Reflecting on an Exceptional Year of Learning
This was indeed a big year for learning – learning not only subject matter but also how to transition from various learning settings from home to school and school to home and also, how to deal with the anxiety and other big feelings of living, schooling and parenting through a global pandemic amidst racial injustice and a divided nation. We have learned flexibility, emotional courage and resilience during these uncertain times. Home and family life may have played more of a role in education than ever before with remote learning taking place. In our household, we took full responsibility for our son’s seventh grade education through homeschooling and it was meaningful, rewarding, intimacy-building and also, downright all-consuming and challenging.
Because of the monumental growth that we have witnessed in our children and ourselves as we came together and supported one another in unprecedented times for us, it’s important that we pause and take a moment to reflect on what we’ve been through. If your children or teens have achieved academically, if they’ve made new friendships, if they’ve demonstrated care for their teachers or their neighbors or their siblings, this is the time to call it out and recognize it. At times, many of us struggled to get through the day and we may have lost relatives or friends along the way, so progress this year of any sort is cause for celebration.
“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”
– John Dewey, Renowned Educational Reformer and Psychologist
Your child will never experience this grade level again during a global pandemic. Children may be sad to leave their teacher, their connection to class friends and the predictability of the school-home routine. Despite the stress of hybrid learning (or however they have experienced school this year), they may worry about the loss of the stability and consistency that the school schedule and connection provides over the summer. They may also fear the uncertainty to come including reentering public places with the danger of the COVID still present and the unknowns of how summer might be fundamentally different from years past because of the many public restrictions and virus risks.
There are some small, simple steps you can take to ease the transition and also deepen the lessons of their year through reflection. Here are a few suggestions.
Offer Grace First…
to your children, to their teachers and most especially to yourself. If you try and reflect on this school year with other school years as your standard bar for performance, it’s simply not accurate. We may all fail if that’s your measure. This was an exceptional school year. Standards for our contributions might be more accurately measured by questions about your level of emotional support of all family members, your ability to deal with a high level of complex emotions, and your ability to get through the day maintaining safety, health and the trust of family members. Further, if you were able to get through this year with your sense of integrity and morality intact, give yourself a giant gold star (or your equivalent). We have to recognize what we’ve been through, accept our limitations during these times and celebrate the times we survived and the times we demonstrated we could thrive.
Reflect on Defining Moments.
Retell the defining moments. Be sure to discuss in what ways your family was resilient and strong during stressful times. In your ________ grade year…
- What was the most surprising thing that happened?
- Did you make any new friends?
- When did you feel embarrassed?
- What made you belly laugh?
- What were you most proud of learning?
- How was it challenging? And what helped you get through all of the changes?
Reflect on Learning from Home.
During remote or hybrid learning…
- Do you recall the first day or week of learning at home? What were you thinking? What were you feeling?
- How is our family different from life before COVID-19?
- What have you found that has been joyful or connecting during COVID?
- How have we helped one another?
- How has connecting with friends changed? Are there any new ways of connecting that you enjoy?
- What school projects or assignments were you most proud of accomplishing?
- What unexpected benefits came from remote learning?
- How did you deal with your fears and stresses?
- What bigger life lessons did you learn during this time of sustained crisis?
Reflect on Big Feelings and the Opportunity of Now: Practicing Resilience.
If we tried (in the pre-COVID world) to hide the fact that we have all-consuming, intense emotions at times, then we cannot hide anymore. The seismic shifts globally and the uncertainty of a threat that lurks right outside of our door has been enough to rattle our sensibilities, every one of us. If the not-so-hidden opportunity of this moment of a global pandemic might be practicing and promoting resilience in times of trial, how can you take time out to seal in and ensure that learning by reflecting on it?
No, none of us managed our big feelings throughout this process perfectly. In fact, for most of us, there was a lot of mess. But if we talk about our big feelings, accept that there’s been fear, sadness and stress, and consider how we reacted and how we might react better, we just might learn important lessons that will assist us as we move into an uncertain summer. Some specific questions to guide you in this discussion might be:
- What have been our fears throughout COVID-19 and remote learning?
