Social Revisioning at a Distance

On St. Patrick’s Day, area children searched for shamrocks in their neighbors’ windows. Over the past seven days, I’ve taught several friends in their 60s how to use FaceTime and Zoom. My daughter’s teacher now sends us an email at 8:30 each morning.

All of this doesn’t feel like social distancing, it feels more like social revisioning, albeit at a distance. Semantics matter — so does practice.

The Heart of Social Revisioning

In the face of COVID-19 uncertainty, these acts of compassion and connection are the heart of social revisioning.

Are we experiencing physical distance? Absolutely. This physical distancing is often difficult, scary and uncertain.

Socially though, it seems we are drawing into each other and seeking new ways to practice proximity. Thank goodness. We need each other right now.

Social revisioning is the nurse at my grandma’s retirement center who brings her own iPad to work each day so that my grandma can see our faces when we tell her, “I love you.”

It is waking up every day grateful for health workers such as these, as well as food service workers, truckers and grocery store clerks. It is recognizing our inherent interdependence.

Social revisioning is all the teachers finding new ways to reach out, check-in, offer support and give positive feedback.

It’s educators using new tools outside their technical comfort zones. Social revisioning is our public schools sending WiFi hotspots to students needing access.

Social revisioning is the bakery that had to close, so they baked up all of their remaining cookie dough for nurses, doctors and hospital workers.

It’s cards sent to nursing homes and essentials delivered to the elderly and immune-compromised neighbors. It is my mother learning how to video chat.

Social revisioning is church services held from our living rooms, Shabbos candles lit at home and daily prayers made from the quiet corners of our houses. Social revisioning is the friend who calls just to chat, even though we’ve never been the kinds of friends who call just to chat.

Feeding Each Other

And, of course, it is feeding each other. Our local Food Bank immediately started strategizing for what it knew would be a food insecurity crisis. Local restaurants are offering free lunches to children and health care workers.

Community members are organizing drives, collecting supplies and delivering groceries.

Social revisioning reminds us that no matter the situation, we can always find ways to reach out, to connect and to reimagine what it means to be a community together.

As the cases increase, will we keep checking in? Will we keep calling just to chat? Will we keep seeking new ways to connect with students?

As the closures continue, will we keep coming together to care for those in need? Will we accept care ourselves when needed?

Will we seek ways to support our small businesses who need our ongoing patronage? Will we hug the people in our homes close and reach out to those feeling alone?

With hope, we’ll become even more proficient in creative ways to connect and care. In the meantime, let’s keep pressing forward — together.

Warmly, Dr. KFW

This article originally appeared in The Columbia Missourian. You can view the original here.

Five Strategies for Navigating Working and Learning from Home

Three weeks ago our local public schools announced that they would be closing for COVID-19. That same day, my university colleagues and I were also asked to work from home. On the eve of this new era for our family, I rolled up my sleeves and designed the most beautiful “learning schedule” for our  8-year-old. 

I went to bed as dozens of Zoom meetings appeared on my calendar. At 6:00am I woke up to an iPad screen in my face and my daughter announcing that she was “ready to get started” with her new learning apps.

Wait a minute, I thought learning apps would come later in the day. Mama needs a cup of coffee. Did Mama just refer to herself in the third person? When is my first Zoom meeting? It’s in an hour. I hope the audio-video works okay. Alright child, you can preview the apps. 

And that is how we fell off my schedule before we even started. Sort of. This brings me to my first point about this new reality of working and learning from home. 

Give Everyone Grace

We are navigating uncharted waters in healthcare, learning, working, and living. This means neither school nor work will look or feel the same as they do face-to-face. Accept that balancing your work responsibilities with added childcare and teaching responsibilities is challenging at best, and in our most-stressed moments downright impossible. (Those moments typically pass.)

Through Zoom, my colleagues heard my daughter yell, “Hey Mom, I’m starting a fire.” She meant in the gas fireplace, but still—also it was 60 degrees outside. 

