Pandemic Learning is Infinite Too

Now that children are in “home school” because of the pandemic, it seems like learning is some new thing that parents must instill. We (caretakers) are commonly so nervous that our kids won’t learn enough, or learn as much as the others, or that we are not teaching it “right”.  (I won’t even breach the topic of the challenge that teachers face in suddenly transferring classroom learning to virtual learning, with higher expectations now and pressure from parents who don’t know what to do! That is another discussion altogether for which I have great compassion and admiration for teachers. As I have great compassion and admiration for parents who are facing double-duty.) I think a big strain on families right now is that we suddenly need to teach and hold onto our careers simultaneously, or literally be on the phone with unemployment all day. Thus, we have no time to figure out how to teach in the midst of the struggle to make a living.

This scenario has caused me to review where learning comes from, or at least consider the values of everyday experiences as learning opportunities. I can’t recreate my 5-year-old daughter’s classroom exactly, although we do have a handmade alphabet and number line hanging in our family room.

I have come to accept that my daughter is learning much outside of the structure of school that I try to provide, despite that I cannot replace her classmates and all the experiences that it provides socially. For example, speaking of infinite learning, everyday on our walks or bike rides, we pass by Caroline, our elder neighbor whom my daughter and I love. We learn so much just from our interaction: we practice social distancing, a lesson in math (what is six feet?), paired with a new understanding regarding germs (science). Verbal communication with Caroline always involves many questions for my five-year old to answer loudly and articulately. She practices being social with new language skills. The weather is always a topic of discussion, another daily pre-K classroom exercise we get in a new way. My daughter also gets to experience respecting elders in this interaction. We make sure Caroline has enough food, she feels well, and we always offer any help she might need. Sadie always asks about her two walking sticks, so we discuss balance (physics and anatomy) and the importance of exercise (P.E.) to keep moving for your own health. In many ways, reconsidering what learning is and the value of these pandemic experiences is a new type of schooling. It helps me to consider placing less pressure on myself to be the school that she doesn’t have right now. There is learning everywhere.

I focused my reading this Module on Learning Everywhere and Professional Learning Experiences. It is an interesting juxtaposition. With a background in teaching (and the new teacher-mother for now of my curious five-year old), I feel that learning is everywhere. I have particular compassion for library staff and part-timers who need skill building opportunities. I am very much a supporter of learning access to all; it is probably why I chose the teaching profession. Like Stephens expresses in his articles about Professional Learning, the opportunity to make in-person connections is vital to our professional development and learning.

A few years ago, I led a workshop with a mentor of mine about simply discussing the compassion and transformation that is built when teaching oral history. Oral history educators, and us as facilitators, took time in a circle with a few fun exercises to talk about how the experience that our students endure when finally practicing oral history interviewing creates compassion. It was so refreshing to share stories of transformation. We also were able to share stories of struggle and challenge in the midst of interviews, and how to troubleshoot issues that arise in these intimate scenarios. More than ever, even at conferences like the Oral History Association Annual Conference, did we need to sit and discuss the real-life heart of our practices, beyond the academic and theoretical needs we all have as practitioners.

I love Stephens’ concept of “heart” in librarianship, and I think it can be applied to many professions. It reminds us of why we do what we do, and it gives practitioners a chance to learn from each other, share stories, and build community. It is the perfect way to develop professionally. I think these learning experiences don’t have to occur at conferences, at great cost, or even with great time restraints. We can set aside short time periods for workshopping – read: sharing—our thoughts and exchanging our heartfelt ideas. In the context of this pandemic, I am finding it so helpful to exchange often humorous stories with other caretakers on how we are living and teaching our children, and how they are teaching us. It is an amazing lesson in tolerance, patience, creativity, comedy, and resilience, to name a few non-standardized objectives!

2 Thoughts.

  1. I appreciate how generously you shared with us some of your experiences as a parent, teacher and neighbor during this time. Your writing is nuanced and attentive to both the challenges and the moments where of pleasure and beauty. Reading down-to-earth narratives like yours has provided much needed breaks from the treadmill of the news media cycle. I feel like most of what I read on the internet, whether for school or for personal interest, seems to lack the texture of three-dimensional life. Thanks for adding some of that texture back in and giving a big picture view of what learning — finite or infinite — can mean.

    • Thank you so much Michael. I really appreciate your response. I am also inundated and weirdly a little obsessed with news lately, mixed with the theoretical readings in courses, that it is so nice to stop and think about the three-dimensions-as you put it. Since reading a lot of Stephens work in this course, I feel more and more comfortable approaching heartfelt topics. Thanks for affirming that! Take good care,

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