As the challenges of distance learning were unfolding around the country and the world, we invited an inspiring group of teachers to participate in a unique Leadership and SEL training program this summer. Designed to provide teachers with tools to equip students with the mindset and skills they need to lead well, be well, and do well, the group has answered the call in extraordinary ways.
In our work together, we have witnessed the ways in which these teachers are reframing challenges as opportunities and stepping up to take the lead in this work to make things better for their students, their school community - and in the process - for themselves. In the work, they're modeling Responsibility, Resourcefulness and a whole lot of Resilience.
Jessica Iaspaoro is one of those teachers. She's a physical education teacher (and more) at Rockford Lutheran School in Rockford, Illinois. She shared her spring distance learning experience with us, highlighting what she learned about the capacity her students have to be Responsible, Resourceful and incredibly Resilient in the midst of a global pandemic and what she plans to do to sustain this growth in the new school year. We want to share her uplifting story with you here. Thank you, Jessica
Note: Informed with the insights shared here and those we're learning from our own kids/students, we can create a plan with the strategies, tactics, and routines necessary to ensure our kids/students have the time, space, and guidance they need to maintain social, emotional, and physical health and well being.
Learning from Distance Learning
By Jessica Iasparo
Our school spent the last twelve weeks of our year learning remotely. At the beginning, I believed that when I lost daily, face to face contact with my students, the relationships we had developed in person would deteriorate. I was wrong. What I experienced was incredibly positive and powerful and will reshape how I approach building and sustaining relationships with all of my students going forward - whether online or in person.
Speaking Up: While learning remotely, the students in my physical education class submitted daily assignments that were of a subjective nature. Their assignments in meditation, yoga, and fitness were followed by an invitation to reflect on their experience. I was surprised and delighted to see students, including those who had rarely spoken up in class, submitting answers that were deep and insightful and reflected a tremendous capacity for resilience. The meaningful, online dialogues that emerged revealed their capacity to adapt, to engage, and to thrive in the face of adversity - and it strengthened my relationships with all of my students.
The shift, I believe, occurred as a result of the opportunity online learning provided for us all. With virtually no experience in teaching from a distance, I tried several approaches to engage with my class, including inviting every student to “speak” every day, rather than defaulting, as teachers often do in class, to those students who are the most outgoing and eager to engage. Stepping out of our regular patterns and rhythms, I found I had the time to ask questions and then to listen to what my students had to say.
While asking every student to speak every day may not be possible to do when we return to face to face instruction, I will be intentional about engaging and empowering the voice of every student - whether in person or online. They all have a lot to say.
Finding A Silver Lining: My final assignment of the year was an invitation to reflect on the time they spent quarantined at home. Rather than to dwell on what they thought – or others told them - they had lost, the prompt was to find a few positive things that they had experienced.
Student’s responses were heartwarming and insightful - and sometimes sad - but I found them to be remarkably consistent, demonstrating resilience and resourcefulness, across the junior high and high school students.
They enjoyed the extra time with family, especially eating dinner together and repairing relationships that had been strained.
Their level of anxiety was significantly diminished. Their sources of anxiety differed, but as a whole, they described themselves as much more at ease.
They liked having the autonomy to make choices as to the structure of their day.
They appreciated having time to explore new hobbies or rediscover old ones.
They learned how to cook. And discovered they liked it!
They slept. Almost every student told me they couldn’t remember a time before that they weren’t exhausted.
They relaxed. One student told me she didn’t know how over-scheduled her life was until it wasn’t. She stated, “ I didn’t know my soul needed time to heal.”
They also shared that they missed school, teachers, friends, and their normal routines, and were curious and in some cases, concerned about what the future held, but on balance, they found a great deal to appreciate that they would take forward with them in their lives.
This insightful response by one of the sophomores in my class shows the capacity and caring students have and the resiliency with which they are bouncing back.
All of the extra time that I've had while staying at home has allowed me to revisit my long term goals for becoming who I want to be in college and in my career. When school, work, and extracurricular schedules are in full swing, I'm usually so focused on those immediate things that I forget to step back and look at the big picture of the road I'm heading down. The extra time has brought my attention to things that I want to improve or get more involved in such as service activities, leadership roles, and focusing more of my efforts outward rather than inward.
I'm also thankful for the fact that, with the extra time I have had and will continue to have throughout the summer, I can kick-start some of the changes I want to make, and I can build positive habits and routines that I can take through the coming school year and beyond.
The third thing that I'm thankful for is the reality check that has come from in-person school ending so suddenly.
For me, it's been a harsh but effective reminder that nothing is ever set in stone, so you should enjoy the way things are at any given time while they still are that way. In the weeks before we all got quarantined, I was complaining a little about being bored with life because everything was feeling kind of status quo. Now though, since just about every aspect of life has completely changed, I know how much that status quo should be appreciated, mainly because it's filled with face-to-face interaction with lots of fantastic people and many opportunities. Also, in hindsight, there are quite a few things I could have been doing to spice up the status quo.
Building Resilience requires that students face and navigate challenges. We will see a changed, more adaptable, and overall more Resilient group of students when we start the new school year.
I plan to ask my students plenty of questions and to actively listen to what they share. I will continue to expand my focus on their social, emotional and physical well being and in turn, I want to express my gratitude for helping to further develop my SEL and Leadership skills as we work together to navigate through change and uncertainty.