As I write this, I am thinking back to this time a year ago. As the coronavirus began to spread in our region (and the nation), students left for spring break, and teachers began preparing for what we thought might be two weeks of remote learning.
Remote learning was a new concept to all our teachers. Some had experimented with “flipped classroom” techniques, in which students would review a lesson presented on video, and then come to class to practice the lesson with the support of teachers and peers, but this was nothing like what we needed to accomplish now. We quickly sought tools to support delivery of an academic program that could take place with students and teachers all working at home.
We began with tools we knew like SeeSaw and Google Classroom, and introduced new tools like Zoom and Flipgrid (imagine a time when Zoom was new technology!). We began by prioritizing asynchronous learning, mindful of our young learners and the prospect of hours and hours on screens. Our blended approach exposed us to the benefits and drawbacks of asynchronous and synchronous approaches. We quickly learned that teachers and students needed to see each other, talk to each other, sometimes even laugh with one another. We worked through the spring to find the right balance. It was hard.
It’s important to remember that the uncertainty we were all negotiating last spring went way beyond how best to structure remote learning. Our communities were buying up all available non-perishable foods. We were wiping down groceries with disinfectant, and then wiping down counters. Washing hands. Wrapping bandanas around our noses and mouths and then seeking out masks — one-ply, then two-ply, then three-ply, as public health guidance evolved. Concerned about every interaction — pumping gas, receiving packages. Even those among us who could work from home worried that we might become infected. We worried that we would bring the infection home to our families. To our elderly parents living with us or relying on our support. We all lived in some version of this, each of us with individual variables.
Our teachers were no exception. They negotiated all this day-to-day anxiety, concern for their own health and that of their families, many of them managing their own children’s remote learning. And yet, they continued to evolve their teaching methods throughout the spring and into the fall. In September, our teachers adapted to a new new normal — operating in clusters, observing strict protocols, and embracing in-person and remote teaching and learning. Through the fall and early winter, the virus became more prevalent and pervasive as new case numbers reached 7000+ new cases per day in January. Vaccines remained out of reach. Through all of this, Park teachers have been singularly focused on the health, well-being, growth, and learning of the children with them and in front of them.
As a parent myself, I know I lean first into awareness of how my own family is functioning and adapting, and how my own children are doing. It’s easy to look at the smiling faces of my children’s teachers — at carpool, or on Zoom — and overlook the extent to which this is hard for them. They are professionals. They don’t let us see the toll this takes on them. They are there for our kids. They are there for their peers. They are there for the School and the community.
And yet as a member of the team here at Park, I know how very, very hard this has been, and continues to be, for my colleagues. Within that recognition of the professionalism and deep humanity of every one of my colleagues at Park, I am grateful for all they do, every day. I am grateful for their creativity, their perseverance, their curiosity, their dedication, their determination, and their generosity in every form.
Here are a few of the extraordinary efforts I have witnessed at Park this year.
- Teachers redesigning their classrooms for social distancing in September, and then redesigning them again when Brookline changed its distancing rules.
- Our fabulous Facilities Team, assisted by Upper Division teachers, working to get another set of rooms ready to welcome Grades 6-8 back to campus four days a week as classroom assignments were redesigned and new spaces were pressed into service.
- Drama class — happening in the hallway! And because the show must go on, delivery of a fully digital yet richly creative winter musical.
- Grade 5 students executing (socially distanced) line dances in P.E. class.
- Grade 8 students sharing powerful “This I Believe” essays with peers — as well as grandparents and special friends.
- School counselors meeting one-on-one with students outdoors — through the coldest days of winter!
- Our incomparable assistant teachers filling every possible unanticipated role, all day, every day, in every space in and outside of the school building.
- Music teachers extending their days late into the evening to safely deliver Park’s new ensemble program.
- Teachers and administrators flexing and adapting on short notice to fill in for colleagues required to quarantine, or unable to be physically present in classrooms.
- Staff members checking attestations at the curb each morning and then opening doors for our youngest students with a cheery “Good Morning!” — even when it’s 16 degrees outside.
- P.E. teachers making outdoor activities work so beautifully…even in eight inches of snow. Who knew the parking lot adapted so well to street hockey?
- Over 500 individually-tailored lunches delivered daily by our amazing dining services team.
- Patience and humor. And more patience and humor. Dealing with grace when students get worn down by masks and distancing and they just need—but can’t receive—a hug.
These are just a few of the many extras, the many challenges to which our faculty and staff are rising, daily, all while sustaining their devotion to each child’s growth and well-being. Because of their efforts, their dedication, and their grace, they made it LOOK surprisingly easy. It hasn’t been — and they deserve our gratitude. There is no possible way I can thank them enough.
Instead, perhaps I can just offer