How Emergencies Can Recalibrate Our Roles, Priorities, and Perspectives

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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Emergencies can take your breath away, recalibrating our roles, priorities, and perspectives. I have recently experienced this when an emergency temporarily sidelined my travel and the way in which I meet my obligations to clients. With the onset of my husband’s illness, I suddenly had to assume the mantle of caretaker, advocate, and taxi cab driver. Navigating this new territory continues to underscore the importance of contemporary skills — seeking guidance and support from my network, researching new areas of knowledge to make sense of a problem, respectfully questioning and posing problems with experts, and realizing just how important it is to be listened to with understanding and empathy.

But being grounded from traveling over the past month also opened a door when it came to my relationship with my daughter. Instead of feeling rushed by my travel schedule, we are settling into a more relaxed routine where she is sharing what is on her mind on her timeline not mine. Last week, when I was waiting for her, she stepped outside and scanned the adults until she saw me and her face lit up. Deborah Farmer Kris wrote a beautiful blog resonating with my experience.

What I continue to realize is that — when faced with predictable or unforseen challenges — our children constantly watch how we respond; they use us as models to see how we are making sense of the situation, giving space to be sad, and taking action on behalf of ourselves and loved ones. This is as true in our schools as it is in our families. What is apparent to me now more than ever is that we need to be present to connect with our students by:

  • Showing joy that a student walked into your classroom;
  • Fully listening to someone’s perspective; and
  • Ensuring instructional moments for learners’ to reflect on and consolidate information.

These routines communicate what is most valuable to you — those who share the learning environment with you. While I have been preaching this as the heartbeat of personalized learning for years, this past month has emphasized the significance in relating to learners regardless of age and circumstance.

So, we start with a shout out to my baby girl — a sophomore in high school now — who created a YouTube video as a culminating artifact to reflect on how education leaders (from classroom to consultant) pay attention to life skills as part of regular instructional practice. Grateful for Lorena Kelly, Mary Manley, and Bena Kallick’s contributions.

Next, we move to a follow up blog post by Shawna Parkinson, a high school English teacher who is rethinking how she teaches rhetoric to support relevancy for her learners. She continues to offer a window into her thoughtful reflections and actions in how she is approaching personalized learning.

We welcome Andelee Espinosa to our Learning Personalized community to feature her vision and work with her students to lead their own IEP meetings. Her blog post provides valuable insight for every teacher who wants to have students lead conversations with parents and other school stakeholders to examine student work, reflect on patterns and identify next steps.

Finally, we welcome back Special Educator Dan Vollrath to Learning Personalized with his powerful post — Small Wins for Every Learner. He focuses on how he integrates Habits of Mind to elevate thinking for students with learning disabilities. These small wins, however, are incredibly valuable for every learner as we provide them with more self-directed opportunities in a personalized learning ecosystem.

Allison Zmuda
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