Where is the finish line?

Is “Zoom Retreat” an oxymoron?

I am sitting (and typing) in silence. And it is beautiful, peaceful, productive. I know. I’ve heard all the ‘multi-tasking isn’t actually productive’ stuff before. I like background noise. I usually work well with it and know when to turn it off. Working from home has made that harder. And even when I’ve been able to ‘focus’, it hasn’t felt that way. For some reason, the Netflix images scrolling across my screen right now are less distracting than me on a Zoom call trying not to respond to an email.

Clearly, we moved past the honeymoon period this week. My remote learning experience hit its first dip. The initial excitement and planning over, my ability to fill my administrative ‘role’ moved to limbo/purgatory/state of confusion. I even had a ‘retreat’ this week, but that probably only added to the problems – the terms Zoom and retreat are becoming oxymoronic.

The zoom sessions, which I scheduled didn’t feel as productive as the week before when we were planning for remote learning. My ideas were less cohesive and I felt more distant from the classroom than ever. So tonight, while my son chose to read on his own after our Harry Potter read aloud session (sure it was after his bed time, but he chose to read without it being assigned by a teacher or parent and that is no easy feat in our house), my wife caught up on her classroom work and other projects, and I turned off the audiobook, the silence felt energizing.

For me, enjoying the peace means digging deep into my thoughts. Why did it take all week to get to this point? What is so different and how do I make this week better?

Sports Analogy Please

Because of my experience and love of sports, I often use that lens to consider everything around me, and our recent situation is no different. So what sports scenario does remote learning resemble. None of them. I have concluded that the problem with this version of remote learning is it does not fit a sports analogy. Bear with me while I stretch a little here.

There are hundreds of sports and games to play. The variety seems endless – from a five-day cricket Test match to the 10-second 100-yard dash, lengthy D&D campaigns to a quick, yet somehow awkwardly painful round of family game night charades. What makes these games successful is the constraints. If you are competing in an athletic event or virtual charades, everyone playing knows at least most of the rules. Within those rules, there is room for creativity, but the boundaries provide security and comfort.

Remote learning has no boundaries. Think about running the hurdles. In the 110 meter hurdles, you run the exact distance specified and you jump over ten evenly spaced hurdles until you cross the finish line. You know when the race begins, how far to run and what is in your way. Now imagine if the hurdles were different heights, or runners could change lanes, or if the finish line moved, or worse yet, there were no finish line but you had to keep running.

If you’re running the race (the teacher), I imagine feeling excited at the start of the race, frustrated by the changing race, confused by the moving/non-existent finish line, and waiting for some official to tell you how you’re supposed to finish. You keep going, look to your coach for help, try to slow down to pace yourself because now you’re in it for the long haul, but then see a fellow runner (teacher) sprinting by you with surprising enthusiasm, so you kick into another gear, too.

If you’re the coach (administrator) you are cheering your runners on, maybe helping them look ahead to the next hurdles, which is surprisingly a wall of Peeps (you want to stop and look and maybe even eat one, but realize you will not only slow down, but your fingers will also be covered in weird sticky sugar and it won’t taste as good as you expected anyway), but you are also confused by the changing scenario. But you’re the coach. You’re supposed to know things, like what the rules are and where the finish line is.

How do we keep running toward an unknown finish line?

So what do we have going for us? We’re in it together? Sure. There is no ‘right’ answer? I can get with that, although there are definitely some wrong answers. Less is more? Definitely. Weirdly I don’t think we’ve heard that phrase enough yet.

I learned early on when I started in administration, I am not at my best when I’m trying to solve anyone else’s problem for them. Remote learning pushed me back into that unwanted place. Just like teachers are figuring out new ways to engage students and guide their students from afar, I need to find new ways to support from afar.

Good timing. During my retreat last week, we received results from our 360 assessment. Fortunately, my colleagues think I’m pretty good at a few things. The things I need to improve were not a surprise (tough to hear like all critical feedback, but criticism I expected at least). I need to use that information to focus on what I do well and how to do that from a distance.

Maybe I (we?) need to get comfortable with the idea that this race isn’t traditional, which means there won’t be any winners, no first place, no medal ceremony. Maybe that other teacher that sprints by with a burst of energy is kicking it in to gear too early, or maybe they will ‘finish first’. Maybe that other coach who is more enthusiastic than I am for a minute or seems to know the rules that I don’t might be the best remote learning coach out there and I should follow their lead, or maybe they’re just good at tweeting funny gifs. Maybe we just need to finish the race. If that means using that other teacher/administrator as motivation, so be it.

The finish line might be closer or further away than we expected. The judges don’t seem to be clarifying the rules for us, but we can figure them out together. We can collaborate on a plan that will get us to the finish line and we can each play our assigned roles, making sure that those roles overlap at times to support each other.

Being alone together in remote learning means running in your lane, cheering on your teammate when you feel good, being inspired by a teammate when you need a helping hand, and pushing forward – the finish line is there, even if we can’t see it yet.

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