Pivot has become the educational buzz word of 2020. 

I hate it. When I think of a pivot, I think of a center pivot in the field, providing water for agriculture. It’s a nice, solid, timed mechanism that moves in a predictable arc on a schedule, doing its job.

Tuesday at 12:30, I found out from my students that our school was closing and going remote. In fact, my son interrupted my class to tell me the news. It visibly shook me. I couldn’t make my brain comprehend what he was telling me. Some changes happen too fast to comprehend.

This is not a pivot. This is a full-on, drifting-in-the-dirt, wide-open-in-two-wheel-drive, hanging-your-back-tires-over-the-cut-bank-at-Mach-Holy-Shit, wheel-spinning-turn. This is a full-speed deal where if you lift your foot even the slightest, they will be picking you and your rig up off the rocks below.

This is the fourth schedule change at school in the last 11 weeks. One of the reasons I love being a teacher is I love a schedule. I love knowing when the bell rings, it’s time to change classes, it’s time to eat, or it’s time to go home. When I pulled Green Chain at C and D Lumber Company in college, it was the same — when the whistle blows, it is break time, or lunchtime, or home time. This love of a schedule appeals to me as I plan football practices, too — different periods for different points of emphasis. 

Changing schedules, especially when they change as fast as last week, is tough.

And parents believe this should be easy — to move between full remote, hybrid, and full in-person. It isn’t. Teachers are planners. It’s a tough deal to make plans, only to have them disappear because the schedule changed. This is our second week of new classes. It is tough to build a solid foundation on shifting sands. 

However, I am not bitching about our leadership that makes these schedule changes. I heard our principal make a great statement this year as yet another change of policy was introduced:

“It’s my first pandemic.”

Everybody is doing their best with no playbook, but it does make things interesting.

Tuesday, I walked into school at 6:45 AM with a plan for the week before Thanksgiving. I had a lot to teach, but I felt pretty good about where I was heading into a week off school. I was extremely confident about where we would be by the break.

Wednesday, I walked into school at 6:45 AM with a different plan for the week before Thanksgiving. I had a lot to teach, and I felt iffy about how good it is going to be before heading into a week off school. I was not confident at all about how this was going to go. 

Oh, how life can change in 24 hours.

Teaching to an empty, virtual classroom (Photo by the author)

However, as the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before Thanksgiving break went on, I was pleasantly surprised with our students. I had most students log on and engage in classes. I had most students complete assignments, take quizzes, and contribute to discussions, even though they were different discussions than they would have been in class.

As the week went on, I even enjoyed parts of fully remote. I figured out a couple of tricks to help me see student engagement, even if they were cliché and cold. I had students unmute and say “yes” all in unison. I treated it like a clap in football- the more together the students were, the more actual engagement I had. The more “popcorn” the responses were, the less I had. I taught this to the class and it got better and better over the three days. 

I also used the chat feature in Microsoft Teams as a discussion starter. I had students type their sample theme from the movie short we watched into the bar and go read others. That then started a discussion for us of theme versus topic. I had students type one aspect of the AP Scoring Rubric they learned and then read other responses; this was a quick formative check-in to see what information made it home in AP English Language. 

I sit here writing this on Black Friday, listening to the news coverage about how different Black Friday is this year. I have never Black Fridayed- I usually go hunting on this day. However, I can’t hide from the difference of this year, even as I sneer down my nose at Black Friday in any form. It is just another example of a pivot.

I know we will be remote on Monday. However, I have no idea if we will be remote or hybrid on Tuesday-Friday. I have no idea what to plan for, what schedule will show up, or how long that schedule will last. I do know that I will have something ready to rock and roll, no matter which medium I deliver it. 

Pivot. 

Pivot is the new buzz-word phrase for education in 2020.

It is more of a hairpin turn, but the need for flexibility in planning and delivery is the weapon of the week for this first week of December as we head into the last month of 2020. 

Written by: Nathan White