By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching
Hooray for Monday is a new blog series we’ll be posting each week with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students.
For the past few months, I have been taking virtual yoga classes and, to my great delight, I have learned to do a handstand, something I couldn’t do before. It took a lot of trial and error – on my part and my teacher’s. She had to watch me carefully through her screen, noticing and pointing out the micro-bend in my elbows and lack of engagement in my core that were keeping me from achieving the proper foundation. I had to sharpen my listening skills, incorporating her feedback in real time, sometimes even coordinating my breathing with hers. And I had to figure out how to assess, for myself, whether my shoulders were really lined up over my wrists and whether I was using my core (correct) or relying solely on momentum (incorrect) to get my feet up over my head.
After each class I felt closer to my handstand goal, closer to being able to do something new. And, perhaps even more importantly, I left each class energized and transformed, propelled forward mentally and physically from where I’d been an hour earlier.
The kind of remote learning that brought me to my handstand is quite different from what I more often experience in virtual spaces. Six months into our new ways of living and working, we know what it feels like to sit still and receive information. And we recognize that sitting in place, eyes glued to a screen, is a necessity – sometimes. But it shouldn’t be the default experience for our students, or for us as teachers.
It will take work to make engagement the norm this year. It will take marshaling our knowledge of observing and listening to kids, giving and receiving feedback, finding the right words to push a learner forward, and applying creative energy to planning lessons that engage all our students’ senses.
Most of us are not teaching handstands, but it’s worth asking ourselves how we can create the online learning conditions that facilitate that kind of full-body learning. School should be a transformative experience for students – and teachers. By definition, learning is transformation. Just as we challenge ourselves to ensure our in-person classrooms offer students ways to engage intellectually, emotionally, and physically, we now face the challenge of ensuring our virtual classrooms are also places of transformation.
Here are some strategies that can help:
- Pause for reflection on what you’ve learned together and what you need to explore more deeply moving forward. This works with faculty as well as with students.
- Build community with virtual check-ins to “read the room.” Understanding how people are feeling helps us support them.
- Look for ways to ground learning in the physical. As you explore different topics, ask students to get up and find related objects in their homes to share, to move their bodies in some way that represents the ideas discussed, or take a walk as part of an assignment.
As we launch into a year where progress and growth are going to be achieved by means we’ve never tried before, it’s worth asking ourselves what our “handstand” will be. It’s worth asking our students what they want their “handstands” to be as well. As teachers we want to help them build the strength, balance, perseverance, and self-awareness necessary to reach their full potential. Perhaps we need to start with the end in mind and ask ourselves how we hope our students will feel when they hit ‘Leave Meeting’ at the end of the school day.