Navigating a New Landscape
During two weeks of reflection, distance and family time, I'm pondering the path forward and hoping to help. This writing is meant to invite questions and to remind our community of the strength and opportunity that is available despite the difficulties facing us today. I fully expect The Mountain School will operate as planned during the upcoming Summer session, but what about the short term?
A general question to start, and I really do want to hear from you all.
What would be the most helpful for families and kids currently?
We are losing jobs, staying home, caring for the sick, and preparing for a critical mass of difficulties that will challenge the human race more deeply before this cycle is over. From what I see and hear, we are doing a responsible job with these things. We are adapting. It's hard to gauge, but I'd say I'm actually having more meaningful conversations and shares with friends, colleagues and family than before. It doesn't feel like isolation at all, but rather that our community is coming together and bolstering our position for the good of the whole. It is wonderful to see creative and generous people reaching out and making themselves available to others despite the circumstances.
Our kids want to help too, and we should be looking for opportunities to have their daily work add to the work of our households while sharing messages of hope and fun with everyone. I saw a new Youtube channel just this morning, and really appreciated hearing a favorite little buddy who narrated and gave a tour of his family ranch and the animals there.
Ethan and James are helping with early gardening, making Tortillas and writing or drawing things to send to family and friends. These things don't have to consume the entire day, and there should be rest and athletic time blended in. Find the ratio that works best for your family.
Another question and then a few suggestions from a Teacher's perspective:
How are your kids responding to time at home without the play and structure they are used to?
In my experience, kids who have their social needs met will relax and become infinitely more stimulated, teachable, and happy. Kids also learn a lot from each other, so one of my regular practices as a Teacher is to set students up as experts on specific subjects so they can teach each other. I've seen this work beautifully, and it certainly serves the group better than a lecture format during which the Teacher talks and most kids tune out. One of my Teacher partners and I used to check in after lessons about the length of our lecture, instructions and explanation of learning targets. We both knew that 10 minutes or less of these things would leave the focus on kid research, discussion, and preparation for shares. Socratic Seminars and similar structured debates or discussions are the more sophisticated outgrowth of these principles.
So kids need active, lively interaction in which they learn to build up their own voices and credibility while considering the point of view of their peers and instructors. This is true for writing or speaking, and I often talk to my students about how writing and thinking are or can be one and the same. These teaching structures work for young and older kids alike.
I've been in touch with several students during the last week, all of whom contacted me to ask about projects and papers that we didn't get to finish. They wanted to present. They wanted to hear the final products their friends were producing. That is very encouraging to me.
I should also say that in the time since I started this draft, my own kids have had a harder time adjusting. We've done a lot of good things together, but I see the need for a daily schedule. Little guys need to help write and endorse a schedule, and we need to make sure we move from point to point without too much intensity or stress around the day.
I can definitely see the weight of the world affecting them, and I know they both miss the group time that is such an important part of the socio-emotional development of our students.
A few suggestions from a Teacher:
1) Have your kids share their current or most recent writing with me as a Google Doc. Ethan, my 7-year-old, is learning to love writing, and even kids as young as he is love to share their ideas and receive praise and feedback. He is riding his bike now, and I will have him writing about that for about 10 minutes when he gets back in.
It is a huge opportunity to have one-on-one writing time during which students compose their thoughts and revise with helpful input. And, by contrast, that can he much harder to do with immediacy during a class session with 25 kids.
2) Let's practice Google Hangout video conferencing to get used to the platform and build up to the point that groups of up to 25 can participate. I know there will be a learning curve, and I know it will feel a bit flat compared to our usual, but this will become a good way to maintain friendships and community.
Two Rivers Community School is moving forward with this planning, and the RFSD met to discuss this ramp up just yesterday. I hope our early practice will translate into a vibrant online community that shares and refines ideas, covers academic bases, and maintains until life is back on track.
We can also use Facetime or whatever video chat to keep kids in touch. Ethan and James have had a few good calls with friends this week, and I was glad to leave them to their conversations with little buddies and do what needs doing at the house.
3) I am writing a book. Historical fiction set in the Mayan Empire that is perfect for Young Adult readers, but equally good for parents and younger kids. I've shared the first 100 pages with 10-12 students and received some great and helpful feedback. Please send me a message if you are interested in reading, or in helping me with the writing process. I have thought about reading a chapter out loud every late afternoon or evening, and would love to hear about a time that might be best for all of you.
4) Before the social distancing started I was planning to begin sharing The Yurt, 600 square feet of circular communal space with everyone. I am ready to do that, but obviously waiting for the all clear, and for consensus from all of you. Maybe it's May. Maybe June is better. We will see.
5) I signed up for the Colorado Emergency Childcare taskforce. No news yet, but if the need arises I will be offering care for caregiver's kids, nurses, doctors... We will see how this shapes up.
We are strong adherents of the stay-at-home model, and have really enjoyed the family time as a result, so I'm not suggesting we rush heedlessly into face to face meetings. Protection and prevention remain the highest priorities. Joining this taskforce feels scary, but I want to help.
Is it conceivable that we could convene in small groups this Summer?
Many have suggested that school districts will remain closed into May or longer. And if that is the case, I am available and willing to help with Teaching and Childcare during the interim. Again, that decision will be under review and will only start when we examine the newest evidence, weigh the risks and benefits, and reach a healthy consensus.
Please share this offer with Nurses, Healthcare Workers, and those who are finding ways to remain employed but truly need Childcare. I imagine this need will become more pronounced before things improve. I am here to listen and to help as I can.
It's Spring Break. We have time to think and to carefully consider the path forward. In my mind, a good leader is one who asks for input and makes the best decisions for all involved, and that is my intention here. I think the Mountain School model is a healthy, right-sized option for mindful, purposeful instruction, activity, and childcare. And in this new landscape we can navigate our efforts and our kids in the best possible direction.