Thursday, March 19, 2020

No Tears and No Fears: What I've Communicated to My Students and Families

As a Kansas teacher, I've been asking myself a LOT of questions since Tuesday afternoon when our state officially closed school buildings. After spending the rest of Tuesday trying with little success to pick my jaw up off of the floor, I awoke Wednesday determined to enter a more productive state of mind.  Having the luxury of a few more days on spring break, I began to wonder "What do I say?" and "How do I say it?" to my students and their families, because we are not done with this school year, no siree Bob. 

Surfing social media, there are a lot of other teachers in the same boat, acknowledging the need and their desire to reassure their students and families, but not knowing quite how. Those of us with our own children now at home have needed some reassurance too. When I stumbled across this gentle reminder, it helped to ground me, refocusing my attention to my purpose as both a parent and an educator:

Young children don't need any more scares, frights or worries, and it's not my place as my Super Stars' teacher to weigh them down with uncertainty.  Here's what I sent to them earlier today, no tears and no fears:

Hello again, Super Stars and Super Star Families!


Though we are all still technically on "spring break," I thought I'd quickly check in to touch base and let you know that I am looking forward to our return to learning and sharing in whatever forms they may take for the remainder of the school year. This week I have been collecting digital/online resources for you and our Stars, exploring digital platforms such as SeeSaw, Google Classroom, Padlet, and Zoom, and have also toyed with the idea of creating a closed Facebook Group for our class use. When district administrators share the Kansas State Department of Education's plan for continuous learning with teachers, staff, and families, I will implement their directives in order to facilitate the creation of our new learning environment using the tools and resources that they recommend.

Super Stars,

Hello! I hope you don't mind that I am interrupting your vacation, but I just wanted to let you know that I have been thinking about you a lot this week! I have been cleaning, working on the yearbook, cuddling with my cats Buck and Tish-Tish, crocheting (my Wildly Important Goal or "WIG"), and creating Symbaloo webmixes like the ones that we use on our SMART Board for you to use at home. I've included some of our dance songs, some Cosmic Kids Yoga videos, reading and math tiles, and even cool videos and directed drawing lessons about BUGS! I'll email those to your parents when they're ready.

I haven't been dressing like a teacher this week, in fact, I've been pretty slouchy. I wore jammies on Monday and Tuesday, and leggings and a t-shirt yesterday and today. I've even been wearing silly pink shoes that don't match anything that I wear:

Have you had pajama days this week? We'll have to think of some fun clothing days for when we begin learning online.

I'm also going to spend this weekend trying to decide where I am going to set up my teaching space at home. I don't think I'll use the kitchen, because we still have to cook, bake and clean in there. As much as I'd like to use my back porch, it can get really windy and wet out there, and my allergies wouldn't like it very much. Maybe I'll use my craft room, even though it's full of yarn and my silly collections. While I set up my teaching space, you can help your family set up your learning space! Think about what will make you comfortable and what will be fun to use:

A table or desk and chair
A cushion for the chair if the seat is hard
A cozy spot for looking at books
Room on the floor for yoga and dance
A drawer, cubby or shelves for paper
A cup, container or pencil box/pouch for crayons, pencils, and a mini-sharpener
A wall or door to hang up your artwork, schedule, charts and other papers
A container for glue, scissors, glue sticks and tape (this container should probably be kept out of reach of little brothers and sisters)
A bag of twenty small items to use as counters for math (20 medium-sized lego pieces, 20 plastic spoons, or anything that isn't a choking hazard)
A tray, binder or folder for unfinished work so you can find it quickly
A quiet stuffed animal who can rest on your desk while you work or sit with you while you look at books and listen to stories
A basket or drawer for recyclable items such as small cardboard boxes, tubes, newspaper (these are great for crafts and engineering)
A basket or tub for plastic lids (off of milk cartons, laundry detergent, or other non-toxic items: wash and dry them before adding them to the tub) that can be used for crafts, games, counting, and building

Just as we always put away our center materials and toys and clean our mess in our classroom at school each day, we'll be making sure our learning spaces at home are also clean and ready for the next day's learning. This will be my first WIG for teaching at home, and you are welcome to use it for your learning spaces at home too.

"I will clean my learning space at the end of school activities every day."

We will brainstorm strategies together for how we will accomplish this goal, okie dokie, artichoke-y?


Finally (for now), here's a sweet poem that I found earlier this morning about this new adventure we're sharing together:

Enjoy the rest of your spring break, and feel free to let your Star check back in with me as needed,

Mrs. Sommerville


Adopt and adapt my parent and student message if you'd like as you begin this transition. Like me, you won't have all the answers, and you certainly won't have thought of every single question to ask about how we'll navigate what will become the new normal of teaching and learning.  But...

Your students would love to hear from you...

...their parents will appreciate your positivity and suggestions, and...

... you'll feel better, too. 

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