My COVID-19 Diary: Who are you “at home”

I quipped in a recent post that there are three distinct school districts in operation under the roof of our home right now. Last week I needed to retrieve something from the East Williston School District, the APA Style Manual 7th Edition that was in a small bookcase next to my bed.  I heard a familiar voice coming out of my wife’s computer. Let’s call him Tim. His name’s not Tim. But the voice was very familiar to me. I didn’t hear what he had to say but I was curious.

When Danielle came down to the Jericho School District at lunchtime, her commute has been reduced to about 7 seconds, the walk downstairs from the upstairs bedroom, I asked her if she had been talking to Tim, a friend of mine. She said that she’d been in a Zoom meeting. We left it at that. Being educational leaders in neighboring school districts, we have developed the habit of steering away from matters that might infringe on the confidentiality of individuals with whom we share relationships.

This has me thinking about the intersection between our professional lives and our personal lives, an essential question that has long held my attention.  To what extent are the persons we bring to work, the same as the persons we are at home? And, vice versa? During the curious psycho-sociological experiment that is the global pandemic, this dynamic has never been more on display. Some of us, working from home, with our families within arms reach, are now both our professional and personal selves under the same roof. Families are confronting the work lives of their spouses, dads, moms for the first time.  The reverse is also true, many overworked professionals are presenting to their families some version of themselves 24/7, and hoping it works. What to do? 

Is the work YOU and the home YOU the same?   Who’s the YOU that is in your house 24 hours a day? I’d love to hear how you’re answering these essential questions.

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My COVID-19 Diary: Friday un-Focused #5

My wife Danielle is also an educator so we joke that there are three school districts operating in our house. Yesterday I got up from the dining room table where the Jericho School District is located and went upstairs to the East Williston School District three times and just stood there, forgetting why I made the trip.  

Such is my state of concentration during this unusual time. I’d like to offer some random thoughts:

Without the distraction of a normal daily routine, food, specifically, dinner, has become the center point of our day. We put in place a rule, you can’t start asking “when’s dinner” until after 11 AM. 

Yesterday:

Danielle: “Do you want pork chops?” 

Me: “I don’t know, I’m not that excited about pork chops. Maybe there’s a recipe.”  

Danielle: “I know you just said something but what I heard was, ‘The kids liked the pork chops too much last week, let me look for a way to make them in some fancy way to make sure that they hate them this time.”

Can anybody tell me how we ended up with so many blueberries? We have almost 3 pounds of blueberries but we’re down to four rolls of toilet paper. That’s not helping anybody. We made some killer scones… but still…

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Another movie that is always on cable, Donnie Brasco. What’s so soothing about Johnny Depp doing a bad Brooklyn accent?  I prefer him with the eyepatch.

Sometimes I compare the way I look after Peloton workouts to the way Danielle looks. Hers seem much harder than mine, she’s more out of breath. She says it’s all about the music, “Don, how sweaty do you expect to get doing a half-hour workout to the soulful tunes of James Taylor?” She’s got a point. You got a friend…

I’m noticing that during a Zoom Chat in gallery view, some people are able to remain so still that you’re not sure if it’s really the person or their thumbnail picture; or if their screen froze. Other people look like that scene in The Exorcist where Linda Blair’s head turned completely around on her neck. I’ve learned a new trick in meetings. There’s usually at least one person who is constantly glancing down and appears to be doing something with both hands. That’s the person who is taking notes. I side text them and ask to share the Google Doc with me. 

And I’m certain I won’t be the first educator to comment that I hope we can keep the mute function when we return to face to face school. Imagine how handy that feature is going to be period 9 on a day before vacation (Don looks wistfully off into the distance, contemplating period nine in the school building the day before vacation, remember that?)

Enough randomness.  Go wash your hands! 

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My COVID-19 Diary: I want to talk like that

I’m 11 years old, it’s springtime of seventh grade and my friend has a neighbor whose nieces from Texas visit every year to spend a week in New York. One of the girls was our age, the other, a bit older. For several reasons that you can probably decipher, we look forward to this visit every year. For the other 50 weeks of the year, we’d devote a great deal of time discussing them.  When you’re 11, you can spend loads of time talking with your buddies about nieces from Texas. We could kill a whole afternoon considering the nieces; add-in, “who’d win in a fight”,  and that’s a full day of conversation for a bunch of unsophisticated young adolescents  (for the record, I still think my sixth-grade math teacher could “take” the lady at the security desk at my school). When the nieces were in town, we’d use any excuse to walk by the house or even ask the aunt if she needed us to help her with anything.  I can only imagine how transparent our motives appeared to her as, for two weeks of the year, we became the most altruistic kids she’d ever met.   

