Listening for the Lessons of Today

Liz Gray, Middle School Head
Post Date: May 11th, 2020
Brendan Largay

One of the things I enjoy most is listening. Whether listening to personal stories of adventure, discovery, or hilarity, podcasts about human behavior, science, and history, or the owl and other bird calls in my backyard, this spring offsite has afforded me many opportunities to practice what I love. As has been the case for us as educators this spring, when there is no road map or tested waters for a journey, listening and empathizing become key. While some of our senses may be dimmed or easily overwhelmed as we physically isolate ourselves, in our uncharted new teaching and learning territory, listening is heightened. Our research these days lies not in reading the map or recorded narratives that have been written by those before us, but in reading each other closely while we learn together, apart.

The world is speculating about how this time of quarantine will change us—in work, socially, emotionally, academically, you name it. Schools are no different. We ask ourselves about our new practices daily. We are listening for the answers to these big questions:

  • What barriers to teaching and learning that may have been there all along are suddenly revealed to us now?
  • What opportunities has this new platform afforded us?
  • What have we learned from this time that will inform and continue to shape our future teaching and learning for the better?
  • What is the purpose of education, of the content and skills we teach, and of gathering in creative and diverse ways?
  • How can we provide a more equitable and inclusive education for both our students and our families?

And in our weeks offsite, we have learned these lessons:

  • There is nothing that can replicate the in-person human connection. We have designed school, and specifically, Belmont Day, for a reason, and that is comforting.
  • Tremendous growth and learning happen when we are forced to adapt. We have proven ourselves to be resilient, dynamic, indomitable, and quick studies as we have climbed a steep learning curve this spring.
  • We are no longer hesitant to try something new. Jumping onto new online tools, collaborating with our tech team and each other to trade tricks and tips, and using each other as sounding boards for wild ideas that become great opportunities have become second nature for us.
  • Some students prefer this learning lifestyle, as it offers them a later wake-up time, more flexibility in what they accomplish, and when, the opportunity to enjoy a bike ride or cook for themselves in between classes, and to find freedom and agency in more choice and differentiation.
  • We can bring the essence of our curriculum into the light. We need to ask and answer, “Who cares about this topic?” and “Why should we care?” for all that we are choosing to devote our time and attention.
  • We recognize and honor what it takes for parents and teachers to be true partners in the education of our students. The background of a video chat or class opens a window to learning about and listening to each others’ diverse and unique homeworlds. The surprise appearance of a pet on-screen, or the sounds of family, increase our understanding of where we come from and what matters most to us as individuals.
  • Our empathy radar has been sharpened. We are mindful of those going through tough times. We try to read the expressions of our students through the screen. We are hungry to gather the perspectives of parents and families. We support colleagues with whom we continue to forge ahead in the lifelong process of learning.

This spring feels different as we head into the home stretch of the school year. There is so much to celebrate. While it’s new territory, the students and their accomplishments have only become more remarkable—they are facing this spring with bravery, humor, optimism, and creativity, and appreciating the beauty in the small things that life has to offer at the moment. I am fascinated to see what we will all bring back from this experience when we gather again on campus to learn in one another’s company. When we know we don’t have to do all of our meetings on Zoom, will we look forward to using it to connect sometimes? I hope one of the things we will hold dear and remember to do is to continue to listen to each other, to read each other’s faces carefully for signs of how we are feeling and what matters most to us, and the questions we are yearning to explore.

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