Hybrid Classroom - Better Than I Imagined
Updated: Nov 27, 2020
The US Department of Education wants to know how it’s going in our hybrid classroom. Should I tell them? We’ve only been back on campus for seven days and my former second grade class has already been quarantined on day three of third grade. Someone tested "presumptive positive" and the whole shebang folded back into 100% distance learning. So I’m aware of the fragility of the system, which makes it a little scary to say this out loud, but here it goes ... The second grade hybrid and 100% distance pods are going really well. Better than I imagined! Now that I’ve said it out loud, won’t bad things happen? Won’t my classroom implode, or automatically deflate? This year is full of uncertainty, so I just have to focus on the now, and what’s been going so darn great and try not to "what if" everything.
The "great” part took a little while to emerge. We started off this year with 21 students in a distance-learning model, which was a first for all of us. It was tricky, but we had had some practice in the spring, so I felt like it was manageable. The first few days back in the physical classroom were a different sort of adjustment. After a month of distance learning, we were granted a waiver and that gave us permission to return to campus, so we divided our students into pods of 12. I mourned not having my teaching partner to lean on anymore. She was given the former library, which had just been converted into a classroom, and was busy teaching her own group of second grade students. In my own pod, I was balancing and holding the energy of my brand new students, solo.
I was processing teaching my regular load of language arts, reading, and writing classes but also taking on an additional subject, science, which I never teach. I fumbled around in my new learning, taking science walks and identifying plants and animals that I looked up on Google and gathered materials for experiments.
The children I felt like I knew from a month of online learning seemed anxious, needy, and over talkative in person. It was puzzling. I questioned a lot. Does their schoolwork look developmentally younger than in years past? Are they going to keep interrupting me while I try to teach? There’s no mute button. Hmm. That WAS handy. Do they remember how to be students? Do I remember how to teach?
So I would say the first three days back in the physical classroom were hard. My filter was thin. My irritability high. We were still creating routines and carving out structure and adjusting to group classroom living again with a super hygienic twist, which took a lot of energy all around.
As the days passed and the kids started to get used to classroom routines, a sense of normalcy appeared. We collectively exhaled. That cozy feeling of being a happy and healthy classroom family washed over me. It was reminiscent of a feeling I used to have with my former second grade class, which was abruptly taken away from me last spring.
Now suddenly back in the physical world and out from behind a computer screen, the joy of being able to easily find an assignment stored in a file cabinet and simply handing it to the children made me giddy. Ha ha! No uploading, no attaching it to Seesaw to be printed out, at home, fingers crossed. Life was revealing moments of normalcy again.
The other happy realization about being back on campus was being able to easily add the arts more fully into our daily plan. Dance, storytelling, and music are regularly woven into our school day and are the glue that holds our work together. It’s what keeps things light and cheerful and, quite frankly, it’s what we call "the magic." Heavy academic burdens are too much for young children to shoulder right now, because they’re especially fragile and can’t stomach that kind of work. So being back in the physical room is healing and happy-making with the arts to keep us afloat. It’s really hard to replicate that online, however we try, and it’s so refreshing to do it in person!
One supportive way our school has accommodated our teaching teams this year is to encourage collaboration across the grades. We have the privilege of learning from a beloved fifth grade teacher while she Zooms second grade math lessons into the classroom and to the100% distance students at home. It’s been charming to see her smiling face and the students’ happy gratitude. We also have a wonderful music teacher who Zooms in with his guitar on Mondays to lead group sing-alongs and a favorite drama teacher who Zooms in classes on Friday afternoons. Our art teacher and garden teacher don’t Zoom with us, but they both make the best asynchronous videos to teach their respective lessons. They’re all so clearly bringing their "A games" that it actually brings tears to my eyes. The Zoom teachers and enrichment teachers are hands-down a highlight of the week. I’m forever grateful to them.
The gratitude runs far and wide, and I’m also thankful to my administration for allowing me to teach the hybrid students from 8 a.m. to noon in the classroom and the 100% distance learners online in the afternoons. The distance children learn from asynchronous Seesaw lessons throughout the day, as well as two Zoom calls per day. It’s all very interesting, and it reminds me very much of those circus performers spinning plates. It’s taking a lot of practice and can be frustrating at times, and it’s mysterious and brings up questions. Are they learning? Can they hear me? Why isn’t my Wi-Fi working? Did I get kicked off line again? But the lovely part is learning how to integrate the arts more and more online. Storytelling, artwork, music, and acting games all help to infuse the magic online and is so desperately needed.
At first all the new COVID-19 preventive protocols seemed like a lot, and they were nearly overwhelming, but like anything, with practice and time, things have become easier and new habits have formed. Spraying down the yoga mats that the children use every day to sit six feet apart and washing out the rags they use to wash their tables each day are becoming second nature. Spraying, scrubbing, and washing are becoming the new normal, and it’s kind of fun!
Overall, the main theme we keep in mind in our hybrid life is giving ourselves permission to let things go and to focus on the emotional health of our students. This morning as two students entered the room in tears—one who was feeling fragile and the other who had forgot their mask—I decided, right then and there, that we needed to take it slow. There was no rush to see who could win the spelling bee, or read the fastest, or know the most math facts. We’re on a rollercoaster of emotions, and some days we’re on top and on others we’ve barely got momentum to push forward, but the beautiful part is that we’re in this together. We feel supported and cared for, and that’s what’s important.
I am hyper-aware that this year is anyone’s game, and this show could suddenly disappear and blow us back to distance learning for a good period of time. But for now, I’ll savor every moment and feel grateful for today.