroom shelves (which are now empty of shared student materials) to create a verdant, tranquil space.

Until next time,

Haley

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