From one teacher to the next – How to turn the “new normal” into learning opportunities for your students

Sep 2, 2020


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A new school year.  We can feel the anxiety in the air.  2020 has been quite a year : Australian bush fires, the Coronavirus pandemic, the societal shift in acknowledgment of racism and discrimination, and the rise of climate and social justice movements…  and now we go back to school. With masks, bubbles, social distancing and a heavy heart.

This school year will be different.  The “new normal” is emotionally charged with fear and anxiety.  Everyone is navigating what this school year is going to look like.  It is unprecedented times, and now is the time to seize the opportunity to tackle teaching differently. We need to take advantage of the world we live in to involve students in the issues at hand, such as climate change and social justice. They are essential to finding concrete and durable solutions. (See how social justice and climate change are deeply intertwined in our previous post on environmental racism here.)

We also have to keep in mind that our main job as teachers is to make every student feel safe, accepted and loved.  These basic needs must be met for them to be able to learn and experience personal growth.

Where can we start?

All of this is overwhelming.  So let’s take a breath. In and out.  This will be especially important to do all year-round!

Here is a list of helpful information and resources to inspire you to turn the challenges of this year into learning opportunities.

          Critical Reflection in a Socially Unjust World

A good first step everyone can do is to turn the mirror on themselves and be critically reflective.  “What do I know? What privileges do I have? What voices am I not hearing or aware of?  How can I better understand the heterogenous makeup of my classroom?” This awareness can help teachers take all their students into consideration when planning activities.  In turn, they can teach their students about social justice and how to ask themselves similar questions.

Interesting Reads:

“Stop and Think: Addressing Social Injustices through Critical Reflection”, by Sherry Ramrattan Smith

“Teaching Social Justice in Theory and in Practice”, by Caitrin Blake: 

         Student-led Learning

Research has shown that students who are placed in situations where they have the power to make decisions about how to approach certain school topics (even those who initially express disinterest) find something that motivates them to participate.  Feeling in control is a very important tool for someone who struggles with the anxiety this school year brings. The collaborative nature of practices like inquiry-based learning also helps students build a sense of classroom community and acceptance!

Interesting Reads:

“Moving Science Classes to the Community, A Question of Social Justice” by Wolf-Michael Roth

Capacity Building Series – Inquiry-based Learning

Let’s Talk Science – 8 Simple Ways to Support Inquiry-Based Learning: 

Classroom resources

Resources offered by The Gaia Project

Gaia’s new distance learning programs to be launched soon!

         Community Involvement

Being a part of something bigger than ourselves and contributing to our community makes us feel useful.  Real world problems make learning meaningful and make an impact in our area.  It is also a great way to involve some voices that aren’t being heard enough. Indigenous teachings, like Seven Generation Thinking, are extremely relevant in our quest for change.

Interesting Reads:

“What is Place-based Education and Why Does it Matter?”

Center for Place-based Learning and Community engagement’s website

Seventh Generation Principle

Classroom resources

First Peoples Principles of Learning

Can we realistically do this?

I’ve been in your shoes.  Every year, there is always a new teaching method we are asked to focus on, without necessarily having mastered the last one, leaving some of us feeling not good enough.  Our to-do lists are never ending.  Luckily, the education model is currently shifting.  The value of skills, rather than passive knowledge, is being brought to the forefront.  This “new normal” may just be the right time to try something new!

Written by Guylaine Doucet-Ferguson

Guylaine is passionate about learning and education. She holds a BSc-BEd in biology and history from Université de Moncton. Before joining Gaia, Guylaine worked for several years as a fifth-grade teacher in a francophone school.

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