Processing Progress in a Pandemic
It was Week 12.
We’d been through three long months of remote learning, and it sure felt like it had been even longer.
Even before the protests and the long overdue national conversation about the need for criminal justice and policing reform, the world had already completely changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As I planned out Week 12, I realized everyone needed some space. Over the past couple of weeks, it felt as though we were watching a revolution in real time.
Americans were processing historic change right before our very eyes.
As one of my students said the other week, “It REALLY feels like we are living through history right now.” Of course, we are always living through what will become history, but I think we can all agree that we are at a collective crossroads as a nation.
"As one of my students said the other week, ‘It REALLY feels like we are living through history right now.’"
Reverend William Barber is already referring to this time period in America as the third Reconstruction Era, as thousands of people are taking to the streets every day to protest police brutality, but also to eradicate systemic racism and poverty.
I had been doing my best to help my students navigate through this explosive time, all in the midst of a novel remote learning environment. But for Week 12, I decided it was time to give my students time to work on their projects. By completing an assignment that challenges them to contextualize a contemporary issue, I hoped it would provide students with the chance to individually reflect on what this current moment means to them.
I held some optional office hours for students and had an Instagram Live session just in case students had questions about the final project. (You can read about the final project in my Week 11 post).
Finding Meaningful Professional Development Online
In the meantime, my plan was to do some work on my own to come back recharged for the last week of the semester. I participated in two events designed specifically for teachers:
An Online Professional Development program organized by Joe Schmidt, Senior Instructional Specialist, Department of Social Studies at the New York City Department of Education. Schmidt has brought his amazing professional development program for social studies teachers, History Book Talks, online. The way it works is that everyone simultaneously watches the same history documentary and discuss it on Twitter by using the #DocuHistory hashtag.
The online events are hosted by the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University. In this session, we viewed Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” the same documentary I had just watched with my students. After the screening, I got to attend a Zoom discussion with historians Walter D. Greason, Kevin Gannon and William Dobbie. I left the session bubbling with ideas about how to better teach about civil rights and the criminal justice system.
Meanwhile, my own school held a community event organized by students with the help of two assistant principals, Heather DeFlorio and Danielle Cooley, called “A Teacher Virtual Circle.” I was amazed by how adeptly the students facilitated a powerful and healing discussion with close to 40 teachers and school staff using the following prompts:
- What have you found particularly challenging, disturbing or inspiring in recent weeks?
- What is one thing you are doing that is helping you cope during the current Uprising in our nation and events surrounding the #blacklivesmatter protests?
- What spark are you looking forward to?
This experience brought me almost to the brink of tears because I was so proud of our students. After three months of staying strong for them and providing them with as much support as possible, I was experiencing them do the same for the school staff. The pupils had become the masters!
If it had not been for quarantine and remote learning, it is likely that school staff and students would never have taken the time to engage in these large community forums. Sure, we would have discussed the protests and the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbury and Breonna Taylor with our individual classes. However, during a normal year at this time we are at the height of state test prep mode. In many ways our community has become closer as a result of this forced separation.
"And perhaps it took a pandemic for people all over the world to notice what was happening in their own communities."
And perhaps it took a pandemic for people all over the world to notice what was happening in their own communities. The global pandemic has hopefully pushed the world to finally take serious action to address the pandemic of institutionalized and systemic racism via meaningful legislation and policies. I am also hoping the remote learning experience will change the way schools operate, with a greater emphasis on equity as well as the socio-emotional health of the entire community.
So, after a week of reflection and workshops, I plan to take this message back to my students for our last official week of the school year:
Progress is a process. But, it all starts with us emphasizing our common humanity and dismantling systems that are designed to separate and not unite us.
Reprinted with permission from PBS NewsHour Extra.