Navigating Back-To-School - A Teacher's Perspective

Kelly OBranovic, Teacher & Lone Cone Brand Ambassador

As a teacher of twelve years, I will never forget the moment our governor announced the closing of schools. The week started as normal, and then slowly little rumblings started spreading through the school, administrators were warning teachers to be prepared to send home resources and work for students in the event we might need to close. In those few days, it’s quite possible, education changed indefinitely.

Quickly families began posting their home learning schedules, and setting up little work stations for their kids. In a moment's notice, we all adjusted and figured out a way to make it work, knowing it was only temporary. Well, so we thought. Here we are, beginning a new school year and many schools across the country are still closed for in person learning. The ones that are in person, have strict safety precautions in place and education looks a lot different. While this year will have its fair share of challenges, I feel there is a lot to celebrate. A door has opened. We now have the opportunity to step outside the box, think outside the systems and stop for a moment to reflect.

As a teacher, one of my goals is to make sure students understand why they are learning what they are learning. When kids know the impact this learning will have on their life in the future, they are far more likely to have what I like to call, “buy in.” They are willing to invest their precious brain space on the content you are delivering. A teacher, in some ways, is a salesman; convincing students to invest in new knowledge. So how do we get kids to invest in this time? How do we encourage them to use this time for good? And how, as families, do we find that balance between making a living and helping our children make a life?

I've put together a list of a few tips/tricks to make this time at home meaningful. In the spirit of the season, let’s call it a “Virtual Learning Bucket List.”

  1. Start small. It’s overwhelming to think you can do it all. Pick the things that make sense for you, whether it be the school’s online schedule, your own home routines, whatever feels like you can manage, start there.

  2. Write every day. Take your kids to the store and pick up a new journal. Make a big event of it. If that’s not in the budget, make one. It’s the content, not the tool. Encourage your kids to document their days. Even if it’s just a few sentences. Not only will this help them be reflective, they will get some time away from the computer, using a pencil and paper. It will serve as a piece of history, too!

  3. Go outside. You can learn outside, probably more than you could inside. You can encourage kids to learn basic outdoor survival skills, how to make a fire, scavenger hunts, explore backyard gardens and learn about plants. Go walking on a trail and make your child pack their own snacks, carry their own pack. Go sledding, learn about the states of matter as you bring snow inside and watch it melt. Mix colors with food coloring out on a snowy day. Collect things. Compare similarities and differences. Count rocks. Paint sticks! Lay out on the ground and stare at the sky. This is our moment, to break away from the mundane.

  4. READ! Seems cliche, but the impact a good book can make on a child’s life is immeasurable. It can tip the scale from a nonreader to a reader. Common Sense Media, Brightly and Goodreads are useful sources for finding impressive, quality book lists. Try and make it a real book, with pages that turn by hand.

  5. Make a Time Capsule: We truly are making history. Save the journal writings. Throw in an extra mask. Print photos. Create seasonal “Bucket Lists.” Find engaging things to do in each season, post your list in the house. Cross them off, write about them. Experience life and use these experiences to learn.

  6. Be Together: You’re probably thinking- she’s funny. We’re always together. I don’t mean in the same space, in the same house; I mean vow together as a family to say, this is hard. It’s not what we wanted. We have to change our lives. We have to change our minds. We have to change our schedules. Maybe it’s for the better, maybe it’s not. Over twelve years, I have probably had around 300 first graders walk in my classroom, and I can tell you with complete confidence, the most impactful thing I was able to give them was a relationship, confidence and a good laugh. On a day when it’s all falling apart. Just laugh, let it fall. Show your kids it’s okay to fail. On a day it’s going great, celebrate. There is no addition strategy or graphic organizer that will ever replace a relationship. Give your kids those moments.

I often think about what it will be like to describe life to a child in 2020. It was something unimaginable to myself, just months ago. I recently read an article that said the time we spent, in quarantine, will all be a blur. We won’t really remember “what” we did. I find this interesting. In a time when the world is so unique and often even traumatic, we will somehow not remember? The article went on to talk about how we’d remember how we felt, more so than what we did. It’s a difficult time to be a parent. It’s a difficult time to be an educator and it’s a difficult time to be a child. Yet, we are all here, working together, rallying to support our families and students, creating moments

we might have never gotten otherwise.

Alone but together.

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