By Michael Dunlea, Tabernacle Elementary School
We made it to day 116 out of 180 when we started the year all over again. We received an email on Friday the 13th notifying us that we would not be returning to school until at least April 20th. With minimal notice, we scrambled to prepare for the unprecedented situation of COVID-19 closing schools around the world indefinitely. Just like that, the year seemed to start all over again on Monday, March 16th. Fear and uncertainty has been a daily element of our lives but in it all there is hope, inspiration and silver linings. Right now the internet is flooded with resources and tips to make the transition from brick and mortar to online for all ages of students. I’d like to share some of my first week strategies that may help others.
As an educator, I focus on empathy in the classroom, and I am striving to practice empathy as I transition my students to home-based learning. As a teacher, I am in a privileged position of not worrying about my next paycheck, medical insurance coverage, or working in a potentially unhealthy environment. Not all families – or school employees – are as fortunate.
Therefore, home-based learning may not be their first priority. This week has been spent discovering silver linings within this crisis. We need to focus on the positive. It is too easy to fall into fear and negativity when a pandemic shuts down the whole world. Students need reassurance right now that they are not alone, we are still a community, and they will continue to learn and grow.
We will continue our connection to the world, as well. Educators in South Africa, Ireland, and Bangladesh that we have collaborated with plan to join our Zoom sessions. Our students will connect with students around the world who are also going through the shift to home learning.
In the end, what we all crave is feeling understood, knowing that we aren’t alone, and that we have individual power in these trying times. By using empathy to foster flexible, virtually connected learning, I have seen students take ownership and peer to peer learning/teaching is skyrocketing.
Michael Dunlea is an accomplished educator who was recently named a Top 50 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize. He is a Global Learning Ambassador, was awarded the 2018 Presidential Award of Excellence in Mathematics & Science Teaching, a National Board Certified Teacher, and the 2012 NJ State Teacher of the Year Finalist.