– Dan Jones –
The phoenix is in ashes. A creature that once was a symbol of power, strength, and shined like the sun is ready to be reborn. The story of the phoenix originates in ancient Greek folklore and has stood as a symbol for rebirth. Today, education is a phoenix, and though we recognize that education is going through a drastic change, we must hold on to the hope that it will be reborn into something more glorious than the past version.
The days of high-fiving a student when they achieved what they never thought possible, or students working closely in small groups is gone for the time being, but we must recognize that COVID-19 did not deal a blow of defeat in the arena of education. No, this is our opportunity to reimagine what education could be. We cannot for a moment believe that we will be able to walk back into our classroom and conduct class the way we have always done. We are educators, the embodiment of innovation and ingenuity. We spark imaginations and take students to new heights, but now we are given a new challenge.
The Phoenix, in folklore, is a representation of our ideals, but that doesn’t mean that it was perfect; it was just what we were used to. When we are forced to go through change, it becomes our opportunity to take a step back and see what needs to be done differently. Today, my family and I took a trip to my grandparent’s 30-acre farm. We have gone there numerous times before to visit, but today’s trip was different. We didn’t go to visit; we went to go and walk through the woods. It dawned on me that this was the first time my four-year-old son had been in the woods. How, in four years of going there, had I never taken my son for a walk in the woods? Social distancing forced me to do something that I should have done years ago, and he LOVED it! This is our time, in education, to step back and take new adventures with how we educate. From the ashes of district closures and cancellations of standards assessments, new methodologies can rise and take flight.
The death of traditional and the rebirth of digital
Teachers across the world, whether they like it or not, have been pushed from traditional classrooms to digital learning environments. Educators have made more educational videos in the past six weeks than ever before, and we are exploring tools that we didn’t even know existed. Educators have jumped headfirst into learning how to use Google Classroom, Zoom, Screencastify, Google Jamboards, Seesaw, and so much more. Teachers are having an entirely new world opened up to them, and they are finding new ways to reach their students. The tools with which teachers have engaged have shown them that learning can take place outside of a traditional classroom, and that has caused many to ask, “If students can engage in the work at home, are there other ways to use the classroom (if and when we get back there)?” The digital learning environments have shown us that students can be exposed to new content outside of the classroom, but all educators seem to be struggling with a particular element: engagement. So, dream forward. What will you do with your classroom? Start to think about it as your arena for engagement. This group space will allow you to build solid relationships and help students to dive deeper into content in meaningful ways.
The death of focus on the grade and the rebirth of focus on the student
Any teacher who is paying attention has quickly seen some students who used to be full of joy quickly change into students that are struggling, apathetic, and inconsistent. Numerous teachers have realized that they need to meet the emotional needs of their students first, and they need to grant more grace and understanding to students who are not getting the work done. This doesn’t mean that our expectations have changed, but it does mean that we have shifted our perspectives. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has replaced Bloom’s taxonomy as the primary lens through which some educators have begun to view their classes. If safety, security, and support have become essential components of our remote classrooms, this focus on student needs must continue into the future. This new phoenix that stands before us has shown that learning and investment are merely byproducts of the fulfillment of the hierarchy of needs that all students have. Our phoenix must be fed and nourished if it is going to grow into the future that we have dreamt of.
The death of the past and the rebirth of a future
Moving from death to life is exhausting, but as many have been quoted as saying, anything worth doing is worth doing well. We are seeing how much work it takes to learn new processes, new technology, new ways of engaging students, and new ways of creating lessons. It has been a beautiful thing to watch because teachers are pouring their entire hearts into supporting their students. But because teachers are giving it their all, they are exhausted beyond what they ever knew to be possible. This isn’t a bad thing. True, we need to find a balance, but we are marching forward and blazing new paths that will lead to new and innovative ways of meeting our students’ needs. Educators are collaborating in surprising ways, and they are venturing off of their islands, shouting for help and guidance. The support that everyone is giving cannot stop once we have moved back into the classrooms. We must continue to operate as a collaborative front that will break through barriers and climb every mountain we encounter.
Just as the phoenix is reborn, it does not start out as a huge majestic creature. It must grow into that iconic figure. So is true in the realm of education. Recapture your imagination and dream about your future. Look ahead, not with a vision of devastation or defeat, but with a fierceness to take back and rebuild a better future for education. Rise from your ashes, and make the best of our new situation. I encourage you to take this time at home to plan, plan, plan for the year ahead. Though many of us don’t know what that may look like, today is the day to start to think about what you need to do to make this next year a powerful, dynamic, and memorable one.