Updated: Feb 1
COVID forced a shift in how excellence in teaching is viewed - or if it didn’t happen that way, it should have. Over the past two years, schools needed to quickly shift their teaching model to meet students’ needs, depending on the specific circumstances of their school and the students themselves. Whether hybrid teaching, completely virtual/remote, or in-person wearing a mask and social distancing with students, delivery of instruction changed. Students adapted accordingly to the mode of instruction, with many proceeding throughout the last school year remotely learning from home. In their bedrooms or kitchens, or perhaps public libraries and community centers, students recognized that being present for class meant logging into a digital classroom, participating in a small group breakout room or responding in a chat box. They communicated with their teachers via email and virtual conferences, leveraging their overall comfort with using technology and at times, sharing their own knowledge with their teachers.
I recently had the opportunity to visit a middle school language arts class, taught remotely by the teacher (due to a required quarantine) with students both in-person and online from home, also quarantining. The teacher's lesson was a discussion based on the book the group was reading together (A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee). Through the use of student discussion leaders (both in-person and online), clear classroom expectations, established relationships with students and the choice of a highly relatable book, this class was a magical example of student engagement and critical thinking around the topics presented. In many ways, it held all of the components of a great lesson and class discussion that would occur very regularly throughout an ordinary school year. But of course, due to COVID protocols, this is anything but an ordinary school year. At that time I observed active and engaged students volunteering to read and lead the discussion, tackling difficult vocabulary and utilizing critical thinking to understand the author’s intent - all while sitting in the classroom with headphones on, a few on their yoga mats on the floor, and others at home in various spaces. In the classroom, the air conditioner was on full blast that day, so students wrapped in sweaters and blankets, some sitting on the windowsill to get warmer in the sun. They muted and unmuted themselves to participate, virtually raising their hands or waving to catch the attention of the discussion leader.
It is indeed a “new normal” of viewing great education. If you were looking for rows of desks with students quietly listening to a teacher lecture at the front of the room - this was not that class! However, if you were looking to see an example of an exceptional teacher leading a group of actively engaged students critically analyzing literature, this was that class! Looking through the lens of great teaching under differing circumstances, this was truly the joyful pursuit of learning.