As school wrapped up this last year, several of my students joined my online “office hours” not seeking out help with the content, but instead wanting to share what was going on in their lives. Courtney popped into Zoom to chat about her 4-H woodworking project and a book she had just read. She was spending time with her uncle learning more about woodworking, making a table for her mom. Courtney missed school but was using her time to master other skills.
I wondered if all my students were using this time to grow. And I wanted to learn more and gain a deeper understanding of my students’ perspectives during these unprecedented times. I designed a survey to understand the challenges and opportunities e-learning had presented for my students.
When I asked which skills improved during COVID-19 distance learning, Allysa wrote,
I have improved on taking care of others. I cook for my family and do other chores—my parents are back at work, so I'm taking care of both my dogs. I have to watch them and make sure they're ok and don't need anything. I'm getting better at not just taking care of myself but others.
In the survey, I asked my students about their daily routines, life skills and the rigor of their schoolwork. I wanted to compare the viability of the e-learning platform to the traditional in-school learning experience because I was concerned with their ability to learn math and other content areas. Without conventional teaching methods, I worried that I was failing to challenge and engage them. Their answers astonished me. The survey highlighted the many life skills that my students developed during the crisis.
I did not realize that my students were using this time to grow as members of society. They saw their roles evolve with increased responsibilities, such as babysitting, earning income and household duties. The world around them changed, and my 14-year-old students responded with a heightened sense of civic duty and family obligations.
Students’ responses were centered on the development of their minds and heart. I often plan for collaboration in the classroom so students learn to work for the common good and develop the communication and skills needed to work together. The pandemic pushed students to find the intersection between their minds and heart.
I improved my communication skills with my family and the amount of time I put into cleaning and helping out my family. Since my family are the only people I see daily, they are the only people I can talk to face-to-face, and it has become better now that I see them more often.
This purposeful planning was harder through the distance platform. Instead, I was pleased to read how students discovered the importance of responsibility to family and self.
I have been working on understanding and keeping track of my emotions. I am learning to accept and complete my responsibilities.
Not to rush things, take your time, think smarter, not harder; If you fail once, keep going, and don’t give up.
Students no longer had the strict routine of school. As educators, we often discuss how we can create a day-to-day school schedule that will encourage all students to flourish. But when I asked my students about their new routines, I discovered some were creating viable structures in their daily lives independently. I could envision students participating in a collaborative planning process with teachers over the logistics of a regular schedule.
I got up at 7:30 and got ready for the school day. Once I got ready, I started my virtual learning and made sure that I got all of my work done before anything else.
The life skills that I think I improved are waking up and getting to work. Like you were going to a job. Also, learning to do the work even though the teacher is not always able to tell you to do it.
The life skill I have improved was integrity. I have improved this skill because since we are home, there is so much we could be doing other than e-learning, but that is not the case for me. I got on every day to complete my work.
In the past, my post-school year reflections tended to focus on test scores and academic growth. This year, my students’ responses have reminded me that the purpose of education transcends academics.
When e-learning began, I worried that my pandemic lessons weren’t sufficiently fostering my students’ mastery of the unit circle. Those worries faded as I realized that my students were instead learning time management, compassion, patience, how to stick to a positive and consistent sleep schedule, and love of family.
As teachers plan for the fall, I have confidence that many students will continue to grow academically. Teachers will find themselves meeting the many needs of their students. But if we are to learn from this pandemic, we must not go back to school as it was in March. It is time to change the face of the classroom. Many children grew in many ways beyond academics.
Reflecting on my students’ responses, I hope to foster the momentum of change, so we, as educators, better understand students’ lives beyond the classroom and better educate the whole child. All teachers need to set up an environment that is both challenging and supportive. Teachers need to create spaces for students to reflect on their development and roles in the classroom and in society.