Freeze Frame or heart hijack

Georgia O’Keefe -Red Hills and White Flower


Usually Christmas is one of the most profound and beautiful times of the whole year for me. I always look forward to extra time for writing, reflecting, journaling, reading, and a little baking, shopping, and spending time with family. I usually study the star charts for the holy nights and write about the astrology as a way to relax and be creative.

This year I studied the star charts early, during my Thanksgiving break. I thought by doing so that I would free up more time for relaxing and just being present. I was so glad I did that, but no amount of extra time could have prepared me.

To be completely blunt, it was one of the worst Christmases I’ve had in the past five years, henceforth to be called “the year my holidays were hijacked.” My son broke a bone in his wrist skateboarding that required emergency surgery on Christmas Day. We stood in the ER for hours while they dealt with patient after patient who arrived by ambulance. Probably twenty-five patients lined the halls of the ER at the time we arrived. Most of the cases were far more traumatic than ours: one severe motorcycle accident, another a pregnant mother who had been injured by car accident, a gun shot wound. On and on it went. From 8am on Christmas Eve until 1am Christmas Day we witnessed one trauma after another. A father of a young child was arrested and separated from his family. Real life dramas unfolded all around us. It was quieting, sobering, stunning, and shocking.

It may have been an everyday scene to the nursing staff, but to me it provided a rare and unexpected opportunity to witness Christmas in a whole new way I never experienced before. The staff worked diligently and patiently surrounded by the pain, struggle and drama. It was a scene of selfless service and crisis. The nurses were focused, and disciplined. I felt appreciative of their training, sacrifices and selflessness when I am sure they would have much rather been with their own families. By the time I got home, my appreciation for my blessings had increased tremendously. I felt I had been through a significant and humbling lesson. We still got to open our gifts by the tree that day. Thankfully, the gifts were not the main focus, but the love and togetherness we could share. The opening I felt in my heart was the real gift. Had I been willingly hijacked? Maybe.

The week following Christmas we traveled out of of state to visit family. My daughter and I shared a most memorable road trip on the way home. We began at an antique store in a small strip mall in Oklahoma City where we explored and shopped for nearly two hours. We each bought our little things. Then we stopped at Turner Falls near the Texas-Oklahoma border to take in a sunset as our bare toes walked through some waterfalls. I read to her all the way home and we talked and shared stories for hours to pass the time. She successfully navigated as a new driver through “the mixmaster” in Dallas for the first time. At sixteen years old, I know my time left with her at home is coming to a close. I also know the journey ahead may not be easiest part of the path, so I was grateful that we could fill up our emotional tanks as we emptied the fuel tank, mile after mile. The ugly part was that we brought home COVID. For the next four or five days the symptoms made their rounds through everyone in our house and took us out. And so it has been, that for much of January I have struggled to recover a sense of routine and normalcy as 2022 has rolled out. Now I can be a nurse to myself as I care for a stress fracture in my foot by wearing a stupid boot for the next eight weeks. Well, at least there was our road trip.

With all of the challenges of the holidays, I continue to reflect on one idea: the power of reframing things. Like Georgia O’Keefe’s keen photography and her ability to try different frames, or the Wayne Dyer saying, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

When we returned home, I went on a morning walk and found a penny someone left at the fountain near the Tomball Train Depot. It was New Year’s Day and I made a very important wish and tossed it into the fountain. I recommitted to a higher purpose or calling. In the end its about applying your faith and being present and aware to what you are focusing on, and continually adjusting your lens.

How to Learn the Most

I ran across this article from Brainpickings about letters that Albert Einstein wrote to his own children. He writes to his 11 year old son,

“That is the way to learn the most…when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”

-Einstein, in a letter to his son

I got to thinking about the kind of learning that Einstein describes – the sense of losing time because you are so present and engaged in something you are interested in.  I love that Einstein also tells his son in the letter to play more piano and do carpentry, and that it is “even more important than school.”  (YES!)

It made me wonder, what would Einstein think of the virtual learning we are planning for students to endure this year? How many students in school regularly experience that same sensation of total engagement, of losing time while engaged in learning?    It may happen occasionally, but I doubt that most students miss normal school instruction.