Not the only, but one of the reasons we fixated on the nieces from Texas were their accents. They spoke with a deeply appealing southern drawl that was captivating to our ears. My friends and I were fascinated by their use of the “ah” sound in simple words like  “faav” (five), “pah” (pie), and “naht” (night). In conversation, we’d artfully try to get them to employ this diphthong for our benefit,  “What’s that cake with the fruit inside called? What’s the opposite of ‘day’?’ Okay, maybe not so artful.  Their way of speaking rendered the native diction of our East Flatbush neighborhood both crude and pedestrian. 

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On stoops (Dutch for “porch”) in Brooklyn, kids spent a great deal of time solving the world’s problems. Some of our chats had this theme, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have an accent.”  Hours contemplating which dialect would be best. Some of our grandparents had peculiar ways of speaking, but their “off the boat” inflected English from Ireland, Italy, and Germany seemed to our ears out of touch with the modern world. On T.V. we heard elocution from every part of the country.  Wouldn’t it be cool to talk like somebody from California (Beach Boys), Hawaii (Hawaii Five-0), or Texas (the nieces)? We may have even tried some of these accents on for size.  It’s my recollection that most of these debates ended, as many young adolescent discussions do,  with my friends concluding that having any accent beside the one we had, would be stupid.  That it never occurred to us that all we had to do was move 100 miles in any direction out of New York City and we would have had an accent was  a testament to our naïveté.  

The fact is, while this is another post about regional dialect and pronunciation, it’s also an accurate snapshot of the nature of adolescence. Middle school kids, teenagers, want to fit in, but at the same time, they want to stand out. They want to be different, just like everybody else. As an 11-year-old, I was enthralled by the distinctive regional accent of the nieces from Texas. But, if I tried to affect it myself, if one of my friends did, we would think it was stupid. It’s challenging to be different when you’re in middle school, but you can,  as long as you’re being yourself. There’s something that people always respect, at any age, authenticity. If you really are from Texas, or California, or Hawaii, or if you really are into Star Wars, or coin collecting, or Harry Potter… then kids will respect that. Be yourself. If you don’t believe me, go stay with your aunt in Texas for two weeks, they’re gonna think you are sooo COOL!  


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On the stoop, solving problems

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My COVID-19 Diary: That’s not how we talk

It’s been 30 years since I moved out of Brooklyn but traces of #BrooklynForLife can be detected in my speech to greater or lesser degrees depending upon the circumstances or my temperament at a given time.  I swear to God I was working on this post before I saw this piece from the Associated Press (if you could hear me say out loud the opening phrase of this sentence, it would give further context to what I’m asserting here).  I’ll leave it to sociolinguistics to parse out the difference between Brooklyn and  Queens elocution but the New York accent, whether via Anthony Fauci (Brooklyn), Andrew Cuomo (Queens), Chris Cuomo (who actually had COVID-19, also Queens), or Bill de Blasio (who knows), is front and center during the crisis. As we became the epicenter of the disease, the pandemic has given a megaphone to our often maligned elocution. 

Inaccurate versions of Brooklyn diction in TV and film have always irked me. Law and Order has been on television for over 30 years so virtually every actor in America has taken a shot at it, and if they missed out on L & O there was always Blue Bloods.   Actors have diction coaches with whom they hone regional inflections for the various roles their careers demand.  I lack the expertise to determine with certainty but they seem to do a passable job with southern locution, the Irish brogue, and cockney-speak but when it comes to the distinct articulation of Kings County denizens, they invariably fall short.  Perhaps because I’m saddled with it, I tend to be hyper-sensitive to poorly rendered Brooklyn accents.  Boston dialect must be much easier to operate because it’s the vehicle that mediocre actors default to when the advice of their diction coaches fail them. I’ve watched with mild annoyance as many episodes of Law and Order took the exit ramp onto the highway that leads to Good Will Hunting and The Departed driven by dubious versions of the Brooklyn accent.   

So when Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings are no longer available, maybe I can get a job as a diction coach.  Fuhgeddaboudit!

