Hi friends…it’s been awhile. As an educator during a pandemic teaching virtually, the past few months have been challenging to say the least and my reason for not writing! No time!
There were so many unknowns, so much unfamiliar territory to navigate, and no specific “rule” book to follow. Teachers were basically told, “you’re going to be teaching during a pandemic…figure it out!” Thanks for the help and encouragement! Not only were teachers, parents and students, forced to make a decision about their potential health by attending school, many were also forced to make the decision to teach or learn remotely. What a choice!
Having severe asthma and fearing the potential threat of exposure teaching physically, I
chose had no choice but to teach virtually. It was a tough reality to accept as I love the connections and rapport I build with my students seeing and interacting with them every day.
Surprisingly, those connections can also be established virtually using some of the same strategies I used when teaching in a brick and mortar school:
Greeting every student as they enter your meet
Inquiring about their lives
Remembering little details
Being enthusiastic and creative
Developing lessons and activities that challenge and inspire
Ensuring every student feels included, welcomed and validated
Choosing materials, resources and tools that represent the students in your classroom
These are some of things I have always done with my students from a sincere and authentic interest in getting to know them and establishing a safe, comfortable learning environment. These strategies are also ways to create an equitable and inclusive classroom.
But I didn’t realize how much more would be involved when teaching online.
How do you really ensure you’re being equitable when teaching in front of a screen all day?
You do what know and you learn along the way. Sage words of self-advice!
LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION!
As a virtual teacher, you now have to consider the ramifications of asking students to have their cameras on; how can we expect students to share their home life with their teacher and classmates when their home life situation may not be the best? You may have students who are embarrassed about how they live, uncomfortable showing the world their private spaces, afraid of exposing siblings and caregivers on camera and many other reasons for not turning their cameras on.
In the beginning, I was guilty of insisting my students have their cameras on, thinking that if we were in a physical classroom, they could not choose to be visible or invisible, so virtual classrooms should be the same. As a huge equity person, I’m ashamed to admit that I fell into this trap fairly easily, adhering to parameters for brick and mortar schools and not realizing how inequitable I was being. Think of yourself during meetings for work; how many of us choose to have our cameras off because we’re not looking our best, our house is a mess, or too much is going on in the background? Our students have the right to make that choice as well, even if it goes against what we believe as educators. We are not living and working under regular times, therefore, we have to think outside of the box and be more flexible and understanding than ever before.
INTERNET ACCESS: DIGITAL EQUITY
I have always been cognisant of the internet in terms of whether my students have access to it and this is something I’ve shared with fellow colleagues. There are many assumptions we make about our students that can exclude children in a learning environment. Internet access is one of them. To assume that all of your students have access to reliable internet can unknowingly create spaces where students feel alienated. Trying to see the world from an equity lens helps me reflect on my beliefs, biases, and practices and hopefully, allows me to create spaces where all of my students feel included, safe and comfortable. Be flexible. Be understanding. Be PATIENT. Every child’s access or lack of access to reliable internet can be a major factor contributing to their success in education!
What does that actually mean? For some, it means stepping outside of your comfort zone and reflecting on your own biases and practices. Students need to see themselves represented in the content, material, people they encounter every day, especially in the classroom! How do you do this online? The same way you would do it in a physical classroom!
You need to think about the texts you choose to read aloud; Who is being represented? How are they being represented? Who is missing from the text? Why? You need to think critically about choosing texts that represent many perspectives, communities, cultures and people,
even if especially when your class is a fairly homegeneous group. Kids need to be exposed to the world outside of the bubbles they live in, experience other perspectives, explore differing opinions, develop empathy through shared experiences. And teachers play such an important role in creating these spaces, whether virtually or in-person.
Equity Can Be Embedded Anywhere!!!
To be equitable you need to be open to change, open to shifting ideologies, willing to fight against the status quo, brave enough to confront your own complicity in perpetuating unconscious inequities within your classroom.
Get to know your students, their families and the communities they live in and be responsive to that knowledge. Recognize that inequities exist in every institution in society and schools are not exempt.
How can you reduce the harm many of your students are experiencing on a daily basis?
Listen to their stories and lived experiences, believe them, support and validate them and most importantly, embed multiple perspectives and voices into everything you teach. You can do it, if you really want your students to feel valued and truly included!