- What have we done to acknowledge or manage them?
- When did our fears get the best of us (or we reacted in ways we didn’t like)?
- When were we proud of how we handled ourselves and/or worked together as a family?
- How can we learn more about managing our fears?
- What can we do in the future when one or more of us is feeling fearful or stressed?
Tell your “Triumph Over COVID” Story
We all know this will be the story our children will share with their grandchildren. “Let me tell you how I survived a global pandemic.” In fact, I attempted to have my son write his own triumphant story and he struggled. It’s difficult to recall all that we’ve been through and articulate what strengths we’ve used or needed to build in order to deal with the many changes and uncertainties. Yet, he wrote a beautiful paper about another person’s struggle and ability to survive, one who we read about in the award-winning book “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” When his paper was finished, we substituted his name for the main character’s, Karana, and nearly every word applied with some notable additions like collaborative spirit and skill versus utter independence. How can you tell your family’s COVID story? Perhaps a slideshow of your pictures, a poster all contribute words and phrases to, or your own written story?
Share Your Gratitude for Your Teachers.
Yes, teachers also experienced a wide range of big feelings as they had to change their mode of teaching and learning in the blink of an eye. Though parents were in the midst of scrambling ourselves to figure out how to manage our household, our work responsibilities, the dangers of COVID19, and how to support distance learning, we may have not seen the challenges teachers faced. Yet, we know they indeed endured their own set of struggles. No matter how they managed the situation, they put their time, effort and considerable worry into reaching you and educating your children. So now more than ever, it’s critical we offer our thanks. Consider creating a simple family video of your thanks to show your appreciation. Your sincere words will mean much more than a potted plant or a gift card this year.
Talk about it a bit before getting your video rolling. You might ask your child: “What were some of your favorite activities you remember from this year? Why is your teacher so special? Do you remember a time when your teacher was especially kind?”
Go on a Digital Parade Walk or Create a Temporary Museum of Learning.
You likely have a pile, a bin or a busting-at-the-seams binder (as we do!) of school work from the past year. Before recycling or filing away, why not use the accumulated papers as evidence of learning and growth and a tangible way to reflect on that progress? Use your home as a museum. Place the school work in the order of the school year starting in the fall. Line them up across chairs, the couch and on end tables for display. I line the dining room with rope and post papers and artwork with clothespins.
Walk around as a family and talk about what you notice particularly when you note positive developments. With a little support from you, your kids may be excited to put together the museum themselves. With multiple children, use different rooms of the house and you may have a full academic museum for an evening.
Is your child’s work all online from the past months? Then do a digital parade of work and gather around the computer. Go through her assignments, comment, laugh, reflect and bask in the glow of your collective hard work as a family getting through distance learning together!
Do the big book line-up.
It’s likely that most of the books your child read this school year are hanging around your bookshelves. Why not create a temporary display? What a sense of accomplishment to see a book sculpture with all of the stories you’ve read, learned from and enjoyed since the school year start. It may even spur conversations and reflections on your favorite characters and stories! It may also encourage further reading this summer and inspire a new stack for the coming months.
Create a time capsule.
A terrific early summer activity might be to generate a time capsule in memory of this past school year. There will likely never be another school year quite like this one! Use this free printable time capsule to help guide you. Or work with your child to find and decorate a shoe box or other container and mark with the name of the child and dates of the school year. Now ask your child to consider their older self. What if he came across this time capsule hidden in the attic years later? What items would help him remember the unique attributes of this past school year?
Show how much your family truly values the process of learning. Celebrate together the accomplishment of a school year filled with hard work. Make a picnic in your backyard. Bake a special treat. Decorate as if it’s a holiday. Take a moment to recognize this major change.
“Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Happy School Year’s End to You and Your Family and May You Have a Summer of Renewal Ahead!