I just finished my first summer as one of two site leads for a Virtual Summer Learning Camp. While both of us have been site leads at in-person summer camps, COVID-19 changed our plans for this year. As we started planning together, the other site lead, Carrie, strongly advocated for having instructors connect with each other. Making their own working teams. Co-problem solving. Sharing resources. Some instructors created these partnerships immediately, but for other instructors, we initiated this teaming. At first, I wondered if a “team” was something that all instructors needed. I wondered if this was something that I would want if I was in this teaching position.
Until I met my teaching partner, Paula, I often spent my time planning and reflecting on my own. I always claimed that I preferred it this way. At the time, I felt that it was …
- less stressful,
- less argumentative,
- and less time-consuming.
But then I started working with Paula. Now all of our planning, reflecting, and instructing is done together, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Yes, we have a rhythm. As we discussed in a recent webinar with Diane Kashin, our ability to question each other, to engage in meaningful discourse, and to make changes as a TEAM, are key to how we teach and learn. Our program works because of this connection, and it’s one that we were able to build and support, even when online.
Recently, one of the things that worries me a lot, is that when we go back to school in a couple of weeks, our partnership might need to look different. What if we need to split up our class? Teach in two different spaces for most or all of the day? I know that there are educators that prefer the smaller groups. Some even work with their teaching partners to separate the class — be it in indoor and outdoor groupings or groupings in two different rooms, if available — and facilitate learning in this way. Paula and I tried this approach a couple of times at our last school, and we really disliked it. The bottom line is, we need each other. Not only do I think that we co-regulate each other during times of stress and/or when learning environments do not work as planned, but by being in the same space and seeing the student connections and learning from two different perspectives, we’re able to reflect and extend play. It’s not good enough to look at a few video clips together or have a discussion around what we observed. We need to inhabit the same area. Be immersed in the play. And have the constant back-and-forth dialogue that allows for reflection at the time and afterwards.
Now though, I’m struggling, as I understand the value in smaller class sizes for reducing the spread of COVID. Less people. More space. Less risk. I think we need to follow the insights from medical professionals, but I am also grieving the possible loss of a dynamic that has worked so well for us for the past four years. If we do need to minimize our time in the same room together, what can we do? This is when I started to think about the Microsoft Teams connections that I saw with our camp staff this summer. Even though each instructor had his/her own channel, all instructors added all other ones to their channels. They freely shared ideas and reflections with each other, and they also connected before and after camp to plan, reflect, and problem solve as a team. Paula and I could certainly do something similar during the school year if need be, but I wonder if we could push this connection even more. If we need to be in two different spaces, what if we used Microsoft Teams to connect our groups remotely? This would give both of us opportunities to see learning in each other’s environments, reflect together during and after play, and provide other quiet connections for students, who might be separated in person from peers, but don’t need to be if online.
I realize that there are set-up and tech-issues that could make this plan more complicated: from finding the perfect space in the room for the computer set-up to reducing the feedback which occurs as part of most online meetings. It might not be perfect, and at times, muting microphones and just observing the spaces through the computer screens might be best. I think about our SMART Board though, and if the SMART Board could be used as a way to combine the two classes: kids and educators that might not be in the same room, but can inhabit a shared space through a computer screen. I don’t know if this will even need to happen, but at a time with so much uncertainty, even just having the start of a plan reduces my stress. Co-Reg, relationships, and routines might look differently now thanks to the Coronavirus, but they can all still exist. Could they be even more important now than ever before? I owe Carrie an apology. I want to thank her for not only helping me see HOW educators can connect virtually, but also WHY it’s key that they do. How will you make educator connections possible if number restrictions throw a wrench in your plans? Maybe by sharing different options, we can not only consider our own Co-Reg needs, but support others from afar.