How do you translate your teaching philosophies—progressive, hands-on, responsive—to the virtual world?
Ryan: Translating a progressive philosophy to the virtual world has been an exciting—and certainly daunting—challenge and has given me the opportunity to revisit and evaluate my teaching practices. For me, being a progressive educator means that I seek to provide students with highly personalized and rich learning experiences in a meaningful context, place an emphasis on critical thinking, creativity, and understanding, and empower students to be active in their own learning. While I anticipated the challenges of translating these teaching practices into a virtual setting, I could never have imagined the magic that has been sparked in my virtual classroom through the shared experiences we have had together, even when separated by physical distance.
What does it look like to be building friendships and community in this new virtual world?
The group of curious, imaginative, kind, thoughtful, and resilient 1st graders I spend my days with have made it possible for us to create a community of learners and friends, even when we are not in the same physical space. We begin our daily morning meetings with our first shared experience of the day, a "mindful moment" practice focused on becoming aware of our own levels of energy, focus, and self-regulation, as well as cultivating a sense of gratitude and empathy. Every morning we read a book together that relates either to our Primary Unit theme of insects or that is intended to help promote a growth mindset or a sense of community. Our final ten minutes of morning meeting are optional and are reserved for social connection for anyone who chooses to stay on that particular day. We use this time to draw together, share books, share stuffed animals, and allow one hamster and two guinea pigs to have virtual playdates with one another.
What do teachers and students gain from learning remotely?
I did not anticipate how remote learning would help me get to know my students in such a profound way so quickly through our one-on-one Zoom learning sessions. In my work with one student, we have been considering the multiple perspectives in play as the Titanic was sinking. In our learning session, she crafted a piece of writing detailing how she would have handled the situation differently if she were the captain of the Titanic by listening to the advice of the experts saying to slow down and change course and prioritizing having enough lifeboats for everyone over having more recreation space for the first class passengers. We have planned dance parties in the magical world of Ponyland (where there is no virus), played intense games of chess, written letters from one student’s penguin stuffy to another’s, and processed myriad emotions. We often focus on what we are missing out on when we are not in our physical classroom, but I am also grateful for the experiences that my students and I have been able to have because of remote learning.
What do you hope students remember and take away from this year?
I hope that my students realize how strong, resilient, adaptable, and brave they are. I hope they feel and understand what a vital part of our community they are, whether we are learning together in our classroom or from our homes. I also hope they are able to get a sense of what a joy they make teaching for me, and how showing up every day, asking questions, and listening thoughtfully when their classmates share their ideas and feelings makes our classroom community stronger. I hope that my students are able to acknowledge and honor the anxiety and uncertainty they may be feeling, while also celebrating the leaps and bounds they are making in their learning and the friendships they are forming, even while separated by distance. ❖
Interview conducted by Talia Fishbine. Originally published in Lower School Quarterly Vol. III No. I in October 2020.