Opal School closed in 2021. You can continue to access these resources for free at teachingpreschoolpartners.org/resource-library/.

Sharing Our Stories: Reflecting together on teaching and learning in a pandemic

Sharing Our Stories: Reflecting together on teaching and learning in a pandemic

The current health pandemic has brought about feelings of incredible uncertainty, fear, and vulnerability for teachers, families, and students across the world. Here at Opal School, like for so many others, this year has felt like we’ve faced unimaginable challenge after unimaginable challenge. For me personally and professionally, it’s been a real struggle. I think it can be easy to get lost in feelings of despair, to feel stuck or immobilized by all that’s going on for ourselves, the children we work with, and the rest of the world.  We are being called upon to navigate a unique set of challenges that we’ve never encountered before. And it’s hard.

But with all that challenge comes this opportunity to approach uncertainty in a way that collectively we haven’t had to do before; to examine, and question, and even tear down practices we may have relied on in the past. We all have this chance to be brand new at something – to muck about and do our best to figure out what we will hold onto and what we need to let go of. To learn some real things about learning that we wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do. And that feels exciting and hopeful.

With that sense of hope in mind, I’d like to invite you to join us for a series of conversations (both here on the blog and in upcoming video chats) that dig into some of that learning more deeply. By asking questions, sharing stories, making connections, and reflecting with one another, we hope to expand our vision for what is possible as we move forward. 

I wonder, as you think about how you are navigating this highly ambiguous moment in time as an educator:

What values are you leaning into? 

What teacher research questions are you asking? 

What habits of mind are supporting you to stay open to new learning?

What practices are being strengthened and what are you finding no longer serves you? 

Last week, as I spoke with my friend and colleague Melinda Hayward, who teaches preschool online this year at Prescott Elementary, about some of those questions, she said,

“I realized pretty early on that I was going to make materials the foundation for our inquiry together. I’m finding materials are a connecting avenue to all those principles of playful inquiry. The materials are a way of connecting me with the adults and the adults with the habits of mind that we’re working on in the Playful Inquiry practices. And for the children it’s a way of engaging in deeper thinking. So I made that commitment and I haven’t waivered on that just because I’ve always felt that materials are language. A lot of our friends speak different languages and I’ve always (even in person in the classroom) felt that materials are that avenue for expressing our ideas, finding connections, being a flexible thinker, practicing focus, diving into these playful ideas together. So I feel like I always knew that was going to be a foundation for our work together this year. It was a way for us to be together even though we’re still apart.”  

Her commitment to valuing materials as foundational even in distance learning struck me. I felt a sense of power and thoughtfulness in her willingness to commit to naming this idea as foundational based on her values, despite the enormous challenges that this commitment might take to enact. It compelled me to revisit these recent posts here, here, and here from Opal School teachers to see if I could find that same kind of commitment to values. I’d love to invite you to do the same. And also to ask yourself, what values have you made a commitment to this year that continue to guide your practice, despite the challenges you’ve encountered?