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Teaching during Covid-19: classroom constraints can equal classroom creativity (eventually)

This week we officially started the next phase of teaching during Covid-19. Opening our 20-21 school year…hybrid style.  Teaching during Covid-19 means that students are essentially virtual three days and in-class two.  Teachers are there every day, but we only ever see about half our class at a time.

Before I actually started, I was hopeful it would be manageable.  I’ve now decided it will EVENTUALLY be manageable, but my brain hurts right now juggling the bodies who are in front of me vs those who are behind a screen. 

Teaching during Covid-19 means masks must be worn.  Social distance must be kept.  One-way hallways must be maintained.

The balance between safety and connection is a delicate one resulting in no great answer.  None of us wanted it to come to this.  All schools need to find a balance for their communities that works for all of the stakeholders: students, parents, and teachers.  

So this is the one that my school settled upon.  And we’re all just taking it day-by-day.

So as mask wearing students shuffled into my classroom, setting their gaze upon my classroom, getting their mind around where they will spend two of their five days of school, the words that they saw on my board were…

CONSTRAINTS = CREATIVITY

I didn’t even put it into my lesson for the kids at home to try to digest because it honestly just popped into my head as I walked up to the board to put the loopy cursive “Welcome!” message I write each and every year. 

Unlike many of you who probably did a spectacular job planning how to break the ice after months of not being in school, I had not really been thinking we would really come back.  Not because I didn’t want to, but because I just didn’t think we would. 

So instead of prepping a pep talk, I got all of the external things ready.  The assignments were posted online, my videos were made, my seating charts were done.  All the things to do that would take me through the motions were complete. 

But I neglected to give myself much of a pep talk about what I would say to my students, you know, to break the ice.  I’m not a funny person, so telling a joke didn’t cross my mind.  

Now that I think of it, humor is a way to lighten the mood and connect, but I do like to play it a little safe, trying to make a true first impression.  I’m probably never going to randomly tell a joke again, so it’s probably not the most authentic way for me to start class.  

So in true teacher fashion I flip-flopped in mid-preparation. I can guarantee that each of you probably do this all the time: you change what you’re going to do on the fly.  What you are going to say, how you’re going to say it, just changes.  This is why teaching is truly an art.

Teaching is creative work and that’s when this idea popped into my head: constraints = creativity. And I knew that this was the way I could reach my students.  First, I got to teach them or review a vocabulary word “constraints” in the first moments of class…a very English-y thing to get to do (finding ways to do those things makes me smile).  

And I modeled a skill that I will try to impart on them for the rest of our time together: reframing situations to see them for more than what they seem to be at first glance.

If I am being honest, teaching and school has always had constraints, but this year I’m choosing to figure out creative ways to move beyond them and flourish in the process. 

Now in the same breath that I say that, I spent way too much time this week micromanaging plans, putting completion checks on assignments which resulted in 45 minutes at the tech department and all of my students at home emailing me frantically thinking they were alone doing something wrong and that I was going to mark all of them absent from school. 

So this constraint = creativity  will also mean constraints may equal frustrations, dead ends, do overs, and throw outs. But if I keep coming back to my intention of creativity, I know my students will trust that I have their best interest at heart.

If I’m honest that creativity means that we’re going to try things that won’t work, but that we’ll see those things as information.  The entire year can be seen as a learning opportunity, not just the content part.  For me and the students.

So this year, after I erase the loopy welcome message from the board, I’m going to keep the constraints = creativity there.  It will remind me that this is going to be a year of creative thinking.  Creatively thinking about how to connect (with my students), how to care (for myself and for others), how to create (lessons that are effective, but sustainable) among the constraints that are before me.

As you’re teaching during Covid-19, I wish you a year of creative thinking among our constraints. 

For more ways to find classroom creativity among our constraints check out Creating a C.A.L.M. Classroom or subscribe to the Weekly Teaching Well Wish.

Danielle Nuhfer
danielle@teachingwell.life

Here are a few titles I go by...teacher, student, gardener, runner, nature-lover, writer and meditator. I care deeply about my own journey to wellness and want to inspire others to walk this path. Inspiring others to discover the value of mindfulness, positive psychology and other holistic health practices is my life's work.

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