How engaged will students be in online lessons this year?  What would Einstein think of 6 and 7 year olds learning how to read, write, and count by way of screens? What would he think of high schoolers logging in for a minimum of 180 minutes everyday without face-to-face interaction with their peers? Extending virtual instruction for students indefinitely everywhere as a mainstay form of schooling will have long and short term consequences on individual and collective levels.   There are so many issues to this, it can be difficult to grasp.  But I hope I can stir a points here.

First, when we are totally engaged and losing track of time as Einstein described, this is about relevance, interest, self-motivation and choice. Schools typically provide very little choice in learning.  Einstein knew, the best way to learn is not necessarily in school.  Yet, we can learn some things in school, and we can also learn some things on computers. Technology has its place, but a screen does nothing to engage us with the same completeness that real-life tasks do.   What if we embraced this challenge of school closure due to pandemic as an opportunity to learn through real tasks with verve and interest?   Things like playing music and doing practical tasks like carpentry have a real place in daily life for healthy people with curious minds.  Too much external, academic programming makes us lose touch with that sense of agency and autonomy to do purposeful activities with our hands.

Second, there is the idea that when schools are at their healthiest and best, they can provide a sense of community.  When schools are at their worst they provide a sense of alienation,  perpetuating societal indoctrination, propaganda, and racism.  Sometimes schools can be very sick places.

Due to the COVID-19 healthcare crisis, we have already been away from our schools for more than six months.   What have students missed the most?   Friends and the social contact with their community?  Playing at recess, or going to gym class, sports, or other activities?  For older kids, being captain of the team their senior year? Graduations, proms and other major events?  Students might also feel the loss of regularity and routine, the predictable structure that the school day provides.  Maybe the children also miss the independence, the ability to leave their homes, taking a step into the broader community away from their family?  Occasionally, students might miss being with an inspired teacher who can foster within a student a love for a subject, or the self-confidence to overcome obstacles.  The loss of interpersonal opportunities like these can’t really be measured. There may be many other things I failed to list about what students missed, but I doubt high quality instruction would make the top of their list because most never get to experience it.    I mean no disrespect to my teaching colleagues in this, but most instruction is not engaging.  Also, some children might be relieved they are NOT in school, More students may be relieved to NOT have to worry they will be shot while eating their lunch in the cafeteria.  The incidence of school shooting are down for the first time in a long while. Children today face extreme anxieties that adults today never had to worry about.   Sometimes our schools are very dangerous places.

Why did humans develop schools?  A school was meant to be a place where we provide a well-rounded offering of activities with the intent to enrich human experience, but that is definitely not always achieved. What opportunities, advantages and disadvantages does virtual learning offer us? How can we meet our needs for community? What good schools provide, virtual learning cannot easily provide the same way.  On the flip side, perhaps the hidden opportunity of not being in a school building is that we have more time to heal from the ills of our own society.  We have more time to reflect on what we want, and more time for the kind of learning Einstein talks about, if we are able to take advantage of it.   We will need to control our time better, however, and not be mindlessly controlled by our screens.   One need only recall the movie Wall-E to imagine how life in the future might be if we allow ourselves to be controlled by our screens and materialism.

We need to keep a distinction between “school” and “learning” and be more mindful of the potential negative effects of so much screen time on childhood.  Learning does not necessarily take place in schools, though it can.  Children are  not widgets or robots.   Requiring massive amounts of screen time as a vehicle for learning will have long term consequences which have yet to be fully understood, but there will be steep consequences on a societal level, as well as on mental and physical health levels. A bigger question might be, with the onset of Artificial Intelligence, at what point are we irreversibly putting computers above human beings as decision makers?

Some people are upset because they so desperately want kids back in a school building.  What is that really about?  Economics of childcare? Convenience for parents? Government control? The comfort of routine?  FOMO?

It is not the building that makes learning happen.    Learning can happen in a lot of ways.  The school building is just a shared space for community.  A community of people can be a sick community or it can be a vibrant community or something in between.  It can be online community or in person community or something in between.   We don’t have to be in a particular place to learn, but whether we are in a school building or on a screen, its of vital importance that we keep striving to make what happens in schools REAL, relevant, ACTIVE, ENGAGING and above all… HUMAN for students.

vir·tu·al
/ˈvərCH(o͞o)əl/

adjective

  • 1.almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition:“the virtual absence of border controls”

learn·ing

/ˈlərniNG/

noun

  • 1.the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught:“these children experienced difficulties in learningsynonymsstudystudyingeducationschoolingtuition… more

What Teachers Need the Most in 2020

While I respect brain research and acknowledge its immense value, teachers need to  apply what we already know.

