Making Lemonade

By Matt McLeod

What. A. Year. Pandemic, political upheaval, shuttered small businesses, separation from family and friends, overwhelmed hospitals, record-setting weather, and closed school buildings are just a few of the lemons we have faced. We remember those whose journey ended during these challenges, offer sympathy to those who lost loved ones and compassion to those grappling with the trauma of the past year.

As we reflect over the past 12 – 15 months, we realize that we have managed to work through some of the challenges. The Math for All teachers, facilitators, project staff and leaders have, in many instances, shown the flexibility, resilience, and creative problem solving that have come to be an integral part of being an educator. Together, we have turned some of the lemons into lemonade. Though the challenges were forced upon us, we rose to the occasion and dug down to our deepest resourcefulness and turned the challenge into opportunity. Many positive changes have come to fruition with potential for long-lasting impact.

Organic lemon cut in half and glass of lemonade by Daniela Simona Temneanu from Noun Project

Under ideal circumstances, being a teacher takes guts, compassion, hardiness, and a lot of energy. This year has increased the need for these characteristics many times over. But our teachers have responded magnificently in many ways. They have learned new technologies to connect with students, to replace classroom tools such as manipulatives and anchor charts, and to bring resources to students such as audio books and dynamic software to foster collaborative learning. Teachers garnered renewed understanding of the importance of social-emotional status both for their students and for themselves. In many cases this led to a more complete picture of a student which allows for being able to better meet their individual needs.

Teachers have also reported that they have been impressed with the resilience and improvement in many of their students. Some students who were previously reticent to speak out in class have joined and even led discussions in breakouts. Teachers shared stories of small groups of students learning independently without teacher guidance or intervention, leading to the realization that maybe the students don’t need as much “hand-holding” as the teacher thought. One teacher shared that many of their students’ identities as learners have turned more positive as they realized they “could do this” and they have become more excited about learning.

As the Math for All team, we have noticed and honor teachers’ improved willingness to take risks for trying new things and to persist in figuring out how to use these tools. This in turn speaks to their commitment to the students, which is at the heart of it all. They have tried new technologies, new instructional strategies, new curricular materials and even new jokes — all in the name of making it work for their students. We hope that when students and teachers return to the classroom this penchant for trying new things and recognizing the capabilities and identities of students remains strong. We also hope that some of the topics that have (re)surfaced this year — equitable access to technology and materials; ways of understanding children more holistically; and the importance of social-emotional learning, for example — continue to be part of the conversation knowing that “we can do this”.

We leave you with some questions to ponder.

  • What’s your lemonade?
  • What change have you seen this past year that you hope will continue?

Math for All is a professional development program that brings general and special education teachers together to enhance their skills in
planning and adapting mathematics lessons to ensure that all students achieve high-quality learning outcomes in mathematics.

Grant-Supported Professional Development
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