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COVID-19 Diary: That’s how I talk

I recently asked my wife, born in Queens and raised on Long Island:

“If we had moved out of state before the pandemic, would you watch the New York governor’s daily press conferences just to keep your NY accent in practice?”

“I definitely would.”  

“Me too.”

“Don, you don’t have to worry about losing your New York accent.”   

There’s little disagreement that the Long Island twang can be most clearly detected while standing in line at the bagel store where residents of Nassau and Suffolk can be heard ordering “cawfee”. That so much of it is drunk around here makes it easy for residents to practice saying “coffee” 4-5 times a day. Kids from Commack and Rockville Centre may try to cast off regional pronunciations when they go to college in the fall but they’ll give themselves away every time they order their caffeine beverage of choice at the food court.  

Such unanimity of opinion doesn’t exist around the Brooklyn brogue.  There was a sign on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway with a time-honored borough expression that would certainly be a “tell” if you heard somebody use it: “Fuhgeddaboudit”: 

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“Fuhgeddaboudit” was even added to the Oxford English Dictionary. But, I would argue that, although this expression is not rare in the borough, you’d likely hear it at least twice if you walked Flatbush Avenue from end to end (probably uttered by somebody in line at Junior’s),  download (7)this elision of “forget about it” is an extreme expression of the form.  Although she lived her entire life in Brooklyn, my mother never would have said “Fuhgeddaboudit”. 

There’s “coffee” of course, and any word ending in “r” (beer, car, for), but I’d like to make the case for “dog”.  If you want to learn if an individual is from Brooklyn, note how he pronounces the label for this furry canine friend. Something about that little vowel in the middle of this short word gets the full Brooklyn treatment. Having spent my formative years in the borough, this is a distinct liability for me.  I am a habitual user of “voice to text”. My name is “Don”.  Whenever drafting an email or letter, when I sign off a message, Dragonspeak or Apple transcribes it as “Dawn”.  Every. Single. Time. And in haste, I often neglect to correct it,  “Why am I getting an email from Tony Orlando’s backup singers?” (sorry, boomer joke).

So much attention being paid to the New York accent at this time.  Maybe artificial intelligence will catch up with my Brooklyn diction.

 

 

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My COVID-19 Diary: What she says – A teen’s view of “remote school”

All educators miss the face-to-face contact we have with students every day in the school building.  It’s about the learning but it’s also the constant feedback loop between kids and adults that tells us how we’re doing and also, how they’re doing! I was inspired by the brilliant Lisa Meade’s guest post by one of her high school kids so I reached out to a high school kid who is stuck in my own house with me every day to share her thoughts on the pandemic and remote school.  

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The following are the sincere and articulate reflections of my amazing daughter Olivia, a 10th grader at a Long Island High School:   

How are you doing? 

I honestly feel like I’m doing well now that I am really getting used to this whole distance learning thing. I’m curious to see if anything will change when we finally go back to school. Personally, I have never struggled with depression and/or severe stress or anxiety but I do have friends that continue to struggle with these things every day. I have been told that they are feeling better with a lighter workload and more time to complete assignments. I find it important that we as students get a heavy but fair workload so that we can learn how to manage our time especially since the workload only gets worse in college from what I’ve heard. On the other hand, some teachers just don’t get when enough is enough so I’m curious to see if they will have a new perspective after this. 

How much time do you spend on “remote school” each day?

I spend between 3 and 4 hours a day on remote school. I believe I get a pretty fair amount of work each day. Out of those hours, my time is mostly focused on AP World History and Algebra 2. IMG_5552

What are you finding difficult about this? 

It’s difficult not having a teacher next to me to answer all of my questions when needed. However, most of my teachers have been fairly quick in responding to my emails and have done an okay job at explaining in enough detail the answers to my questions. I only have one teacher that struggles and while I do understand that this is hard for everyone, especially when they have young kids at home, it does make it harder for students to adjust. I wouldn’t exactly describe this as difficult but I don’t particularly enjoy it when I get a 40-minute video to watch with 6 pages of notes to go with it followed by 3 pages of homework. 

What would you do to improve “remote school”? 

