The Gift of Silver Linings

By Amy Weisberg, M. Ed.
Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.By Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.      December 11, 2020

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The Gift of Silver Linings
One of Mrs. Weisberg’s students, Romi, sent this to her with permission from her mom to publish.
“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” —John Wooden
When I asked the parents of my students for feedback or inspiring quotes relative to the distance learning experience, the John Wooden quote was given to me by Tina Melekeian. I was in the middle of parent-teacher conferences the week before Thanksgiving and was amazed by the positive things parents said about how well school was going for their children and families. I had expected to hear about how hard distance learning was (because it surely is challenging) and ended my week feeling uplifted by the comments the parents made about their children’s academic learning, social-emotional learning, and their perspective about this unusual moment in time.

I had been thinking about how inconvenient school is for families now, how much time parents are devoting to their children’s learning, and the sacrifices that parents are making to ensure that their children are able to access school and continue to learn and progress even under these circumstances.

When school takes place in person, at school, most parents drop their children off early in the morning and pick them up in the late afternoon from after-school care and then have the day to work and take care of other younger siblings. Now parenting has become a 24/7 job and teaching has too. The focus on children has become what is most uplifting during this time, and the devotion of both parents and teachers, a unifying force.

Even though all of this is true, I was glad to hear the parents of my students and some former students, tell me about the silver linings they’ve discovered during the pandemic Zoom school experience.

The gifts have come early this holiday season and are sprinkled throughout the school experience and the ways families are adapting to collaborating with teachers to give children the best experience possible.

“I never thought I’d be a part-time kindergarten teacher, but in times like these anything is possible and necessary. The time I get with my son, hands-on, is impactful and we will both have these memories” —C. Beau Pollock

As a teacher, I was concerned that my students’ academic learning occur as close to a traditional school experience as possible. I wanted to provide materials for them to have hands-on learning, to challenge them with independent learning experiences and to engage their parents for the special, one-to-one instruction at home. I conducted pre-conference assessments and was so thrilled to see that the strategy has paid off and I am honestly excited to see that the children have made such good progress. Watching parents work with their children on videos submitted to the Seesaw platform that I use for student engagement, is the highlight of my teaching day.

“I would just like to say I’m very surprised at the amount of things that Hendrix has learned in your class, it’s very impressive!” 
—Heather Roma

Surprisingly, the children can handle more of their school responsibilities than I had imagined. They are learning to organize their materials, come to Zoom class prepared to learn and complete work, and are excited to engage with their classmates and teachers. They participate in class discussions and are learning our school and district-wide rules: Be Safe, Be Respectful and Be Responsible.

While it is challenging to monitor behavior during distance learning, we are able to see the children practice these rules by safely sitting at a desk or table during class and using learning materials, such as scissors, safely. The children demonstrate respectful behavior by taking turns during class discussions, raising their hand to be called on, and listening to their classmates’ contributions. They properly name their Zoom screen square, keep their video on while class is in progress, and keep their “mute” button on when listening or waiting for a turn. In this way, all children get a turn to talk, and learn to listen. The children demonstrate responsibility by arriving on time, having their materials ready, and turning in their independent work on time. All of this requires the support and assistance of their parents, who generously take the time to patiently reinforce school norms. In the classroom, I would be responsible for reinforcing most of these rules, but during distance learning, parents and teachers are partners.

“For us, a “silver lining” of this time is the significant increase in responsibility our five-year-old is demonstrating. For school, she independently logs onto her classes, renames herself, knows how to mute/unmute, start/stop video. She self-schedules her time to complete her independent work and arranges her own snacks.” —Melissa Shoup Gheen

The Gift of Time Together
For the many parents I’ve talked to, the sacrifice and stress of distance learning is balanced by the surprising benefits of time together as a family.
“For us the silver lining has been lots more together time since we travel so much less than usual during the pandemic. So, we have gotten much more together time and family time and got a puppy!” —Dashiell King Biehn, Jennifer and Michael
The time at home, has allowed parents to help their children set up learning spaces, a habit that will likely continue to support their student’s learning in the future. Children have learned to organize their materials and parents are sharing ideas with each other about keeping learning materials organized. In fact, the parents in my class have set up a What’s App text chain and talk to each other frequently. This is a great outcome of the digital age we are all operating in now. When parents would normally congregate outside the classroom door at drop-off and pick-up time, they now text, FaceTime, and Zoom with each other to share tips and confirm assignments. We have had Back-to-School Night and parent meetings on Zoom and while we all miss getting together in person, we are grateful that we have bonded as a class.

It is satisfying to be able to make real connections with the children as we get to know them. I am continually surprised by how much I learn about a child through the Zoom class and the work they submit via video and photo. I get a peek into their learning process and their personality. When conferencing with one parent, David Dorfman, he noted that his son was fond of making videos to show his work, but sometimes rushed through it, and commented, “His challenge is not going to be charm.” We both laughed and recognized his son’s charming performance on video was such fun to watch.

“As a full-time working mom, the best thing about distance learning has been the ability to spend more time with my son every day and to be more tapped into what his real time progress and challenges might be.

The different past has beed balancing attention needed with my work from home meeting schedule.” —Tijana Srdanov

Balancing time for working parents has always been a challenge. I remember it well! Now, with everyone at home, creating the time and space for concentrated work, and dedicated parenting, is even more of a challenge. I empathize with the parents of my students who are having to do it all. As a teacher, I have the challenge of balancing a rigorous curriculum that will enable my students to progress, with the understanding that a lot of flexibility is required now. Sometimes parents need to share their frustration and luckily, we can share an understanding as we are all in this together.

“Distance Learning is wrapped in a bliss as we spent more time with our child. We are part of the learning process. Bird by bird, we witness the progress of our child and see his talent, excitement, and commitment blossom daily in front of our eyes. Guiding him through his homework, we have the advantage to support him and the chance to heal our own complex childhood. Our son’s progress and development are apparent on a daily level as we’re participants in this process, especially with the daily feedback reflected by his teachers’ remarks. We don’t wait ‘til the end of the semester to learn about our child’s progress!

We lucky to have a small yet diverse assembly of teachers headed by Mrs.Weisberg. She is a well experienced, perfectly qualified and committed to each of her children. Very inspiring to listen and watch her passionately conducting this promising raw, wild, and young orchestra!

Finally, our child becomes diverse in using the computer. Something he would need anyway in the near future. However, we need to keep his childhood domain safe and as holistic as possible regardless of the false temptation of the electronic aggressive media! Something the school, as well as Mrs. Weisberg, is very aware of.” —Noor’s parents, Mervat and Hanna Eli

This is an inconvenient time. We are isolated and missing our families and friends. We are missing birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, and are being asked to look for the small gifts, the moments, the laughs over Zoom, the birthday video compilations, the school morning assemblies consisting of pages of more than 150 participants, the desire so many of us have to connect with others. We keep telling ourselves, there will be light at the end of the tunnel, and we will perhaps walk out of this tunnel with a new appreciation for the mundane regularity of life. We will remember these gifts of achievement, spending time together, helping each other, and continue to look for the silver linings that are really the best gifts of this holiday season.
Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.
      December 11, 2020

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