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Virtual (R)Evolution

At any given time, you will find Jaime Kurowski either parenting, teaching, reading, writing, wood-burning, or fiercely trying to shift the mindset of anyone who needs more joy in their lives. She realized she was a teacher and collector of quotes when she was a 3rd grader in New Jersey. She started her teaching career in New Mexico in 1998 with AmeriCorps before moving to Virginia. She then taught 5th grade, raised babies at home, 5th again, 3rd, 2nd, and now 4th grade in Virginia Beach. She didn’t realize she was a writer until her divorce. She didn’t realize how powerful stress was until her stroke. She didn’t realize how resilient she was until she walked herself through the tunnel with the light at the end of it and started a small business sharing her collection of quotes on driftwood art.‘ She Makes’ became an essential outlet to help her prevent the burnout of teaching and help supplement a single income. She is passionate about helping shift the mindset of teachers and students who don’t know how powerful stress can be and she has big plans for what’s ahead.

“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” Albert Einstein

Education is energy. And right before our eyes. Changed. A quarantined virtual opportunity that could completely shift the science of education. This is an exciting time. We are literally face to face with new life. Life before Coronavirus and life after.

This living organism constantly evolving through theories, best practices, bureaucracy, statistics, and now extended virtual learning. It can feel like a tangled food web to an elementary school teacher when new curriculum, programs, resources, and schoolwide expectations change like a life cycle. Phonics dormant for years. Trying instead to simply expose their little minds to a bright, literacy-rich environment, hoping they will soak up the Vitamin D with all that sunscreen. Dick and Jane snickering from the bottom of a dusty box. Common Core being planted like tobacco in Jamestown. Balancing literacy on the petals of data and test scores. Planting so many seeds that we create new hybrid species of education each year. This is the point where you either grow or mow. Adapt to new environments. This takes a resilient gardener.* Finally bringing us here, to the edge of the plantation. To have us all step into uncharted territory, hoping we have learned from the brackish mistakes of the past.

We are on day 9 of quarantine. The build-a-garden kit that was purchased for everyone in a text-adopted box, is back in my empty classroom. Online resources, however, plentiful and overwatered. So I have spent the last week trying to figure out how to care for my plants from a screen. I have a green thumb in creativity, so challenge accepted. This is our time to let innovation creep like vines, so that when we return to our classrooms, they may resemble the back yards of our home schools.

This new species has the solar power to light up the whole world. I can literally feel the possibilities buzzing like bees. Creativity and innovation: the pollen of possibility.

We live in a world where Alexa, Siri, and Google can answer just about anything we ask them. They are a part of our new ecosystem. So should we still teach our students how to look up a word in a dictionary? Should we pull out the encyclopedias? Should we still expect our students to memorize the order of the planets by size? The language groups of the Natives of Virginia? The difference between a barometer and an anemometer? The three types of earth boundaries? And then test them a full year and a half after they learn them?

I’m not suggesting the standards above are unimportant, uninteresting, or that they shouldn’t be taught in school. I’m simply stating that tests and quizzes and grades and more tests are not how elementary students should be exposed to the fascinating world of science and social studies. And essentially, the magical world of reading non-fiction text and curiosity. Imagine the collective sigh when the SOLs were cancelled this year.

However, what I did not imagine was my daughter’s reaction. She is a 5th-grade student and has been growing more and more resistant to school. I don’t worry too much, because at home, she takes it upon herself to research how to care for her pets or the history of volleyball and vacation spots. She writes elaborate stories without assigned prompts, creates movie shorts, and watches tutorials on how to create origami. So when she heard that the SOLs were cancelled, she waved her arms over her virtual learning work, and stated, “Then there’s no point in doing any of this.”

Wait. What?

No point? I don’t need to tell you how alarming this is and I fear that she is one of millions of children who feel the same exact way. There is something very wrong with our system when we have given our children the impression that the purpose of school is simply a test.

So do we dare dream of a new breed of boundless wonder free of memorization? Free of trick questions with good answers and better answers? Free of test prep programs? How liberated we all feel being plucked from the pressures of standardized testing! The mental space now free to wonder and experiment with the curiosity that’s been buried below the mulch. We should take advantage of this world at our fingertips to pollinate curiosity and innovation like no other generation. Perhaps this uncharted territory could give us the guts to finally change with the times.

When I asked my daughter what an ideal school day would look like, science experiments and writing make her perk up. Aware that other people may not agree, she simply adds, “Choice.”

Enter the wishful dandelion seeds of Social Emotional Learning, The 5 Cs, PBLs, Inquiry-based projects, Genius Hour, Maker Space, Creation Station, Choice boards, Service learning projects, Passion projects, and The World’s Largest Lesson. Prancing through the wispy wind above our heads as we analyze data from test scores. Attempting to bring life back to the classrooms. Teasing us with time. Grades are due. Quarterly texts to be taken. Small groups rotate. Test prep priority. It takes a rebel gardener to pluck the seeds from the sky and let them grow wild. The rule following, A-type personality, is drowning in impossible expectations. The rebel artists shut their doors and pray they don’t get “caught” in their teachable moments. Either way, we’re wilting.

But we have been given a gift. No test prep. So can we go back to fostering the love of literature, creativity, thinking outside the box, and getting to know each other? Getting to know ourselves? Can we honor the author’s craft? Look at how the author shows feelings and setting and collect inspiration for our own writing? Allowing them to help us escape for a moment from our desks? Or homes? Underline the quotes that make us want to read it over and over and maybe even hang it up on your wall one day. Wink.wink. ( Can we show them how we share the books we can’t put down in book clubs and Amazon reviews and social media posts?

Being liberated of the SOLs has set free our little sprouts. If we replace it with wildflower wonder, will we ever tolerate being a potted plant again?

And maybe while we’re at it, we can start to say please and thank you to Alexa when she’s telling us the order of planets by size.

*SEL for teachers is a separate topic that I am finally able to write about from my new quarantined office.

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