Teachers need to go live. My AP Capstone Seminar teacher consistently goes live once a week and there’s really not much he can even do to help us anyway. He’s not allowed to answer specific questions or help us with our reports that will get submitted to the College Board. Although he can’t exactly help so much with the work and it’s a small class of about 10 students (all of which don’t even join the live), it’s still nice to see my classmates and my teacher. Our teachers want us to stay active in our work but in order to do so, I think it’s important that they stay active with us and not merely by just posting assignments every day especially since I’m sure half the kids are just sending them around. 

What’s working for you? 

I enjoy being able to get up in the morning and workout without having to worry about sitting down at a certain time to do my work. Although, this wouldn’t be possible if my teachers were doing live classes on a daily basis which could be helpful but I wouldn’t know. I have one teacher that frequently leaves comments on my daily assignments. This is especially helpful because I can then ask follow up questions surrounding my work and ask about any corrections made. My AP World History teacher also sends out google forms to just check-in and ask us about how we’re doing with the workload. I think this is helpful because she reads our responses and then emails us individually about them. This shows how much she cares. 

Thanks Olivia… what’s for dinner? 

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Oliva (left) and her friend Jessica, BEFORE quarantine (All of Olivia’s friends are named “Jessica”)

 

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My COVID-19 Diary: Friday un-Focused #4

When I was a kid, my dad taught me how to “score” baseball games using a scorecard you would buy when you entered the stadium. The fact that the scorecards at Yankee Stadium came with a free pencil (at Shea it was an extra ten cents) was one of the reasons I became a Yankee fan. For the record, I still know how to score an infield pop-up with a man on first, “FC” (fielders choice). It was only years later that I learned that my dad wanted me to score the game so that I would remain in my seat and stay focused on the game instead of wandering off in search of the bathroom and snacks. The thing is, for the same reasons, I need a scorecard for the quarantine. Lacking that, I’m going to offer some random thoughts:  

A colleague remarked the other day, “I don’t think I know how to work buttons or zippers anymore. Is this the end of business attire?”  Every day I put on a tie. I take it off immediately and put on a tee-shirt.  I just want to keep in practice.70486574_762383917553335_8191182496730185728_n

When this is over, I hope I never again have to hear the expression,  “Out of an abundance of caution.”  

Is somebody going to talk about gender differences during “remote school”?  My wife Danielle and I have leadership roles in the education field. I have, at times, literally rolled out of bed and into Google Hangouts. My first job in the morning is to locate a Jericho sweatshirt or a T-shirt to wear during the morning announcements with Chad.  For Danielle, it’s hair and all the other things. I try to tell her she’s just as beautiful in an East Williston T-shirt, no blow-drying unnecessary. But she punches me in the arm really hard. Of course, the “Donald Gately Home Haircut System” is working really well for me.86253259_10218612582723862_7395992073792389120_n

The husband of one of our friends at work owns an auto collision shop. Another casualty of the quarantine. Less driving, fewer fender-benders. We joked that the only business she gets nowadays is teachers who rear-end each other during Honk and Wave Parades.

There are never NOT hand towels on the floor of our bathroom. Was it like this before the quarantine? My wife and I were talking about it. Do our kids pitch the towels onto the floor in anger? What are they so furious about? It’s a bathroom. There’s nothing to provoke them. Or, do they wash their hands then drop the towel like Michael Corleone did the gun after he used it on that policeman in the Italian restaurant in Godfather I. Do they want NO civilians to see them drying their hands? There are no witnesses, it’s a bathroom.67319411_10157234979517976_8501820520424013824_n

I understand that everyone has more time to tidy up their homes. In my house, what seems to occur is spontaneous “random acts of cleaning”. Vacuums, dust rags, closets emptied, bags carried out to the curb… Was this on the schedule? I never really know when these are going to happen but I keep a  dust rag in my pocket just in case, because if I look like I’m not pulling my weight, bad things are going to happen. We’re stuck in here, I’ve got no choice but to go along.

I have so many random thoughts, there’s mostly “randomness’ now… but I know you need to wash your hands so I’ll leave it at that.  

Miss you so much.  Stay healthy.  Stay sane.  Stay 6 feet away from me. Please.  

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My COVID-19 Diary: Things NOT done

The fact that Shakespeare wrote King Lear in a time of quarantine during the Elizabethan plague has been commented upon by numerous pundits during this unusual time. download (3)It should be noted however that the plot of this play centered on three daughters fighting amongst themselves and scheming against their parents, it doesn’t end well for anyone. If you have visited my house these past six weeks, the plot of this tragedy will strike you as eerily familiar. From what I can see, it didn’t really take much imagination on the author’s part to summon this tale from his imagination.  Nevertheless, I’ll allow that the Bard was able to harness genius and creativity in the telling of it. 

