In this episode, we speak to Dr. David Conrad, professor of Educational Administration at Governors State University. Dr. Conrad discusses trends in principal leadership in the State of Illinois, including responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the weekend feels the same as any other day of the week, it is difficult to make Monday feel like a real workday. Or Tuesday. Or whatever day this is.
The current “learning” situation: two children have been e-learning since March 17. Somewhere during that time was a spring break. The college junior was on spring break for two weeks and has had online classes since March 30. I was on spring break for one week, designed online lessons the next week, and started teaching online March 23.
Moving everything online has tapped me out. I like teaching my summer online course, but I get to plan ahead of time how to monitor discussion board posts, projects, and assignments. In face-to-face classes, our “discussion board posts” are class discussions using big pieces of butcher paper. Everyone has been challenged in multiple ways, but this is seriously affecting my ability to focus on anything tangible. Another day passes and I still have over 100 discussion board posts/comments/replies.
Was it the right move for me to shift whole class meetings to small group and individual Zoom meetings? I do know that providing a more flexible online class schedule allowed some of my students to pick up extra shifts at their second jobs (second) when their primary employers (daycare worker, teacher assistant, etc.) closed doors. However, other students are Missing-In-Action, not responding to my emails, announcements, or other requests for communication.
And I get it. My own college daughter is struggling with her professors’ expectations, all of them different.
- Does this professor expect discussion board posts?
- Is this the class that requires a comment on someone else’s post?
- Am I supposed to watch this video-recorded lecture?
- Which PowerPoint slides go with this quiz?
As a program coordinator for secondary English education, I have to ask questions from the teacher preparation standpoint, as well.
- What has the pandemic and remote learning changed how we think about classroom preparation?
- What will schools/districts expect student teachers to know how to do this fall or next spring (especially if there are thoughts of another extended closing)?
- Will principals require two weeks of remote learning activities in teachers’ back pockets as opposed to the traditional 2-3 days of substitute teacher lesson plans?
These are important conversations to have now – right after I read these new discussion board comments, log student engagement, and email anyone who appears to be struggling like I am.
Tell me where you are struggling.
Yesterday, I spent half the morning reading news. During the other half, I read student discussion board posts. This constant access to news and daily briefings pulls me away from other productive tasks – grading, planning, cooking, socializing.
Then, after receiving notice that K-12 schools will be closed until at least April 30, I began worrying even more about my college junior, high school senior, and 8th grader academically, socially, and emotionally.
- My college kiddo has another year, but this was supposed to be her first summer staying on campus. We haven’t heard if campus will be open in May or not. The uncertainty of this spring and summer – college, baseball, jobs – makes all of us anxious.
- The senior has been furloughed from her vet clinic job. Now she’s much more aware of her separation from normal daily senior routines and friends. I meant to get a picture of her in scrubs as a 2020 senior tribute. Perhaps there will be another time.
- The athletic eighth grader has been horizontal more than vertical on some days. Baseball has been postponed indefinitely. We bought the baseball pictures, but it might be more to remember his team than to celebrate their time together.
As for me, quarantine jokes are starting to resemble my reality a little too closely. My days are blurring together. I feel guilty many evenings for not accomplishing more that day. I see little point in dressing in real clothes. This article about working from home provides some good guidelines.
One social media post from a retired teacher reminded me (us) that we are not homeschooling our children; we are surviving. E-learning was intended to be short-term and not a replacement for teaching. Children should read, do math, and be creative during this time away from the classroom. All will be fine. The online lessons cannot replace the classroom experience for most students, and I am finding that to be true for many of my college students, as well.
However, I cannot ignore the blessings that have emerged. The 13-year old asked his mom and dad to play Uno with him Monday night. He won – but that was before we looked up the real rules. It will be a different story next time. I’ve also heard him talking with his older sister, the one he always fights with. She might have been listening to him explain football, something she has previously had no interest in watching, playing, or hearing about at any level. All three of them wrestle at least once every few days.
I need more of this. I need to step away from the digital world. Constant news, opinions, activity ideas, quarantine memes, among my responsibilities to be online to grade and respond to colleagues and students are pulling me into a strange emotional, information overload.
It is time to unplug. The next few days might be warm enough for some walks in between classes and emails, but I plan to schedule some longer blocks of time for me and the family to turn off all devices. A new Yahtzee game is opened and ready. We’ve brushed up on our Uno rules. I could try winning another game of Monopoly.
Unfortunately, spinning the wheel on The Game of Life might hit a little too close to home.
What exactly is considered productive during a pandemic? I think we need to seriously reconsider what that is supposed to look like when there is a house full people. Even though I am perfectly capable of taking a book or a laptop into another room, I don’t. I find myself looking at statistics and watching the news. Then I ask myself, “When have I ever watched or read more than headlines unless it has to do with an education policy?” Now. At this time is when.
Yesterday is a blur. I know I read a little of Glasser’s Quality School, which my further research online has helped me discover Choice Theory’s basic needs. Choice theory psychology states the following (copied from the website):
- All we do is behave
- Almost all behavior is chosen, and
- We are driven by our genes to satisfy five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom and fun.
- We can only satisfy our needs by matching the pictures in our Quality World. These pictures motivate our behavior.
- In practice, the most important need is love and belonging, as closeness and connectedness with the people we care about is a requisite for satisfying all of the needs.
I know very little about this theory, having been introduced recently to Glasser, but I find these points interesting. The two points I bolded are my world right now.
What does survival look like? Survival is having food, toilet paper, and other supplies. But it is also being able to focus on work-related tasks such as writing, planning, grading, and meeting. I am seriously considering upgrading my Pandora to the ultra supreme version, but for now I will try the Pandora Plus free trial.
What about freedom and fun? We have board games and cards. Teaching the 13-year old to play Euchre was fun. But he’s not free. None of us are. My son played basketball in the neighbor’s driveway last night when my neighbor gave the all clear. He used his own basketball. My husband paces and is thinking about going into an empty facility to his closet office. My college daughter wanted to make plans to see a friend today. My senior daughter works at a veterinary hospital, which still needs people to show up.
My senior. I know she had no plans to attend prom or other senior functions. Those types of social events make her uncomfortable. But what else is she missing just by not being in the hallways and classrooms at school?
Basic needs. In the meantime, the world has toppled upside down.
My first online version of a face-to-face class is this afternoon. It will be the first of several weeks until the term ends in May. On the first day of class in January, students shared what they were looking forward to this semester (not necessarily in my class). One student was excited about a study abroad trip to Italy. A few students are preparing to graduate in May. I cannot make that trip happen or ensure commencement will look or feel the same if it is planned for a later date.
What I can offer is belonging. We are together in this struggle to complete classes, but it’s about all I have in me right now.