A human being is more than just a brain.

Humans develop in multiple ways: emotionally, physically, spiritually, cognitively, and artistically.    Students are more than their test scores. SEL (Social Emotional Learning) and mental health, which includes emotional + physical health, cannot be ignored.

We deserve to develop all sides of ourselves and teachers really help their students when they deliver instruction in a variety of ways,  not just one single mode.

Then there is the reality of 2020.

K-12 teachers are entering the virtual teaching sphere en masse.  In just a few more weeks this gets real.  Young children will be learning solely through a glowing screen when the new school year begins.

How well can we teach through multiple intelligences using a virtual platform?

From an Edutopia article on Gardener’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence:

Practices Supported by Research

Having an understanding of different teaching approaches from which we all can learn, as well as a toolbox with a variety of ways to present content to students, is valuable for increasing the accessibility of learning experiences for all students. To develop this toolbox, it is especially important to gather ongoing information about student strengths and challenges as well as their developing interests and activities they dislike. Providing different contexts for students and engaging a variety of their senses — for example, learning about fractions through musical notes, flower petals, and poetic meter — is supported by research. Specifically:

  • Providing students with multiple ways to access content improves learning (Hattie, 2011).
  • Providing students with multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge and skills increases engagement and learning, and provides teachers with more accurate understanding of students’ knowledge and skills (Darling-Hammond, 2010).
  • Instruction should be informed as much as possible by detailed knowledge about students’ specific strengths, needs, and areas for growth (Tomlinson, 2014).

As our insatiable curiosity about the learning process persists and studies continue to evolve, scientific research may emerge that further elaborates on multiple intelligences, learning styles, or perhaps another theory. To learn more about the scientific research on student learning, visit our Brain-Based Learning topic page.

Link to full article

In how many ways can we present our lesson material that touch on multiple intelligences while coming through a screen to first graders? How will I make the material come alive for a six to seven year old? How will I build the human relationships with my very young students in the virtual?

These are questions I am faced with as a first grade online teacher. Perhaps for a high school or college professor, it looks somewhat different.  But as a teacher of primary grades, I have deep concerns about the long-term impacts of what is unfolding as we shift away from live teachers sharing stories orally and through books to Youtube videos streaming into students’ homes.

More than ever, we need ways to protect the youngest students from too much screen time and connect with them on a real, emotional, human level. Last night I watched the video of a grieving father explain how his 12 year-old son committed suicide two days before when he broke his computer monitor for a second time.    I can’t help but feel we are sacrificing the lambs without knowing the potential consequences.

In 2050 this generation of first grade students will be hitting their prime working years.  They might be the first generation of children who will have learned how to read and write on a computer, with many hours less of touching a real pencil to paper or holding real books in their hands from the school library.

I want to explain that I am no luddite.  As a ten year old girl, I loved computers.  Later, as a first year teacher in the 1990’s I sponsored an “Internet Club” for my 6th graders and I was among the first in my district to publish a teacher webpage on the internet.  At the time my principal could not correctly pronounce the word, “internet.”  I have a keen interest in the potential of technology in education.

I want to see a healthy use of computers that respects the needs of human development of young children.  I just honestly think we as a society do not yet know what “healthy computer use” looks like for young people as evidenced by the expectations of the general public and decision-makers and devastating impacts like that of the father who lost his son to suicide.

The forced virtual schooling that is upon us may not be something we have control over and I am all in favor of focusing on the things we DO have control over.  Forced online schooling happened too quickly to manage well in the middle of a health crisis this spring.  What will be different this fall about forced virtual schooling now that the new school year is here?

What teachers do have control over is how we teach and how we build relationships with students and parents.    We can also advocate for our students’ needs when situations call for it.   I for one, will be trying as many innovative ways as I can to connect on a personal, human level, and to look for ways as many ways as possible to make my lessons physically active, imaginative,  and multi-sensory for my students.  At the same time that we are forced to embrace online teaching, we need to embrace what makes us human.  I will continue to reach for any reasonable tools that I find to connect with my students and I will share what I find with others in the field.  It’s back to school season, 2020-style.