A week ago I viewed a professional development video that made me cringe. The presenters said that the chat box in our virtual classrooms should only allow students to communicate with the teacher, not one another. “They might be silly if you let them chat,” they suggested. I took to Twitter to express my very refined thoughts:
When we shut down schools in March, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never taught a class of elementary school students online and was not even sure it could be done effectively. But I’m the kind of person who does hard things. Always. I mustered together my resources, found other educators facing the same challenges, leaned into the ambiguity and discomfort of the moment, and radically imagined new possibilities.
As I began to navigate this new territory, the thought of closing the chat box never crossed my mind. It wouldn’t. It is an instructional practice rooted in adultism and control. I believe in the humanity of children and their freedom. And they never, ever let me down when I maintain those values, even when the world seems to be spiraling out of control.
California is ablaze right now. The Bay Area skies are filled with smoke. When we returned from our lunch break yesterday, the children were filled with questions (and answers) about what is happening. So we skipped my intentions for our writing workshop and spent some time asking our friend, Google, our questions. We watched videos and read an article. As we came to the end of our inquiry, a message appeared in the chat box:
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH 2020?
“I know, friend,” I responded verbally. “This year does seem to be very difficult, doesn’t it?”
And then, the chat box exploded (correct spelling and punctuation courtesy of me):
I agree with you, (student’s name).
I know! First Kobe died.
BLACK LIVES MATTER!
I wish I wasn’t born in this time.
Am I going to die?
2020, why? Just why?
*Hits 2020 and eats it!
We have COVID-19 and now we have wildfires? Jeez!
This is super scary!
How much more?
What’s next 2020? Just don’t make it bad!
I want to see 2021!
What’s next in 2020 that’s gonna be bad?
Please, 2020, make something lucky, not worse!
I’m going to 2021.
More like 2022!
No. Wait. Go to 2016. That was the best year!
I am going to 2019.
I hate 2020.
Bye! I’m going to 2022.
I want to be a baby again.
Every year except 2020 is the best year. You want to know why? Because there was no virus.
Take me with you!
*Forty crying emojis
My family’s still alive.
No, no, no! It’s like this. First Kobe Bryant dies. Then alarms go off on our phones. Then quarantine. Then fires! Like jeez! What else could be next?
2019, I miss you.
This thread began at 12:39 and ended at 12:50. We engaged in deep dialogue orally as the children processed alongside each other in the chat box. Our conversation led us to make a heart map that posed the initial question: WHAT IS GOING ON WITH 2020? While we listed what was troubling our hearts, we also thought about the joy that the year has brought us as well. Our time was running short, so I offered a teaching point: Writers think about hard things and process their feelings in their writing. We spent three minutes quick writing from our heart maps and decided we would continue this work today.
These pieces are still working drafts, but let me tell you that I was blown away by the power of my third graders’ writing as they shared today. I didn’t teach any craft moves or require the writing to be done in a specific genre before the quick write yesterday, but appropriate ones for this topic — like poetry and narrative, and repetends and dialogue — surfaced naturally. I cannot wait for them to finish these pieces. Their drafts are already so good!
And now I have to wonder, would any of this have happened if I had limited their chat box use to communicating with me? You already know the answer. . .
Children might not “be silly.” Children will be silly. They are children. But they will also be brilliant if we stop trying to control them to accomplish our desired outcomes, which only serve to fuel adult egos.
I have said it a million times, at least. I will say it a million more. Children are the epitome of everything good in this world! It is children who will set us free. I feel more empowered to navigate this harrowing year already having had this incredible experience with them. . .all because I did not stifle their voices and trusted them to use the chat box.