Part of the Virtual Culture and Climate Series – Spring 2020

Featuring ideas contributed by the Jostens Renaissance educator community and shared in a Facebook Live presentation on May 4, 2020.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Check out the video on our Facebook page – it’s our way of saying thank you for all you do. We always appreciate you, but we’re especially impressed with how everyone’s handled being thrust into a new environment and situation. We don’t usually take the time to thank each other, but it’s important.

Today is May 4th, so we’re celebrating “May the Fourth be With You!” A celebration of Star Wars seems appropriate at a time when it can feel like we’re exploring large-scale themes with every choice we make. We see one theme keep coming back in terms of education: love for others is what’s getting us through this.

The Star Wars movies are all about the battle between good and evil, between light and darkness. Both sides are in all of us and have to be acknowledged, in order for the light to shine authentically.

It’s been said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Something good can come out of all crises. There is plenty of darkness present in this pandemic, but it has also allowed us all a chance to pause and assess what is and what is not working. Out of that, we are seeing some “good” opportunities to improve.

While there is fear, sickness, and death, there is also renewed faith in hope and love.

While there is severe economic damage, there is also a new focus on professions that have been underappreciated but are now recognized as essential.

While there has been surprise at the lack of preparation, there is also a commitment to identify what needs to change and how to change it.

While there is political finger-pointing at the top, there is also a flood of new leaders showing their courage and talent for making informed choices for the common good.

Our son Brooks has been a Star Wars fan since he was little. At Disney, youngsters can sign up to be a Jedi Master – it’s a training course, and they get a light saber and have to fight a bad guy. The staff prepared the kids and asked who wanted to go first against the bad guys, and we were proud that Brooks stepped up and went first. We are in a moment where we’re all doing that. We’re in a dangerous situation, we don’t really know what’s coming next, but we have to find that courage to identify what needs to be fight for, and then do it.


Technology: How You Spend Money Demonstrates Your Values

If we are assigning grades right now, what we are grading is PRIVILEGE.

Without the equalizing force of the school building and its services, limited as they are,

we are grading on access to technology, WiFi, food, housing, security, and ableism.   ~Sim Kern.

To prepare students to be competitive and successful in a global tech-driven society, every single student needs access to a device with internet service. We have seen schools scramble to technology in place for everyone, with no notice and no reserved funds. Our Facebook poll showed that 89% of respondents said they did not have 1:1 access prior to the COVID-19 shutdown. We have now seen firsthand how access to equipment and access can exacerbate the difference between the “haves” and “have nots” in a district, and even within a school. Mitigating this difference needs to be a priority, and is a key step toward equity of opportunity.

Using technology is second nature to today’s students, but teachers and staff need both training on how to use it, and support to encourage them to embrace it. Educator access to the internet is also critical if remote learning is to continue in some form.

We’re not saying technology replaces a human instructor. It doesn’t at all. But we may be heading into fall with a combination of in-person and distance learning, and need to be able to prepare for this. Lost instructional time and achievement gaps are a big concern, and technology can help catch up. But just as importantly, it’s the key to everyone having an equal opportunity to participate.


Relationships: The Foundation of Learning

We’ve been talking to a lot of school personnel about relationships and one thing has become clear. Schools that had good relationship foundations had the infrastructure in place when everyone scattered, and those that didn’t had to start from scratch. It has become evident that relationships are an essential component of education.

We have seen creative and courageous ways to forge connection and relationships with all stakeholders during this time – between staff and students, between staff, with the community, with parents, students and their school in general, and student to student. Some of these can be continued when we return to school. Some connections might seem uncomfortable at first, but as with technology, we’ve seen the value and we need to keep them up.

When we’re back in school in the fall, whether in the building or partially remotely, don’t spend your first week talking about rules and schedules. Make it upbeat and all about establishing relationships.

We wanted to create a purposeful network of positive relationships at our school. We asked around and found that athletes were plugged into athletics, and kids who did extracurriculars were plugged into several groups. We talked with other students who didn’t participate, and they said all the clubs were before or after school so they couldn’t participate. We wanted a way to provide time within the day for more students to connect. We also wanted the ability to say every kid had an adult they could go to. We wanted them to be able to say, “This is my crew.”

So we started having Crew Time. We had an advisory period, and every other week had club days, so those who couldn’t stay after school could participate. Teachers were assigned to gradebands. My starting crew was 9th graders, and I kept them through 12th grade. They would bond with other teachers and coaches, but we knew at least one adult had their back. This plan increased extracurricular participation, and also meant we could also say everyone has an adult looking out for them. You can’t be the champion for every kid, and there will be personality conflicts. Half our kids were on free and reduced lunch, and they saw bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians every day. We need to value that we’re all on the same team. You never know who the adult is going to be that they can connect with.


