They Call it Multi-Tasking
In the modern times we live in, so infused with demands on our attention and action, we often seem to be juggling many tasks simultaneously. Research on the brain still suggests that we may do many things with our mind and body, but we do them quickly one at a time in serial fashion. We switch from one thing to another and if our plate is full, we may have many things to switch to and accomplish. Our modern lives often have many layers of complexity. Working through complexity requires a variety of balancing strategies or ways of being. In these times of serious medical danger, these times of crisis, I have been thinking about how our daily stay at home tasks as educators compare to those we regularly accomplish in the face to face context. In this thinking, I imagine a line dividing the crisis and the work of being educators.
This line of division is surely a simple visual and mental construct, nonetheless, that’s what I have been thinking. Crisis here, educating there. Left, right, right left, whichever way works. Surely, a venn diagram comes to mind where these tasks connect and are mutually supportive if not the same, but just the same, I’m sticking with the large vertical line division for the moment.
Staying home and washing our hands are our greatest tasks in this crisis. At least the two that connect us all the most. The two we all can try to do. Basically, in this crisis, we can try not to spread a virus or have the virus be spread to us. Of course, there are many, many more tasks we are doing in this crisis that help people. The list is long for sure.
As an educator, I have been focused on three basic tasks; connecting with children and families, engaging children and families in meaningful learning, and improving the learning over time. These three are linear in a sense and prioritized as well. Once accomplished they quickly become cyclical and less linear. There are some equations that seem to make sense with these three variables. The more connected we are with families, it’s logical that we can better engage children with learning. The more connected we are, it’s logical that they can provide valuable feedback to support our improving the learning as well as supporting their own improving their own stay at home learning.
In connecting and engaging to learn in this crisis/stay at home context, we are focused on three simple modes; online connecting and learning, connecting by phone calls, and connecting by providing documents and supplies that are useful for both the connecting and learning. Each mode has its crisis challenges and each mode has its learning challenges. Each mode also can be improved overtime as we reflect on the outcomes, tasks, and processes and especially as children and families provide feedback on their value. After just two weeks of school closures and the stay at home context, this feedback is likely irregular and sporadic. Still, the feedback is a starting point for improvement.
One of the things that has always given me confidence as a learner and educator is the ability to learn and improve. When tackling new things, new tasks, new jobs, new challenges, we can be sure of one thing; we are likely to need a lot of improvement initially. This improvement always comes from learning and by doing. We plan, we do, we study what we did, then we act on what we learned and we plan, do study, act again. This PDSA cycle from improvement science can be very methodical for some and very intuitive and flow-like for others. Recent times have highlighted engineering like processes of trials, tests, trial and error, failure analysis, etc…. And this is useful. Other ways of improving might seem more artistic as many makers experience the feeling of excitement and creativity and drive while making a piece of art, and then upon completion and reflection many artists begin critiquing and focusing on the faults of the artwork even to the point of only seeing the faults and under-appreciating the better qualities of the outcome. This then leads them to the next work, and next work, and next work and to the process of making that drives them. This is another way towards improvement.
One thing that is common in crises, is their dynamic nature. They change often and quickly sometimes. They are also self generative in a sense. They tend to create crises of their own. You have a crisis that leads to another crisis or subsets of mini-crises or things that before the crisis didn’t seem like a crisis turn into a crisis. As I wrote this last line a whole slew of mini-crisis come to mind and if they weren’t funny at some level they would be tears producing and sometimes they still are, moving into that half cry, half laugh zone.
One thing to ponder while educating in a crisis is how much to go the venn diagram common quadrant way rather than maintaining a clear division between the crisis and the connecting, learning, and learning to improve. This brings up the should I? Or when should I? Integrate the crisis into the learning questions. In pondering these questions I suppose I have foreshadowed my initial thoughts on the topic by drawing a clear division between the two tasks. That said, I think making wash your hands videos with kids dancing and singing and sharing is just what the doctor ordered.
In crisis, having universal principles and frameworks to live and work by are very useful. Among my universals as an educator and organizational leader is to believe in, trust, support, and encourage teachers as intellectuals, as professionals, as colleagues, as artists/scientists, as connectors, and as individuals. In this two weeks of school closure context, I think it’s critical to work by this universal. In most cases, no matter how constructivist, student centered, and personalizable learning environments are, teachers are the central figures for kids and they know themselves better than anyone. They need to be supported to make the decisions to achieve the tasks at hand.
As we work through this next week of school closures and into another unknown period of Spring Break for two weeks during these stay at home times, I’ll continue to reflect and share thoughts on the crisis and on our work as educators. Even in these technology enhanced times, how humans interact with other humans and the natural world will continue to be the river of life on the planet.