By Cathy Sosnowski
Starting a yoga practice has been a humbling experience. As a half-marathoner, I thought I was in good shape. I was – for a half marathoner. The endurance, the ability to pace myself knowing when to speed up and when to conserve my energy, I had those down pat after ten years. However, yoga requires more than just endurance. Flexibility, core strength and balance are needed as well. Things I hadn’t developed because I didn’t need them.
I started the yoga class to break up the monotony of distance work. Cross- training in another discipline would also help me tweak what I thought was already a solid practice. The first month was an exercise in humility. While I could get into most poses eventually, it wasn’t graceful, and moving from one pose to the other didn’t flow as much as painfully contort. Imagine the monster walking in Frankenstein. It was something like that. While I had decent core strength, I lacked balance and coordination. Attempting a tree pose would have me careening into the hapless person next to me or the wall. I struggled with getting to the top of my body to coordinate with the bottom of my body. One night about three months in, I realized I had moved from downward dog to a forward bend at the top of the mat not only without falling or slapping my foot down, but without conscious thought. I had enough flexibility to pull my leg up and then down with something approaching grace. Dreaded tree pose became less wobbly. There was a flow as I moved from Warrior 2 to Reverse Warrior and back again. I’d survived the wobble and made it to the flow. The last several weeks as we’ve been required to leap headfirst into distance learning are a lot like that pose…wobble… flow. It’s made us rethink what we thought we had down. It requires a skill set that many of us don’t have or had enough of when we were teaching face to face. Careening into virtual walls is the new norm.
On the other hand, this is a time of reflection and community learning. As we realize what we knew doesn’t fit this new norm, we reach out to others to help us through the webinars and workshops that our teaching communities, publishing houses, and organizations are putting out. A webinar with teachers at international schools in China on what they’ve learned in their 19 weeks of distance learning is that this week will be better than next, that parents will need support as they become teaching assistants, that the online medium amplifies everything. Jessica Lifshitz, grade 5 teacher extraordinaire, had the best insight to center our work. What used to take her two days to do face to face now takes a week which led me to dramatically scale back what my student teachers do as they create their plans. We’ve all learned how much we miss our school families – student and colleague. Administrators are learning, just as we do check ins to help our students deal with this, administrators need to do check ins with us, not for the academics, but for how we are handling this new uncertain world.
We’re learning it’s hard to figure out how to count things and how to translate grading and GPA if we didn’t have established policies to start with. If we haven’t had conversations on mastery and what students should know and be able to do and what really matters and access and equity and social-emotional learning, how do we transition smoothly or at least with a minimum of wobbling? An educator in a webinar for New England administrators this past week raised the best question: what if this change affords us the opportunity to look at grades and GPA, standardized testing, SATs, standards, not as sacred cows, but why we do them and do they do what we need them to? What if this becomes the opportunity to look at those things that have at times the very impediment to progress? As terrifying as this has been, what if it ushers in a new age of teaching?
Until then, my friends, be patient and embrace the wobble. The shake is your muscles getting stronger. We will go back to face to face learning. Yet we will be fundamentally changed by this experience. We will see the places where we fell. And we will realize how we fell less often and maybe, at times, we actually even flowed.