It’s Time To Think Differently About Writing In The Classroom

Among the biggest changes of modern academic standards is the shift in the burden of general literacy. Rather than only ‘writing teachers,’ teaching reading and writing, now all teachers across all content areas are being asked to do so (something we’ve talked about before).

In the past, literacy—the ability to read, write, and understand—has been the domain of the English-Language Arts teachers (and elsewhere in the world, Literature and Composition teachers).

Limiting the craft of writing to a single content area has altered the landscape of students’ minds in ways that are only now being revealed as math teachers are told to teach writing. Students are now used to flinging rudimentary understandings on exit slips in broken sentence fragments, taking notes that neatly curate other people’s ideas, and otherwise ducking the responsibility to craft compelling arguments that synthesize multiple perspectives on a daily basis.

So we—English-Language Arts teachers—respond by handing them fill-in-the-blank graphic organizers that coax them to give reason 1 reason 2 and reason 3 in clear sentences that shun complexity or intellectual endurance, provided their ‘writing’ adheres to an expected form.

And handing those same graphic organizers out when other content area teachers ask for resources.

Now, generations later, the idea of writing about math or science seems not just challenging, but forced and awkward. Science and Math, properly taught, are more akin to philosophies and ways of making sense of the world than “content areas,” offering an infinite number of prompts to spur students to write.

This is the 21st-century, and 21st-century thinking is different.

While it is full of connectivity and collaboration and stunning possibility, the 21st-century learning era is one of infatuation with image, visual spectacle, flashing alerts, endlessly accessible whimsy, and cognitively stunted communication patterns.

And in capable response, writing could be the answer we’ve been looking for, right beneath our noses the whole time.


Back To School Social-Emotional Basics: Relationship, Rhythm, Release

As our elementary students head back to school in person, in this very new way, there will be many emotions stirred up in them. Alarm. Frustration. Worry. Excitement. 

And this will be mirrored by what we, as adults, may also be experiencing. For our teachers, on top of what they will be emotionally experiencing themselves, they are being called to be the caring leaders that guide our students to a place where they can learn together.

This is going to be a challenging dance. Our teachers are true change makers. They are providers and they are leaders and this period in history is going to shine a light on their vital role in our children’s emotional health.

So, how can we support them to support our children’s learning? As parents and school administrators, we can relax about the ‘learning’ and trust it will come. Schools are going to need to change the focus right now to concentrating on the emotional basics before academic basics. Teachers teach people, not subjects. And when they can focus on supporting well-being first, the learning may then have an opportunity to land. 

Let’s take a closer look at the 3 R’s of emotional basics:


What our students need from us They need to know we are there for them, and that they matter. It’s not so much about what we say—it’s about how we make them feel in our presence: invited, accepted, and seen. 

During this emotionally turbulent time, we will need to make conscious invitations into relationship so that our students can feel connected to us. This might mean special greeting rituals at the beginning of each day and more playful activities in which we join in. These attachment practices can help our students to feel connected to us, which may also lower their anxiety. 


Children crave rhythm.

Consistent routines, rituals, and structures help children feel safe. They can lean on these and rely on them. Yet most children are experiencing the exact opposite right now. And as they look to returning to school, they may have little to no sense of what the ‘new normal’ will be.  We can create a sense of safety by quickly establishing new routines that our students can count on and orient around. This will help to produce a rhythm to their days and can offer a sense of predictability in these unpredictable times.


Our students’ emotions will be stirred up. And we know that when emotions get stirred up, they need somewhere to go. Finding healthy ways to pre-emptively channel this emotional energy for our students can help to alleviate dangerous or disruptive eruptions. Integrating daily outlets for release can be especially helpful for supporting students to get out frustration before it leads to outbursts of aggression.

These outlets can also help students to reflect on and express their feelings in ways that don’t make them feel self-conscious. The beauty of this practice is that we don’t even have to know what is specifically going on for a child. We are simply facilitating a way for the emotion to be expressed and released indirectly in a natural way—whether through music, physical movement, stories or storytelling, writing, poetry, drama, art, or even simply being outdoors. All of these outlets are powerful because they help us come closer to our feelings and to experiencing a sense of release and emotional rest.

Going back to school during this time will not be easy. We will need to be creative and think outside the box. We may need to stretch muscles we never knew we had. But it may be helpful to remember that this is not a time to focus on outcome and performance, or getting ahead or even catching up. Shifting our attention to matters of the heart will help our students feel safe. This is what will set the stage for learning to happen – when children are ready.

In the meantime, let’s be patient with our students and ourselves. We are all in this together.

HR and L&D

Why Public Schools Should Continue To Use Remote Learning

This is a quick, simple post. It’s late Tuesday night and my kids need a bath–and, well, this isn’t complicated: public schools in the United States need to continue to use remote learning in the 2020-2021 school year.

I know it’s not that simple. As I wrote late last week in Teachers Are Suddenly On The Frontlines In The Fight Against COVID-19, teachers are now in a kind of morass. As COVID-19 rages in the United States with no signs of easing up soon, Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have recently begun an aggressive push to open school buildings in the fall.

While the negative effects of remote learning have been well-explored, few things are all bad. We’ve mentioned that the long-term effects of remote learning have some benefits. Mark Siegel, Assistant Headmaster at Delphian School, talked about how remote learning can give parents a closer look at what their children are actually learning.

“There’s a potential benefit, too, in that many parents now have a chance to better and more fully understand their children’s education–what they’re being taught and how they’re doing in basic subjects. After going through all this, they might feel more confident taking the reins of education in their children’s lives. And as parents reclaim the role of teacher, at least to a degree, children might look again to their parents for direction and knowledge.”

Again–I’m just exploring one side of this. There’s simply so much to consider. But while I do believe that re-opening school buildings in the United States in the fall of 2020 is dangerous in terms of COVID, this post isn’t about the epidemiology. Rather, it’s about the existing momentum–in lieu of the often significant failures and shortcomings–that’s been created with remote learning so far.

So, a few statements.

7 Reasons Schools Should Continue To Use Remote Learning In The United States

I. The near-future of learning is almost certainly blended learning–a mix of digital and face-to-face instruction.

II. By moving to remote learning, schools have had to take stock in resources–and resource deficits–necessary to meaningfully integrate eLearning in pursuit of remote learning.

III. This process has forced curriculum (what’s being learned), instruction (how it’s being taught), and supporting resources (e.g., Zoom and Microsoft Teams) to be designed–and re-designed–to work together.

IV. This process has been slow and clumsy and likely resulted in ‘learning loss.’ But ‘loss’ compared to what? Being in a safe physical space–one that won’t likely exist for 6+ months?

V. In that respect, it’s possible to consider what we’re doing as part of an ‘implementation dip’–a temporary loss before a larger gain.

VI. Of course, no one knows what will happen in the future with COVID-19 or with remote learning and its long-term effects. I am not championing it as particularly effective or innovative. What I’m suggesting is that we’ve already experienced the loss and have begun to adapt.

And considering that the near-future of learning is likely blended, it just might make sense to continue down this path even if school buildings can safely re-open in the fall (which seems unlikely). These buildings can still support students who need the support of these spaces and the resources of the schools and the socialization of their peers–it just doesn’t have to look like the school they remember.

VII. I know this is all unlikely to occur but I thought it should be said: The near-future of learning is blended and we’ve spent a century developing the brick-and-mortar spaces.

Maybe we can spend another six or eight months developing the digital ones, too–and not as an aside, but as the focal point of a more personalized learning experience.

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