Pro-tip: Mute your microphone until you need to talk. Do this even if your work space seems quiet.

Create Structure and Choice

As I organize work-and-learn-from-home days, I’m not concerned with the order of activities. Instead, each day, my goal is simply to create structures where both my daughter and I can keep making progress.  I use Canva’s menu templates to make our learning schedules. Below is an example that you can print out and modify.

Learning Schedule Template by Dr. KFW

Our daily schedules include 9 activities for our eight-year-old to check off each day. We always include reading, arts, math, and wellness activities. She gets to choose the order. 

One day she read several chapters of a fantasy book, completed two of the fitness challenges her P.E. teacher sent home, wrote her teacher a letter, tested out two reading apps, started writing a creative story, challenged her dad to Blokus, yelled at Khan Academy while working on some math problems, and helped me launch a social media fundraiser for our local food bank. 

On our best days, we end the day by talking about what worked well and what we need to adjust for tomorrow. On our worst days, this doesn’t happen. See the first tip on giving everyone grace. 

Utilize Technical Tools

Technology is both helping us to stay connected and also teaching our daughter important technical literacy skills.

  • Google Drive is a wonderful resource for children (of all ages) to share their written work. During school closures, my daughter is sending updates, questions, and creative stories to family, teachers, and friends. While learning from home, being able to engage, with our supervision, through Google Drive, FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom helps our children feel more connected. 

Additionally, below are five learning apps and websites that we’re enjoying. All of these are either free or have free trials.

Remember, Wellness Matters

As we receive news about the impact of COVID-19, it’s okay to experience a huge range of emotions. These feelings are valid. As we navigate this new reality, keep prioritizing wellness. 

For me, this looks like starting our day with a snuggle (not an iPad in my face), our favorite breakfast beverage (pink lemonade for her and coffee with cream with me), a reasonably healthy lunch (my definition of reasonable is pretty liberal), affirming my daughter’s feelings as they come (even when that means muting my Zoom), and a walk (alone for me) in the evening with Yo Yo Ma in my earbuds and a dog by my side.  

Reach Out to Others

I have been touched by the tremendous outpouring of connection and curriculum by teachers (including my daughter’s teachers) across the nation. Teacher education students, retired educators, and homeschool parents are posting invitations to help with homework questions and tutoring. Schools that are experts in online and blended learning are offering their support. Authors and media specialists are recording read alouds. 

Remember, social distancing only refers to physical proximity. Don’t go on this journey alone. Reach out to family, friends, and experts. Ask questions. Share funny stories and difficult ones. Revise your home learning schedule (again) and accept that, with hope, tomorrow is yet another opportunity to learn, work, and love. 

Sending you and yours strength and well wishes, Dr. KFW

I recognize that having a position that allows me to work from home, technology resources, and enough food to feed our family are privileges that many do not have during these uncertain times.  Both my household and my school community are sending support, resources, and compassion to those in need of extra care. If you are able, I encourage you to incorporate this kind of caring into the fabric of what it means to be home during this historical moment.

Holding Space for Connection

It’s early in the morning and I am enjoying the way my medium roast coffee with milk tastes like home. Dawn is just starting to break across my front window. In the States, the days are getting longer as we press toward spring.

Earlier this week I was in Brazil, working and learning with teachers and students, seeing old friends, and starting my days with strong coffee and sweet pineapple. There, people told me they were looking forward to more fall breezes. 

I have so many stories to share from this trip. This first one begins with an Uber ride and ends with a 6-year-old comedian.

An Uber Driver with 13 Siblings

Our Uber ride has arrived and the four of us pile in.

“Boa noite. Qual é o seu nome?” (Good evening. What is your name?)

“Boa noite. Sou a Kathryn.”  (Good evening. I’m Kathryn.)

I look at the uber app on my phone to find the driver’s name. “Marcelo, sim?” (You are Marcelo, yes?)

“Sim. Você fala português?” (Yes. Do you speak Portuguese?)

