We’re only a couple of months into the academic year, but for many educators it already feels much longer. Teachers are working more hours than ever before, with the added strains of preparing lessons in new formats and sometimes multiple formats, connecting with students from afar, and sorting out new classroom technology. Trying to cover as much material as possible and meet the social-emotional needs of students–all with constantly changing policies and limitations–is resulting in feelings of overwhelm and burnout. Whether you are teaching in person or remotely, you’ve likely noticed your students feeling more distant and distracted behind their masks or their screens. We are all facing a slightly different set of circumstances, so it’s easy to feel isolated in your frustration.
We knew this year was going to be different and very difficult to plan for, but we also know that educators are great innovators. If we can embrace our circumstances and our challenges, we have the opportunity to influence new standards and practices for middle school education for years to come. The first step is to ask what we can do to make our work manageable in the here and now. We all want the very best for our students, but one educator’s “best” will look very different from another’s. This is a critical opportunity to support each other and lift each other up.
We at AMLE have been working to make this year’s conference #AMLE20 a fertile space for the kinds of innovation and collaboration that will Build the Classroom of the Future (this year’s theme). A classroom that is not just functional, but intentionally optimized for all middle school students to learn, develop, and grow. We asked #AMLE20 presenters for their perspective of what that might look like. Here’s what they had to say:
What does the middle school classroom of the future look like to you?
Many are predicting technology playing a bigger role, with lessons taking a less structured, but more connected and collaborative format. The hybrid model of mixed in-person and remote learning may be here to stay, with in-person lessons focused on hands-on work and remote instruction for practicing and studying purposes. One of the most exciting predictions involves students taking the lead to create timely projects they are passionate about and make inquiries on ways they can make a positive impact.
One expert re-envisioned the physical classroom to include tables, comfortable seating, and nook areas for students to work individually or collaborate, with plenty of charging stations and an activism wall where students can share and promote causes they care about and respond to national and community events.
What are your biggest lessons learned over the past 6 months, and what would you have told yourself 6 months ago to prepare for this?
- Segment your lessons and have an alternate activity ready to roll so that when (not if, but when) technology fails, you can just move on and sustain the momentum of class.
- Social interactions are much more important than we value as a society. Foster relationships, keep in touch, communicate with others. Being alone all the time is not natural for any human being and has psychological effects.
- Students need to develop the metacognitive skills necessary to recognize their areas of strength and weakness in order to become independent learners. The one doing the work is the one doing the learning, so train students to give themselves and their peers’ objective feedback in order to improve their work.
- Done is better than perfect, and educators should show themselves and others grace in adjusting to pandemic-created transitions. Save more and plan better for emergencies.
What messages of inspiration or optimism would you share with colleagues?
Some of our respondents came up with short but sweet reminders to push us through our toughest days:
- Life is a bumpy road. Get on your ATV and get through the hurdles. Success is waiting for you on the other side.
- Lean on one another, find ways to rekindle the “whys” of teaching and education from the beginning, and remember “what comes from the heart reaches the heart.”
- When we stand up for ourselves, we are standing up for the kids, too.
Any of these would look great on a post-it note for your desk or computer monitor!
Others wrote thoughtful reminders of how important our work is. School has always been a place for students to learn how to listen, think critically, and interact with society, by interacting with peers and superiors. Working with students at this critical age for social development is not just a responsibility, but an amazing gift. As our students discover their talents and abilities and start to imagine their future, our optimism and support at this juncture will help them grow into capable individuals that make up a thriving society.
One respondent shared the encouraging feedback that in the past six months, they have seen education moving in positive directions. Because the pandemic is lasting longer than we expected, we may see that these changes actually stick!
A couple of our respondents got a bit more creative with this response. One finds inspiration in gospel music, family moments, and learning new things through webinars. Another noted that colleagues and friends are an inspiration, but no one is as inspiring as the students themselves. If you can make them smile and want to participate, you have succeeded.
Ready to start Building the Classroom of the Future? Check out our conference website to get to know this year’s speakers and learn more about what you can expect in our new virtual format. Get registered today to start planning your #AMLE20 experience!