In adapting to these circumstances, unlike Shakespeare, brilliance has yet to descend upon me. I’m struck more by what I’m not doing than by anything I’ve actually accomplished. If you had told me 10 months ago that this day was going to come, I would’ve listed all the things I would do during my confinement.  During the day I spend most waking minutes working, but my commute to work is a matter of seconds, I have fewer night events, and no after school activities. I might be working harder during the school day than I did when I was in the school building, but the hours have shrunk to a more finite window. Why aren’t I getting anything done!? 

Ten months ago I would’ve told you that by now I would have a physique like a guy doing life in a maximum-security prison. Intercontinental_Champion_THE_ROCKConsider any movie in which Dwayne Johnson escapes from prison (most of them), he comes out ripped! Yet, something about the monotony of quarantine exacts a physical ennui that diffuses any drive I thought I would have under these conditions. I have no ambition to bang out 1000 push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, and tricep dips on the side of my bed. Although I discovered some potatoes at the bottom of a pantry that were beginning to ferment into moonshine.  unnamed

I thought I’d read more.  I would have anticipated reading the Canon of Western Literature while in captivity. I was an English major and I actually don’t have too many additional books to fill in the gaps. It’s not that I can’t get my hands on these works of literature, most of them I could download for free on my Kindle. But I’m only on my second “non-work” read since the quarantine. I don’t know about you, but the low hum of anxiety that constitutes the white noise of the crisis interferes with my concentration.  It’s difficult to focus on reading when there don’t seem to be enough testing kits in New York.   download (2)

We binge watch a lot of TV but we could be watching even more. We went through a stage at the beginning of the quarantine where we would watch anything with English subtitles. Perhaps we were just sick of hearing each other speak the English language.  A niche genre was the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Who knew Netflix had so many films about these folks?  Unorthodox is a four-episode miniseries about a young wife who tries to leave the community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  It is simply perfect! You should stop whatever you’re doing right now and watch it (unless you are a front line hospital worker, or you are building ventilators and personal protective equipment, then, thank you for your service, stay the course. download (4)You can come to my house when this is all over and watch it with us,  we’ll make guac [assuming avocados are available again].  I find myself envying people who haven’t seen Game of Thrones, the Sopranos, or the Ken Burns documentary about Jazz, all of which I had already consumed all the way through, twice, before this quarantine began. What can I say, the elliptical machine in my bedroom is nothing if not boring.

I’m not saying this can’t change, there’s always tomorrow, and another day after that.  All these days seem to run together in a tangled clump, like the Christmas lights in my attic, another task I haven’t tackled.  Dang it! 

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My COVID-19 Diary: Advice for parents of adolescents and teens

We are now in week 6 of quarantine and remote school. If you’re like me, you are probably wondering, “Am I doing this right?” This question applies to my professional life as well as my personal life.  Without the normal face-to-face daily interactions I typically enjoy with multitudes of people, I need to check in on myself as an educator and as a parent.  So I thought I would share some essentials with parents who may feel the same or are seeking advice at this crazy time.

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Met Phyllis Fagell at Long Island Regional Conference.  So cool!

I’m indebted to Phyllis Fagell, author of the book that has become my new obsession, Middle School Matters:  The 10 key skills kids need to thrive in middle school and beyond – and how parents can help. Phyllis recently did a webinar for the American Middle-level Educators Association (AMLE) providing guidance for educators during COVID-19.  Her key ideas apply to parents of adolescents and teenagers also.  

Perspective-taking

Although as an adult you should certainly keep all of this in perspective, don’t expect your teenager to be able to do so also. Teenagers and young adolescents are inherently egocentric. They think the world revolves around them. And, as 21st Century parents, we often oblige them by actually making the world revolve around them. So while you may lecture your kids about how other people have it much harder than they do, it should come as no surprise that they care more about the loss of their senior prom or graduation ceremony than they fret over the shortage of ventilators in America. Don’t take this personally.  ENrH_IlXsAIASlaMuch has been written about kids adjusting to the quarantine. How about kids adjusting to their parents? Between all our evening obligations, prior to quarantine, my wife and I were rarely home at the same time during the week. Our three kids have had to adjust to our presence in their lives 24/7. Personally, I think we’re pretty awesome, but, do our kids think so? Just realize, it’s an adjustment.