“Estou aprendendo.” (I am learning.)

“Ótimo.” (Wonderful.)

The drive is 15-minutes long. During that time Marcelo tells us his life story. We learn about his 13 brothers and sisters. We see photos of his lovely wife and daughter. He is very proud. We learn about the upcoming trip he is taking to visit a brother in Japan. 

We learn these things in little bits, told with enough patience and pauses for me to translate them to my colleagues. 

As we make our way, through the busy São Paulo streets, Marcelo asks us about our faith, our work, and how often we’ve been to Brazil. I translate the answers back to him. 

The car feels like it’s moving at a slower, easier pace than the Saturday night blur and bustle outside. When we arrive at our destination, Marcelo says, “Eu vou desligar o carro. Eu quero dar um abraço em cada um de vocês. Obrigado por ouvir a minha história.” (I am going to turn off the car. I want to give you each a hug. Thank you for listening to my story.)

We embrace, all of us changed from this spontaneous connection. 

What gives certain places weight in your heart? 

On Sundays, Avenida Paulista is closed for traffic, which opens up a huge stretch in the middle of the city for artisans, musicians, and walkers. I’ve had the gift of so many Sundays on Avenida Paulista that I now know some of the artisans. I smile at the potter whose coffee cups have the most glorious glazes. I stop and buy more paper earrings from the young woman who has a fondness for wild designs and also a finicky credit card machine. 

I think about a line from a poem I wrote last year: 

When did this city evolve from being somewhere I visit, 

to somewhere I return to? 

What gives certain places weight in your heart? 

After a rainy week, the sun is shining today. We weave through the crowds to an ice cream stand owned by a young woman. I buy us scoops of ice cream and ask the young woman if she will take our picture. 

“Claro!” (Of course!)

We group together and smile at her. She laughs and comes out from the stand to take the photo from the other direction. 

“Se você quiser tirar uma foto, deve ser com meu carrinho de sorvete.” (If you want to take a picture, it should be with my ice cream stand.)

The young woman beams as we pose in front of her stand. Sweet, sticky strawberry ice cream runs down my fingers. 

She couldn’t have imagined this, but there she was 

My friend is zooming through the streets at dusk to get us to the highest point in the city before sunset. She wants to show us the view. 

“The lights on the buildings look like beads on a necklace.”

As we drive, she tells us about her mother who is recovering from emergency surgery. 

“It can happen so suddenly,” my friend says. “One moment, you’re fine and the next you’re not.”

We nod. We’ve all experienced this with people we love. For a moment, her words blur and I am no longer in the car. I am with my grandma in another state, in another country, across the ocean. 

Something pulls me back into the conversation. My friend is telling us about the under-resourced hospital and how she fed the strangers who roomed near her mother. 

“They didn’t have anyone,” she tells us sadly.

She said she couldn’t have imagined this, but suddenly there she was cutting up meat, adjusting bed pillows, and bringing in extra linens for people she had just met. 

We arrive at the overlook just as the light is starting to change. We take photos and watch the sun dip into the sea. The lights shine across the shore exactly like beads on a necklace.

Their secret handshake starts with a high five

The students will arrive in a moment. For now we are organizing crayons, preparing ourselves for the chaos and excitement of twenty-three 6-year-olds.

The first child to enter walks right up to me. In a few moments, we will learn that she is both the class leader and class comedian. For now, though, we are just meeting for the first time.

I lower myself to her eye level.

“Você fala português?” (Do you speak Portuguese?)

“Estou aprendendo, assim como você está aprendendo inglês.” (I am learning, just like you are learning English.)

She looks at me seriously and to make sure I am telling the truth, she quizzes me. “Um dois três…” (One, two, three…)

When I answer, “quatro cinco seis!” (four, five, six!) she giggles and gives me a hug.

Now that we’re such good friends, she teaches me their class’s secret handshake, which starts with a high five and ends with a fist bump. 

