When I started this blog, it was 2014 and I was trying to get comfortable with social media and online learning. Trying to energize myself for a shift in my educational practice and philosophy, I wrote this tagline: because no matter where it happens, school is always in session. As Dewey so famously said, education is life itself, and if education is life, and we are living, then we are always in school. I wrote about some of this in an essay called “Embracing It.”
As I emerge from a weekend spent in online classes that were very quickly created by nimble graduate school professors — we usually spend three days together in Philadelphia each month — I am feeling a lot of emotions, like everyone else. First, I am feeling gratitude. Although it was physically deadening and mentally exhausting to look at a screen for so long, it was also so good to see and hear my instructors and peers. I’m especially grateful that each member of my cohort was able to be present despite personal and professional hardships likely never before endured. I’m grateful, too, for my laptop in a way I never have been, comforted by its reliable glow and the sound of my fingers on its keys.
I’m grateful and comforted, but cold. A screen is defined as a partition, a divider, a protector, a concealer, and in my experience of learning through a screen this weekend, it is indeed all of those things and more. So second, I am feeling sadness. I missed sitting next to my friends in class this weekend, hearing their unmuted voices, seeing the wonderful variation of expressions on their faces. I feel sad not just for myself but also for my professors because as a teacher, I know that the joy of teaching lies not in the transmission of ideas but in the connection between hearts and minds. Several of them noted how much they missed the little things about us that they could neither see nor intuit.
Beyond sadness, third, I’m feeling worry – for the whole of us. For students who depend on school to feed, shelter, and love them. For my own children and young people who are adapting to life without school, physical freedom, or friends. My girls have been good sports and good companions, especially to me, but they have not been all that happy. Milestones in their lives and the lives of their peers will not take place this spring — big things like graduations and little things like playdates where someone tells the funniest story or someone gets upset and then gets over it. I feel worry for families facing illness and loss as well as economic hardship and anxiety. I feel worry for the country. If I stop to really listen to the silence around me, I can almost hear the machinery of our 50 states shouldering to the ground as we go into low-power mode.
But fourth, I’m feeling inspired and hopeful. I have seen so much generosity and creativity around me, so many efforts to give to others without asking for anything in return. Free services, free classes, free books, free shows, and strenuous efforts to share good and honest information with each other. Amazing, heroic acts of courage on the part of care givers, health care workers, delivery workers, journalists, and of course teachers and many others, even famous authors. When Mo Willems taught my daughter to draw the pigeon this week, he reminded everyone in our house how important it is to have fun whenever we can and that a little levity can go a very long way.
Since the day that the schools in my life shut down (Friday the 13th), my mind has been racing more than ever. Because no matter where it happens, school is always in session. We are always learning. What’s so hard right now is that we are mostly learning in physically alone spaces, and everyone knows that we learn best side by side. Share one sentence with me here about what you learned this week or today in the school of life? For example, this week, I learned that the sea can take on the exact color of the sky, that the prospect of putting in a bird feeder can catalyze a whole morning, and that unfortunately for her, I can not be my daughter’s math teacher.
I am also looking for some great educator stories about this unprecedented moment for Well-Schooled, the site for educator storytelling, which I co-edit with Laurel School’s brilliant Ann Klotz and the amazing research scientist and writer, Ari Pinkus. We plan to publish those stories quickly, as we know that relevance contributes to impact. Thank you!