How about a Round of Empathy: In 2 Parts

Background: My husband is a high school Social Studies teacher. I am a Curriculum Coordinator at the same school. We have 2 high school children (a sophomore and a senior), who attend this school.

Part 1: Empathy for Teachers

This past Friday morning, I was pouring a cup of coffee in the kitchen. My husband was holding a virtual synchronous class with one of his AP World History classes in the same room (his workspace is in our kitchen). I could tell he was getting frustrated. 

Who am I kidding, we are all beyond getting frustrated.

Earlier in the week, he shared a discussion post using Parlay to ask students to choose which option they preferred as a way forward to prepare for the AP exam as a class and to comment on one other student’s post. 

Parlay Discussion Post

Goal: Try to decide how we look at AP World History Review from April 12th – March 21st 

Option 1: Start to use the review videos released by the College Board. The videos typically are created by AP readers/teachers who approach the review unit by unit. The units are divided into subunits with lots of instructions about how/why the content could be incorporated into writing for the Modified, 2020 APWH test.

Option 2: Continue to use a variety of resources to review the content of each APWH unit. The activities include a variety of shorter videos and vocabulary activities. 

Discussion Question

Which option do you like the best? Give a rationale as to why you think this option would work best for you and/or the class.

Peer Feedback Instructions

You are expected to respond to at least one other student’s discussion answer. You can politely disagree with them (give a rationale for your disagreement) or concur with them (give a rationale for your agreement).

Some students did not complete this simple task. Others completed it with seemingly little care. Maybe the students were thinking that the teacher knows best and they will review in whatever way he thinks is best for them. For many of them, this is their first AP course. They don’t know what they don’t know.

However, let’s look at it from the teacher’s point-of-view. 

As a school, we are pretty deep into our COVID-19 Distance Learning experience. Not China-deep, but Asia-deep. We are in the second phase of our thinking now that we know this will be our reality for the remainder of the school year. Here’s what that looks like:

Phase II Focus:

  • Essential learning and assessing
  • Letting go of the “nice to know” curriculum
  • Engaging and motivating projects/activities/performance assessments
  • Not burning out (teachers or students)

So, with this in mind, I know the teacher from this story was considering these aspects as well as other relevant data. For instance, students have made it clear in surveys that they appreciate any chance to collaborate with their peers, take part in discussions, and have some choice/ownership of their learning. Parlay was a new tool that he thought would be fun for kids, let them interact with each other, and give them a voice in the decision about how to review and prepare for the AP exam.

What the students didn’t know was how much time it took to learn the tool, set it up, create the post, try it out, revise it, and publish it for each class.

The discussion was posted on Monday. There was a reminder on Wednesday, and by Friday morning’s synchronous class, well, let’s just say that my husband had to use his teacher voice.

He was honest. He was vulnerable. He let the kids know that he was frustrated and working a heck of a lot harder than they were. He actually listed the steps he took to create the discussion board and the time it took from his weekend. 

Remember earlier when I said they don’t know what they don’t know? This is the empathy part. 

In class, teachers have the toolbox that they have been digging into for years. In Distance Learning, it’s a whole new toolbox. Students don’t know that. Students don’t realize that teachers are learning new tech tools, new ways to communicate and collaborate, rethinking units, and completely redesigning assessments.

I think it’s more than okay to be honest and vulnerable with our students. I also think that students who understand exactly how hard their teachers are working to create meaningful learning experiences at home will be more engaged and more motivated

During your check-ins with students this week, open up to them about how hard this is and what you have learned. Show them. It’s not about gaining sympathy or making them feel guilty. We are all human. When they see just how much you are doing for them, I hope some of them might try a little harder, give a little more.

How do you share your own learning and your own struggles with students? Let me know!

Ginny

Hoping to post Part 2: Empathy for Seniors soon!

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