Great Public Schools

Lead with Compassion

By Ian Maurer

High School Math, Cleveland High School, Portland Association of Teachers

We welcomed our first child into the world in January, and I had been on parental leave until April 16. I watched from afar as my school and long-term substitute managed the transition to distance learning. I always knew that my return to teaching after my leave would be challenging, but I never anticipated that when I said goodbye to my classes in January that I would not see those students again in person. I will likely never see some of them again, as a good portion of my students were either seniors with passing grades or students who have not engaged in distance learning.

My heart breaks for the seniors who have lost the chance to experience so many milestones that they deserve. My heart breaks for the students who have challenges that prevent them from engaging in distance learning. Many students are struggling right now, and I feel that my students have especially been put through the ringer this year. My challenge is reconnecting with my students and supporting them through this stressful time.

My approach to overcoming the challenge of connection during this school closure and the global pandemic is to lead with love and compassion. Nobody asked for this - we are all just doing the best we can with what we have. I am reaching out to students who are not connecting with distance learning. I try using email and phone calls to get through to students and families. When students attend class or submit work, I always thank them for their effort and engagement. I am not looking for students to achieve a mastery of the material at this time. I'm just trying to create a supportive environment and a sense of normalcy for my students.

School is continuing, I am still a trusted adult and a resource for them, and hopefully they can learn something that will help them in the future. It is a major challenge to provide feedback to students and to communicate with families, and a lot is lost because of the lack of in-person connection. But it is getting easier, and it is going better than expected, all things considered.

Initially, attendance in my synchronous classes hovered around 50 percent, with many students logging in late. After a week of reaching out to families and students and reminding them of the class schedule, I have increased attendance to around 75 percent. That is a major win for me. I think that having synchronous classes is important for students, even though not all students are able to attend. It gives me a chance to connect with students, listen to how they are coping with stress and managing the workload. Those interpersonal connections go a long way.

I count this as both a success and a failure. I have made progress in the few weeks I have been doing distance learning, but where I am is not good enough. I need to continue to reach out to individual students who aren't engaging, and if Google Classroom and email aren't good enough, I need to call and text students, and use our school counselors and administrators to help contact them. It means a lot to a student when a teacher reaches out to them individually and tells them how important they are to the class.

My advice to my colleagues is to lead with compassion and keep breathing. The best thing we can do for each other is to be grateful for the work we are all doing and be compassionate when circumstances prevent us from being our normal productive selves. I have good days and bad days, and all I can hope is that I can grow from this experience.

Be flexible and try to adapt to the changing circumstances. Treat the challenges as learning experiences and focus on growth rather than mastery. As much as you can, try to exit this crisis stronger and more resilient than you entered it. Take care of yourself and know that we are all in this together.

It means a lot to a student when a teacher reaches out to them individually and tells them how important they are to the class.

Tools to Share

I’m sharing a lesson plan for my students to learn about quadratic functions. The instructions include a video for them to watch and an example of my notes they can use as a guide. I also include instructions for students to insert and “turn in” their work.