________________________________________________________

In each of these moments, what gave us the grace and good sense to hold space for connection? Maybe it has something to do with being so far from home and feeling a little bit lost ourselves. Then again, it bears mentioning that sometimes even at home we still feel a little bit lost and searching for connection.

Regardless of where you go, almost everyone you meet warms when they show you photos of their families. Small business owners are always proud to showcase their work. When someone is sick they need our prayers and when someone is lonely they want to be seen and heard. These things transcend place.

What if these simple sparks of human connection are what tethers us to each other?

This may be my most important lesson from last week.

The more I travel, the more I’ve learned that it isn’t the unfamiliar landmarks that give us direction, but the familiar spaces we share.

With you for the journey,

Dr. KFW

Teaching Self-Advocacy Skills

This post comes from Dr. KFW’s latest book When Your Child Learns Differently (2019).


“Self-advocacy is the ability to make sure your needs are understood and met. This can look like speaking up, speaking out, stepping in, and educating others. While…we can [and must]…help young people practice self-advocacy, the way each person advocates is contextualized by their individual identities, experiences, and communication styles. Self-advocacy is an essential skill for everyone to develop and for young people who learn differently it is often the key to getting the services, accommodations, and supports needed to be successful.”

Below is a framework to support young people in becoming more confident self-advocates:

Love and High-Expectations Warriors

Hanoi Journals

“I was a problematic student.”

I am listening to a new teacher tell a story. The story is being translated in real-time from Vietnamese to English. I could write an entire post on the brilliance and poetry of the two young women who translated this conference for us, but I’ll save that for another day. 

Despite being 8,000 miles from the classrooms I usually call home, the story the teacher is telling us is a familiar narrative. 

He courageously shares the following story: He was in trouble a lot in school. Classes didn’t click for him. His teachers didn’t expect much out of him. 

And then…he met a critical teacher. 

In his case, it was a tutor. The tutor saw something in him and told him so. She believed he was capable of important and interesting work and helped him believe in himself. 

Now he is doing the same for other kids. In fact, this is why he became a teacher. 

Critical Persons

In my last book, I wrote about how a critical person can change the trajectory of a child’s life.

A critical person can be anyone who sees your child not only for who they are right now, but also for who they might become. In the book I call these people the “love and high-expectations warriors at your children’s schools.” 

(Fishman-Weaver, K., 2019).

During our time in Hanoi, I met students and teachers who are both acting as critical persons and who are continuing to be affected by critical persons in their own lives.  Recently I wrote about the “universal language of the classroom,” how kids are kids are kids all over the world. 

Since then I’ve been thinking about how human beings are human beings are human beings all over the world. 

No matter where you go, showing up for one another causes ripples in our narratives.  During our trip to Vietnam, there were moments when I was uncertain and vulnerable.  These moments were met, not with judgment, but with compassion; I think about the smiles, encouragement and hot cups of coffee and tea shared. 

Let’s make schools places where we show up for each other with the same compassion. Most of us have been fortunate enough to experience the positive impact of a love and high-expectations warrior. 

When I meet with educators or aspiring educators, I often ask them to tell me about the teacher who had the greatest impact on them. Almost without fail, they tell a story similar to the one I heard in Hanoi. They talk about a teacher who saw something in them that no one else had. They talk about a teacher who believed they were capable of things they didn’t know they could do and then who helped them accomplish those things. 

A Renewed Opportunity

As we approach the new year, we have a renewed opportunity to commit to being the love and high-expectations warriors our students need. Are there young people in your buildings who think they are “problematic,” who aren’t being held to high expectations, whose stories are assumed but not known? Think about how many years that new teacher had to wait for the critical person who saw him and changed his trajectory. Let’s don’t let kids wait for years to be seen. 

And as we show up for students, let’s also show up for each other just as my new friends in Vietnam did for me. 

Sending compassion and strength to my colleagues across the hall and also across the ocean.

Warmly yours, Dr. KFW