Here is what I have realized during this bizarre period of being in school but not going to school: adult supervision is an absolute necessity to engage K-5 students. Our cherubs in elementary school have needs that are organically very different than their middle and high school siblings. Adults are not just peripheral in the remote teaching and engagement of our K-5 students, they are critical and they too need to engage. Little Johnny in Kindergarten can’t read emailed lesson plans, Suzy in second grade may not remember how to log onto BrainPop on the family or school-provided iPad, Theo in third grade needs help navigating a search on Google Junior, and Freddy and Phoebe in fourth and fifth grade may not remember how to share thoughts with their whole class vs just their teacher on Google Classroom. Elementary teachers, parents/guardians and students have a burden that older, self-sufficient learners don’t have. Granted, our K-5 kids aren’t dealing with AP exams, missed debate tournaments, mourning the loss of graduation ceremonies, prom, etc., and for marginalized populations, significantly greater obstacles and disappointments. I am not suggesting that all students K -12 are not feeling the impact of the pandemic in some significant way - emotionally, mentally, physically or financially. What I am saying is that only K-5 students require a level of adult supervision to succeed and there’s the rub.
So, if your parents know you by name, then they will be significantly more likely to open and read the emails you send them during the school closure – or respond to any other form of communication you or other Specialist Teachers share. But if your parents are deemed essential workers during the crisis, or recently unemployed and stressed about paying bills, or have four children to “home school” with one device, then how in the world is the school library teacher able to “engage” or “connect” with them? We MUST think outside the box, offer what I would call “educational entertainment” vs work and thus stress – in other words, make student/family engagement fun and doable.
For example, in April I posed a schoolwide Poetry Challenge in hopes of getting as close to 100% of family participation as possible. Families could email me published or original works of poetry. I posted the submissions on my Facebook page which was further pushed out by my Administration. I also created an online bulletin board on Padlet where I posted all submissions and pushed out a link to ALL families via email once a week so those homes who don’t use Facebook would still be able to see the poems – many of which were videos of students reciting poems. And oh, the joy in seeing so many familiar faces! It really made us feel not so apart.
In May I have “research month” underway schoolwide (going forward with my normal Spring curriculum) and will share student work on another Padlet I created to display work that students send me based on the suggested plans I send home once a week via email. I am also coming up with other “challenges” to pose to families that are easy, fun, educational but manageable and can be shared. For ex. a “You Read to Me Challenge” for K-2 where students choose a book and read it aloud, film it and send me the video to share (or not share, if they prefer it not go further than my Inbox.). (Great opportunity to practice their reading!) For Gr 3-5, I am thinking about a “Sorted Book Cluster Challenge” where they create fun messages or sentences made from titles on book spines by lining up the books in a particular order. Again, another visual that I can push out on my Student Work Padlet and Facebook page that may seem benign but actually challenges them to use words creatively. I’m also taking advantage of my classroom teachers’ communications tools such as Zoom Meetings with the class. I pop into a few “classes” each week, read a picture book, and chat with my students. Bonus: Their parents are in the background, listening in, so they know I am engaged and present in this new “home school” environment. Every week I email parents the Padlets (online bulletin boards) I have created to display student work as well as emai a video to share with their children regarding the Poetry Challenge or some other activity or message.
Hindsight is 20/20 right? Well, it is not too late to learn for the future. Setting up tools that will nurture communication in either the long or short term is pivotal to building relationships with K-5 families at all times. I was lucky enough to have at my disposal, a pre-Corona, dynamic Facebook page that my Tech teacher and I started about 7 years ago and our district Admin ultimately started to push out via their own social media tools to families in recent years. This preemptive communication tool has been critical to keeping the school community connected to staff, Admin and one another, and keeping the value of Library Teachers and Specialists front and center. We have had a rash of parents sending new Friend Requests since the school closure because they know this is a way to be connected to the school community while there is so much about this crisis that makes us feel so disconnected.
Regardless of whether it is email, Facebook, Padlets, Zoom Meetings, Google Meetups, etc., there has never been a better time for Library Teachers to take the lead in keeping the school community connected. Do not fear, instead embrace, new and diverse modes of communication to position the School Library as the “hub” of not just the schoolhouse but of the school community. Good luck!