Community and Schools: Mutually Beneficial

It is now evident to everyone that schools do more than just teach reading and math – they tend the entire wellbeing of a child. We have a captive audience that understands that better than they did a few months ago. Now that this is visible, how can we create connections with community agencies and align initiatives to better serve the entire wellbeing of the child?

Consider having a community appreciation breakfast or lunch. We had several, and the free food got them in the door. I talked briefly, had kids talk about what’s happening on campus, led business leaders on a tour where they saw the welding shop, special needs rooms, arts performances, and groups throughout the school. Business people were blown away. If they don’t have a kid there, they don’t know what happens on campus. How to showcase the good things?

Be sure you include real estate agents, because they tell people moving in all about the school system. Make sure they know about great things happening, especially if new residents have a school choice to make.

Also, reach out to your local chamber of commerce. Two ladies ran ours, and they know all the businesses and who the contacts are. They reached out to me once because they had formed a new group called Women in Business. They met once a month with women business leaders, and one would share a story, talk about life and business lessons. Some junior and senior female students had a chance to interact with these women and learned a lot.

We’re not just talking about asking for money. There are so many ways you can help them, and they can help you. And when something happens, you have a relationship and respect to call upon. Communities have rallied behind the Class of 2020 in unprecedented ways. How can we keep their involvement in years to come?

Remember all those businesses that help you. Right now they need you to support them, and it’s important for us to give back. We’ve had schools sharing 3-D printers and making masks to help local hospitals. Schools are giving back – think about the equipment and resources you have available. How can you reciprocate on that partnership? Buy gift cards from local businesses as gifts for staffulty, or prizes for students.

Teachers have been speaking out and striking for respect, funding, and pay. The community values you now more than ever. Let’s make sure to leverage that support while it is fresh and real.


Assessments – What Do We Value?

School is not one size fits all, but we have operated that way for past 30 years. We’ve expected everyone to learn the same way, be assessed the same way, and walk the same future path. We need to hit pause and re-examine the value we place on CTE and the Arts as compared to academia; we need to evaluate our own evaluation systems for both teacher effectiveness and student learning.

This spring we focused on relationships and enrichment and didn’t have tests. How can this change how we assess teaching and learning – in education at large, but also in our individual classrooms? There’s going to be a battle, and we need to decide what we are going to stand for. Standardized testing is the biggest industry and lobbying agency tied to education. When school returns, assessment companies will be fighting tooth and nail to “assess” lost instruction time and “measure gaps.” There will be new tests and more tests to take to measure all these things. Educators will need to think about how we react to that type of marketing. What will we stand for, and what will we silently allow to happen to us and to our students?

One of the biggest arguments for testing is teacher accountability. This experience is showing that’s simply not true. Teachers are going above and beyond to help their kids, without any tests involved. I think of all the interviews I’ve had for jobs. How often have I been asked about test results and graduating with honors? Never. What I do at work is my job, not tests. I either do it well or I don’t, and I get feedback on my performance. I’m assessed every day. I’ve only been tested as part of education.

We’re also learning what we truly value. Many of my friends have advanced degrees, but the one friend who has been considered essential has just a high school diploma. People want to know about his work ethic, putting in maximum effort, and can he get food to the grocery store shelves. Testing has nothing to do with that.

We have a chance to take a fresh look at how we view homework and its role in student learning and student success. What have we learned from this, as far as the value homework brings? I’m not a fan of homework, for several reasons. As a teacher, the last thing I want to do after a long day is grade papers, and kids feel the same way. Students find ways around it, often by copying another student’s work. If there are individual learning goals, I can see doing it on a now and then basis. But some schools actually brag about how much homework they give students – what’s that about? Everything assigned needs to have value for that learner.

We’ve been focusing more on enrichment this spring. This could be the beginning of a paradigm shift. As educators, we need to be prepared. There’s going to be a gap. What do you value? This is the time to fight for your teachers and your kids.

We’re going to have changes come our way, and we’re going to decide what to fight for and do it. We’ve had some brave and positive developments come out of it.

Which force is strongest within you – the light side or the dark side?


What’s On Your Mind for Next Year?

We want to provide the support and resources you need as you prepare to bounce back after COVID-19. Please click on the link below to take a brief survey to share the concerns and questions you have as we approach next school year. Please respond by the end of the day on Wednesday, May 6.

Coming Next:

Graduation Friday – this Friday at 12:00 EST, we’ll continue looking at what different schools are doing, and ways to recognize and honor class of 2020.

How are you staying motivated? Email your ideas to [email protected] or [email protected].


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