Excuse or Opportunity

Our lives are different today. School is different. Education is different. Responsibilities are different. Different does not equate to bad or less than or unfortunate. Different simply means not the same as another. There is beauty in different. There is opportunity in this change.

I want to help my students continue with distance learning with this mindset. I want them to see the differences in this year as an opportunity to grow. I no longer want 2020 to become an excuse. Yes, there were changes that took some people longer to adjust to, but we are still here and it is time to move beyond the “everything is different” excuse. Instead, I am intentionally using this as an opportunity to change and improve.

A parent recently told me we are asking our middle schoolers to do what we ask college students to do. At first I was taken aback by this idea. How could we do such a terrible thing to kids? But, then I realized what we are asking students to do (or what the parent was referring to anyway) is to be responsible for their learning. How awesome is that?! We are asking kids to get to “school” on time, pay attention during Zoom meetings, stay on task during class activities, and manage their time after Zooms in order to complete outside activities by the due date. Yes, we are asking them to do this from home and much of it in front of a computer, but is that asking more of them than they can handle? No. This is helping them learn responsibility. We have given kids the opportunity to be responsible for their learning! I think they should be excited about this and recognize the great place they are in.

Now, I know there are distractions for some students that truly are out of their control and do get in the way of learning. For example, some students now have to care for younger siblings, some have internet or other technology issues, some are caring for ailing parents, some are ill themselves. Please know I am not suggesting all reasons for struggling with distance learning are simply excuses. Instead, I am suggesting we encourage students to re-examine their perspective to encourage them to own the responsibility for learning.

In thinking on this, I am reminded of the book How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott Haims. I am a fan of this book and her assertion that students need to take responsibility for their actions (including their learning) in order to be successful adults. She also posits parents need to allow their children to take these responsibilities. In contemplating our current circumstances and our response, I am truly hopeful this generation of students will be the BETTER for having to learn in this way. If we allow them and encourage them to face this challenge as an opportunity, then we will see development of lifelong skills like time management, focus on tasks, responsibility, and organization. But, in order for any of this to happen, I want to be purposeful and intentional in sharing this mind shift with my students.

At the end of class today with my middle school students, I shared these insights. I reminded them that this is their time to shine! They no longer have distractions from the student sitting next to them, or the notes being passed, or the loud breather in the back of the room, etc. They are in complete control of their learning. If they want to be successful, they have the opportunity right now to make the choices to be successful. I tried to frame this all very positive, rather than a “stop making excuses and do something” approach. One student sent me a private chat message thanking me for the message and telling me I inspired him to change his mindset. Was he serious? I don’t know but I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt 🙂

My parting words with students today was a reminder that I am here to help. If they find themselves lost on homework or unsure about the lesson, they can come to office hours, email me, or just stay on Zoom and I can help. As students waved good bye, three stayed on Zoom and I was so excited they had stayed. I was certain they had taken my message to heart and were ready to ask for help. Alas, they simply were not paying attention and didn’t realize the Zoom class was over. 😦

I recognize this post may read very “head in the clouds”-esque. I know this is a difficult time. There are days I wonder if I can continue teaching. There are also days I am so excited for the lessons to start I can hardly wait for the kids to get on Zoom! I have been accused before of being an idealist. I think this post might speak to that side of me. I want this time in our lives to mean something. I want to look back and not only see the sad and desperation, I want to remember the changes for good, the improvements to my craft, and the life-lessons our students will carry for always. I live in a pretty ideal world and I know I am blessed to be here.

Help me change this dreadful year into a reason to celebrate – an opportunity for student success stories!

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