As I begin to write this, I sit here in my newly created (out of necessity) home office space. I’m looking out over a ghost town. Our apartment in downtown Milwaukee looks out over the city, a view that is normally filled with people and cars bustling about. Now, however, we’re living in a new normal. As I sit here looking out, pondering that new normal, I can see the stop lights change from red to green with no cars passing. In fact, the only thing moving are the birds flying in and out of view, occasionally landing on the building across the street from me for a rest. This city of 600,000+ people has almost completely shut down, and after just four or five days like this it’s beginning to feel like a new normal.
Amy, my wife, and I have been going for walks once or twice each day and the scene on the ground isn’t much different. We see the occasional runner braving the cold temperatures, a few people walking their dogs, and one or two people carrying grocery bags full of supplies. One of our favorite routes takes us down to Water Street, along blocks and blocks of normally packed bars and restaurants. For the first few days of this new normal, those were all shuttered and silent. Yesterday, however, we noticed signs promoting curbside pickup and delivery service at almost every establishment with the ability to serve food. Curbside pick-up from a bar is the new normal. Empty pubs are the new normal. Quiet streets are the new normal.
All of this change in such a short amount of time can be scary. We, as humans, don’t typically like change. It is different, which is terrifying for some. A new normal means a lot of change, all at once! Perhaps the craziest thing about all of this change, and the new normal we are all facing, is that we’re going to face a lot more change again soon. When this ends, when school begins again, when business reopen, and when the streets are back to bustling in cities across the Country, “normal” will be new again. There’s no way that we can shut down essentially the whole world for weeks (months?) and then just go back to everything being the same as it was before. No, a new normal 2.0 will be following this current “new normal” very soon!
So what do we do with that knowledge? It can be intimidating. Change is typically difficult for us humans and this much change, this fast, is bound to be a very big challenge for all. I’m trying to look at all of this change as an opportunity, a lot of opportunities! Personally, even before the Coronavirus shutdown, I was facing a lot of change in my life. I’m trying to use this opportunity as a time to reflect, learn, and prepare for the next stages of my journey both personally and professionally. Amy and I have been able to create baby registries, think of names for boys, and day dream about being a family of three. We’ve both spent time pondering the future of education in a world where digital learning has been thrust to the foreground and where we may fit into that picture. Neither of us know what the future “normal” will hold but we are taking this opportunity to learn, grow, and increase our professional flexibility in order to be ready for the future version(s) of normal.
Educationally we’ve entered a period where we have the opportunity to step back and think about our priorities as educators. It’s time to really think about how students learn and consider what other possibilities exist for student learning. Many of us have been in education a long time and we’ve come to hold very strong opinions about student learning, teaching, and education in general; now is the perfect time to step back and question those beliefs – are there other ways? As I’ve watched schools and districts all over the world transition (overnight in some places) to distance learning, a few things have become apparent:
- Everyone needs time to understand the transition. Students, teachers, and parents all need time and patience with this transition. We’re building the plane as we fly it and there is no play book for any of this. Go slowly, baby steps!
- New learning is hard, very hard, in the early days. In fact, most every recommendation I’ve seen suggests that we shouldn’t expect students to learn anything new for at least a couple weeks (treat it like the beginning of the school year). Reviewing and refreshing past standards will help students, teachers, and parents establish routines and learn new tools.
- Homes are not school. Over the last few months I’ve watched as schools have tried to match their distance learning to their face-to-face learning. Some schools attempted to create an equal ratio (1 hour of face-to-face : 1 hour distance learning)…this failed, badly. Some have tried a 1:2 ratio but, by now, most of the successful distance programs I’ve seen are operating under the belief that 1 hour of face-to-face time at school is equal to about 4 hours of distance learning time. This means that for every 8 hour school day, one could fairly expect about 2 hours of distance learning.
- Parents are not teachers (well, most of them). Parents can’t be expected to teach their students at home. This, in part, leads to the time constraints above. The other piece here is that many parents are still working, either at their jobs or from home, and don’t have time to be the teacher.
- Not all homes are created equal. This is big and it is a real challenge for us. Those students with the resources and support are going to be okay, those without such benefits may very likely struggle in this environment. We need to think about these students, both now and when we return to face-to-face schooling.
I could go on and on, after all this is the new normal and a lot has changed.
Take this time as an opportunity. Last week I suggested ways to stay on track and capture the moment to get some things checked off your to-do lists, keep doing those things! However, take some time to reflect on education, your place within the system, and how it may evolve as we move forward into a new normal and again into a new normal 2.0. Lastly, remember that as we transition from old normal to new normal it is completely normal (in any version of “normal”) to be scared, intimidated, and even apprehensive. Look for the opportunities and the silver linings, let these guide you through the change and always, always seek help if you feel like you are struggling!