Mental Health

Phyllis points out that this crisis perfectly encompasses the N.U.T.S. Recipe for Stress: Novelty, Unpredictability, Threat to the ego, and Sense of control. Even the least anxiety-prone amongst our kids are going to feel some degree of tension during this unprecedented time. Don’t ask your kids if they’re OK. I have asked middle school kids who are crying hysterically in the hallway if they’re OK and they say, “I’m fine Dr. Gately, thanks.”   If you sense that your child isn’t OK, trust your intuition, assume they’re not. Make efforts to connect with them. Sit with them while they do schoolwork, play cards or a game with them. They’ll open up. Your kids may be more irritable. In times of pressure, compassion and empathy can be hard to come by. Share your own struggles, explain to them that you also may not be your best self at this time. Validate your children’s feelings but don’t approve of all of their behaviors. Teenagers are hard-wired to expect criticism from adults, try to make four positive remarks for every piece of constructive criticism you offer.

66824460_10157213146587976_431166011589263360_nConsider the two central goals of adolescents and teenagers:  INDEPENDENCE  and AGENCY. At a time in their lives when kids need to construct their identities separate from their parents and establish control of their environment, during the quarantine, these are precisely the things they have been deprived of. Phyllis recommends giving kids opportunities to be helpers. We’ve seen countless examples in the media of teenagers creating personal protective equipment for frontline health workers and carrying out other ambitious schemes to contribute during the crisis. But there are more modest and impactful things your kids can do.  How about giving your child a goal of connecting with an elderly family member or even a family member or friend who is quarantined alone, every day? I try to visit my elderly dad with my daughter, Juliet, regularly. We drop off pastries and wave to him from the front door. Juliet spends the rest of the day talking about it, even though our visit lasts barely 10 minutes.  If your children don’t already have basic household chores, now is a good time to assign them. In the absence of clubs, sports, tutoring, and other afterschool activities, students have more time than they did before the quarantine. Helping out with some family duties can give them a sense of control and relevance during a time of isolation.

Routine/schedule

Somebody shared with me this meme from social media:

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It’s funny but I think it makes an important point. If your child has reached middle school, you cannot do it for them. You can’t hope to follow all the links to Canvas, Google Classroom, Nearpod, Desmos, Flipgrid, Quizlet, Kahoot… I can keep going, but you get the point. You know who CAN follow all of this, your kid.  Your child needs to do the schoolwork, not you. Set aside time each day where your children sit and show you what they did or what they are going to do, provide them space and materials, then let them do their work.  If your child is struggling, email the teacher. Even though we are doing remote instruction, that doesn’t mean you won’t be contacted if your child is not performing or engaging with the work.  Your child’s teachers will reach out to contact you if they are not connecting and participating in virtual instruction.

There are many resources online to guide you in helping your child create a routine and a schedule. One thing to keep in mind, let your child participate in the creation of the schedule. We have a fourth-grader, we’ve created a checklist for her. Our 10th-grade daughter is completely self-directed but our high school senior needs the occasional reminder to get back to work. Remember, teenagers want independence and agency, if they don’t either create the schedule for themselves or at least participate, they won’t follow it. As my wife said to my son, “I don’t care what you decide your schedule is going to be, just make sure you have one.”  Most important:  MAKE SURE YOUR KIDS ARE SLEEPING AT NIGHT! Nobody benefits if the kids sleep all day and are awake all night.  

Expectations

We are employing Pass / ND (not demonstrated) grades for the 3rd marking period.   The high school is using a “do no harm” approach to determine grades for students. This is a great time for parents to focus on learning rather than achievement. Don’t expect perfection. Partner with the school to make sure kids are engaging every day and joining in on live teaching sessions but keep the focus on learning.  If your child needs additional time to complete an assignment, just email the teacher. We understand that your home routines may be topsy-turvy at this time, so let us know if your circumstances require greater flexibility.

