There is something very unsettling about an empty school building on a typical school day. The silence is like a heavy blanket that is muffling what the mind recalls as sounds of laughter, learning, and growth. To walk the hallway and peer inside of each classroom with the chairs empty the feeling of sorrow is so grand. School is the heart of the community and to be empty is simply heartbreaking.
There is so much contention around the models of schooling that have resulted from the global pandemic that we are being forced to endure. From remote to hybrid, to onsite and everything in between, each school has their own unique flavor of how they are providing instruction to the children. There are many opinions on what is best and what is worst, what is meeting the needs of the children and what is lacking. However, in the end, what many are forgetting is the sadness that accompanies the inability to give children the full school community experience that we have come to know, expect, and, though we may not have realized it, appreciate.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to open the doors of our school on the very first day in September welcoming every single child for a five days/week onsite schedule. With much creativity and an incredibly flexible and resilient staff, we were able to restructure our school both physically and instructionally so that every single child would have a seat in their classroom in which they could attend daily to embrace their learning. Of course, there are families who opted to keep their children home and to access their learning remotely. For a multitude of reasons, about 35% of our families opted to have their child remote for the immediate future. While some educators are unable to understand why parents would make this choice, I find myself with a very different perspective than that of my colleagues. You see, despite working diligently to enable every child a seat every day in the school where I am the principal, I have opted to keep my own child at home to learn remotely.
My daughter is a smart, kind, passionate third grade learner (I may be a bit biased). She also battles with some anxiety and is a major overachiever (definitely an inherent trait from her mother). In addition to all of that, she also struggles with some respiratory issues that led to the difficult decision to keep her home this school year and have her access her learning remotely. When I initially made the decision to keep her home, I was bombarded with everyone’s opinions, unsolicited feedback, and criticisms.
“How could I do that to her? It is not fair to her!”
“You are a hypocrite- opening your school but keeping your daughter home”.
“How will she learn? She will fall behind!”
“What about her social and emotional well-being? You are stripping her of her socialization!”
Judgement is a funny thing because it leads to self-reflection, sometimes to self-doubt, and ultimately, to resilience in the decisions we make. All of these concerns are valid- I will not discredit that. But what none of these concerns are taking into consideration is the dynamic of our home, her school, her relationships with her teachers, and the efforts we, as her parents, make in order to empower her success. In other words, I was confident that I had this covered.
Fast forward four months later….I still believe that I made the very best decision for my family. Has it been easy? No. However, if I remember correctly the days prior to the pandemic (which feels like a lifetime ago), parenting was never easy. It is the biggest, most challenging, most rewarding job in the world. We have worked through many challenges including confidence issues with asking questions on the screen when the whole class can hear her, forgetting to hit submit on an assignment as Google Classroom serves as the pearly gates through which she submits her work, and missing her friends with who she had relied upon her time at school to foster those relationships. We have set up reminder systems in our house (thank goodness for our dear friend Alexa to set reminders), we have make checklists galore (shoutout to Canva.com who provides beautiful free templates and graphics), and we have established movie nights with friends via Facebook Messenger (another social tool that we could not have navigated this pandemic without). We have made the “so not normal” as “normal” as we possibly could. And guess what, she is doing just fine… spectacularly in fact.
I share this story because I think it is important that we all take a moment to step back and reflect upon where we started in this schooling-during-a-pandemic journey, the process we have endured, and where we have come over the past year. We are not failing our children. We are not depriving them of an education or a social life. We are teaching them. We are teaching them resilience. We are teaching them compassion. We are teaching them self-awareness. We are teaching them adaptability. They are learning life lessons that some adults may never master. If we focus on the positives that are resulting from this current world situation and we embrace the outcomes, then we are giving our children the greatest possible gift.
About the author: Christine Lion-Bailey is the Chief Strategy Officer for Ready Learner One LLC and a Director of Technology & Innovation in New Jersey. She is also is the coauthor of Reality Bytes: Innovative Learning Using Augmented and Virtual Reality. Christine is an advocate for innovative thought and practices in learning, both through instruction and leadership, across K-12, higher ed, and corporate spaces. Follow Christine on Twitter at @clionbailey.