Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Putting a Bow on 2020

2020 worst year ever
Without overlooking the terrible things that effected so
many people this year, was 2020 the worst. year. ever?

It goes without saying that 2020 was a tough year, an interesting year, a somber year.  A global pandemic not seen in over 100 years caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the United States alone, plus millions more infected with varying degrees of severity with long term effects unknown.  Cities and states shut down, sending the economy into a spiral where millions lost their jobs or had their hours cut significantly, making it difficult for people to pay their bills, buy groceries, etc.  Schools closed their doors to in-person learning and canceled extracurricular sports and activities, forcing students to learn from home over programs like Google Meet, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams.  But as difficult of a year that 2020 has been, there are many positives that have come out of this year that are changing things for the better.  

Before I continue, I do not want to discount those that have lost friends and loved ones due to COVID-19 and the financial struggles that have resulted from the pandemic. Thousands are testing positive for the disease on a daily basis still, with thousands more requiring hospitalization or dying from COVID-19 each day.  While a vaccine has been approved on an emergency basis, we still need to be vigilant to combat this pandemic.  We still need to wash hands frequently, wear a mask, keep our distance from others, and limit time in environments with large groups of people.  The world needs time to get the vaccine to people and even if you receive it, you can still carry the virus and pass it on to others.  And there are also people that may refuse to get the vaccine because of religious beliefs, concerns with side effects, or concerns that the vaccine was rushed and that research on any long term effects are unknown.  If we can all work together, we can beat this!  

Prior to March, many, if not most, educators had never heard of Zoom or Google Meet, let alone used it in their instruction.  Many educators also were still hesitant or resistant to other ways to engage students through technology, programs like Pear Deck, Nearpod, Quizizz, and more.  However, when schools shut down, it forced educators to reevaluate how they were teaching.  Suddenly, it became imperative to have a place to house curriculum for students, places like Google Classroom, Schoology, and Canvas.  It became imperative to create activities that went beyond worksheet packets.  It became imperative to get creative in communication with students and families.  It became imperative to impart more flexibility and empathy in teaching.  And while some schools have begun to return to a face-to-face model, the importance of these shifts has not faded.  Even when we return to "normal," all of these things are going to be essential to education.  Gone are the days of teacher-led instruction where students receive piles of papers and textbooks.  Educators must be able to collaborate with others to create ways to engage students in "the new normal" and realize that if we were able to make this shift in a matter of days to accommodate the situation, we can make permanent shifts that effect permanent change in how we deliver instruction and assess student learning.  

For the last couple of years, many blogs, books, and sessions as conferences have focused on the importance of social-emotional learning and whole-child instruction, emphasizing that students that know that they are cared for and have their needs met are students that will learn better.  The pandemic really brought the idea of social-emotional learning to the front burner.  Food insecurity, the need for many students to get jobs to help their families make ends meet, the stress and depression that many students face, and the effects of a lack of social interaction between students became more important than any curriculum standards.  And while these were all important prior to the pandemic, the pandemic shed more light on these issues.  

And it isn't just the importance of SEL for students that was highlighted, it was the importance of educators having their needs met as well. Most teachers have expressed that the pandemic has caused them more stress, depression, and exhaustion from working in a distance format.  Because very few had ever worked in such a situation, the self-doubt of teaching effectiveness crept into the minds of many.  I myself experienced all of these things over the last nine months.  As a result, more and more educators began to realize the importance of taking care of oneself.  Exercising more, unplugging from work-related items, spending more time with family, and embracing hobbies became more commonplace amongst educators.  When talking to colleagues and friends, most have scaled back many things in order to be more active and to step away from screens, eliminating things like podcasts, Twitter chats, blog writing, or other creative ventures.  And while I enjoy all of those things, I have done the same for the sake of unplugging more.  

Hiking at one of my favorite places, the
Calico Hills trail of Red Rock Canyon, 
just outside of Las Vegas. The beard, while
grey before the pandemic, has gotten a little
greyer as the year has progressed...
Over the course of 2020, I made a lot of changes in my life.  I left a school in Carson City, Nevada that I loved and returned to Las Vegas after a two-year absence, but the choice was not an easy one.  After many discussions with my family, it was decided that the benefits of returning to Southern Nevada outweighed the benefits of remaining in Northern Nevada (I miss Carson High School every day and the amazing educators that I was honored to work with during my two years there).  But making a move in the middle of a pandemic is certainly something I would not recommend.  I began to be more active and get outside more, but the heat of the Mojave Desert sapped my motivation for several months.  Once the scorching summer faded into fall, I was able to motivate myself to become more active again, and as of this writing, I have gotten outside for a walk, hike, or bike ride (sometimes several a day) every day for over a month!  My goal is to do the same for the rest of December, then continue into January.  On January 18, the Peloton bike that I purchased will arrive, so while I may not be getting outside to walk each day at that point, my goal will be to exercise every day in some way, shape, or form.  

It is easy to say that 2020 has been a terrible year.  I am fortunate to have my health, my family, a position teaching special education at a wonderful school with supportive leaders and colleagues, and friends that while I do not see in person are always available to chat via text, video, or on the old fashioned phone.  And while I do not want to discount the pain and the struggles that the circumstance of 2020 may have brought you, I do want to encourage you to reflect on the good that came out of this year and how 2020 has made you a better person, spouse, parent, educator, etc.  Here's to looking forward to 2021 with hope! I wish you the best as 2020 winds down and can't wait to see what the new year will bring.  

Until next time...