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  • Michelle Velez

Do the Next Right Thing

It's almost 6 am. The sun is beginning to rise, the birds are beginning to chirp, and the sound of the coffee maker is beginning to brew. Most mornings I try to get up before the whole house, trying to process what the next 13 hours will look like. There are no more boundaries or compartments. The lines are blurred and almost enmeshed. The days of Mrs. Velez during the day and Mom when I walk through my home are over and I am sad about that.

I am a mother, teacher, zoom coordinator, and crisis counselor at any given moment of the day. It's Wednesday which means my students will awake and click on the morning message. What will I say to them today? How can I connect with them through a computer screen as if we are in our classroom having our daily chats about life. I miss my students. I miss the excitement in their faces when we try something new. I miss our math talks. I miss our yoga sessions. I miss our read alouds.

The coffee is finally brewed and it's light enough to sit on the deck with the notebook in hand, ready to write the daily upcoming to do list. I am grateful that today brings sun and warm weather which means my kids, and more importantly, I can get outside.

I began to think about when I started student teaching and how this new platform of learning is bringing up the same uncomfortable feelings I had as that novice teacher. I remember vividly walking into the classroom handing my cooperating teacher my math lesson plan for review. She read it a few times, nodded her head in happiness, but then said, “What do you do if something goes off the lesson? If something happens that wasn't planned?” I couldn't grasp what she meant? This is the plan. It has all the great parts of a lesson such as activation of prior knowledge, explicit teaching, the send off, and of course, the activity to assess if the kids “got it.” Well fast forward and I am sure you know what happened..the lesson did not go according to plan. I had a choice at that moment, as all of us teachers do when the plan is not going well, when the lesson is not just not working. Do the next right thing. The next right thing was to say, “Friends let's come back to the rug and try this again.”

As a mom of young kids and an avid Disney lover, Frozen 2 is on repeat many days whether it's the movie or just the amazing soundtrack where my boys are singing the Olaf solo far more times than I can count. There is a song in the movie that resonates with me during this time of uncertainty, “Do The Next Right Thing.” I find myself chanting the words in my head when I need to breathe before I speak or act. There is no plan for this. There is no shiny lesson with all the freshly sharpened pencils, just right books, and new manipulatives I had as a 21 year old student teacher. There is me, the computer, and whatever it is I managed to shove in my teaching bag over 35 days ago never thinking that this would be the last day I saw my students in person. I know what my students need. They need me, which usually begins with my silly stories, my silly mannerisms, and of course my Disney coffee mug in hand.

My students need to be seen and heard and validated. Just as my own children do when they are having an epic meltdown or intense emotion, which lately seems to be occurring more frequently. Yes, I can write a plan for the next 13 hours of my day, plan for the kids I am meeting with that day, but just as we teachers know how many times our lessons or even days don't go according to plan... we do the next right thing. The next right thing can look very different on a daily or even moment-to-moment basis these days. I choose to do what my babies at home need in the moment or what my students across the computer screen need during our sessions. I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their responses. If the most important thing my students need during our call is to see their friends, then I will be their facilitator to guide them for those 20-30 minutes.

As Anna says when she learns her sister is gone, we cannot look too far ahead, it is honestly too hard to even rationalize in our heads. Break it down to the next breath, next step, next choice you have to make. For right now I will live in this moment of enmeshment, when all the roles are intertwined as one. I will no longer try to stick to the “plan of my day” that gives a blueprint of what happens next. Just like the day of that first lesson, I will lower the expectations for myself, my students, and my own children. Tomorrow morning, I will be back on this deck with my notebook, coffee, and of course wishing for a sunny day. Ready to be flexible for the next opportunity to “Do the Next Right Thing.”

Michele Velez is a kindergarten teacher in the Waldwick Public Schools. She has taught kindergarten and third grade as well as authored literacy and math curriculum. She has co-led district wide professional development in Math, Reading, and Writing Workshops. Michele recently completed a Masters in Educational Leadership with an anticipatory Supervisory Certificate. Michele’s passion for lifelong learning is echoed in her personal and professional life as she believes students should have autonomy, voice, and choice in their own learning. You can find her on twitter @Michele_teach

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