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Connections

The loss of social connections at this time is probably felt most acutely by our teenage children. This is a critical time in their development, they are constantly forming their sense of self through interactions with peers. More than ever, we are relying on technology to support connections and relationships. Phyllis encourages us to make distinctions between passive use of technology and device use that facilitates connections. In our house, we have relaxed restrictions on our children’s use of devices at this time so that they can stay connected to their cousins and friends. We monitor to ensure that they’re not spending hours on TickTock but we’re happy when we hear them laughing and enjoying time with their friends.  You should ensure that your kids are connecting with friends and family every single day. They need this.  Put it on their checklist.

Self-care/wellness

The airplane safety protocol to place the mask on your own face before assisting your child has become a cliché because it speaks to an essential truth about parenting: we’re no good to our kids if we don’t take care of ourselves, and if we neglect our well-being, we’re also setting a very poor example for our kids.  If you watch television or consume media in any way, advice about self-care during the coronavirus is almost impossible to miss.  The nature of quarantine enforces a vague inertia that seems to discourage actions we should take to stay healthy. Who feels like exercising, meditating, doing yoga, eating right, or sleep hygiene when the world is gripped by a deadly pandemic. But we must resist this impulse and hit the reset button. If you’ve been neglecting your own personal health and wellness, hit that “button” and start today. And if you try today and fail, try again tomorrow. Get out of the house, somehow break your routine.  Even though every emotion you’re feeling is dictating against self-care, do it anyway. Nobody likes flossing but we do that. Really, you have to. Don’t worry, nobody can see you, in fact, we can’t come within 6 feet of you, so this is an excellent time to try a new habit. There are lots of apps that can help you:  Mindfulness. Eating and exercise. Even sleep.

Most of all, treat your families and yourselves with patience and grace. This is an unusual time, unprecedented! Don’t expect to be perfect, don’t expect to have it figured out.  You are amazing people who strive to do your personal best. If you reflect and you haven’t been your best, there’s always today, there’s always tomorrow. Don’t be afraid to reset and start over. 

Posted in adolescence, Best Practice, Parenting, Personal Best, Reflections, relationships, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My COVID-19 Diary: Culture outlasts quarantine

Today I stopped by my office to accomplish some tasks and to retrieve materials I needed in order to continue working virtually. On my desk were notes about some minor discipline matters that had occurred on the day before we left school. Nothing eventful, just typical middle school “naughtiness”. I have a stark admission to make, I tossed them in the bottom of my desk drawer.  I know! How could I do such a thing!? Somehow, given the magnitude of our current crisis, getting around to following up on a kid who took fries off another kids’ tray without asking, leading to some minor pushing, seems inconsequential. Were we at school, I likely would’ve brought both boys in my office and talked it over, asked them what they thought an appropriate consequence might be.  Kids usually apologize to somebody and choose a few lunch detentions.  

This has me thinking about all the things we do in school to exact compliance from kids. I have written before about why kids do the things we ask them to do here, here, and here.  Now more than ever, educators have to hope that we have developed the right kind of relationships with our kids and that we have instilled in them the impulse and the passion for learning that will sustain them through this unique era of virtual learning. This is the “stuff” of school culture.  

Strong school cultures are more important than ever because the quarantine has robbed mediocre teachers of their most potent tools. 

Many middle school settings have either eliminated grades or adopted a pass / fail model.  So, if teachers were using grades as their primary motivation, hoops for kids to jump through, well, that’s gone.  If teachers were into punishing kids when they didn’t do the things they were supposed to do, that’s gone. What do you do to kids who don’t complete assignments consistently, confine them to their houses and separate them from their friends for five weeks? Oh wait, we’re already doing that.  And mediocre principals, you’re not off the hook either. If your approach to discipline is centered around punishment, well, that’s gone. Though, in truth, aside from the occasional cyber-naughtiness, there’s not much misbehavior to find, not that I’m looking.  How are you going to punish kids who have already been removed from school and sent to their rooms? 

Present conditions have cast a bright light on our educational practices as they existed prior to the pandemic. If your school culture was one of compliance and consequences, then you may be struggling without the conventional tools of the face to face environment.  It’s not perfect, or preferred, but we have received positive feedback from both students and parents about the remote learning experience at our school. That’s because, over time, we have developed a culture that places a premium on relationships and where learning is our “why”.  If this culture is in place, then your learning environment can survive a quarantine.

Posted in adolescence, Inside the Middle School, Leadership, Personal Best, Reflections, relationships, Teaching/Learning, Uncategorized | Leave a comment