Through this largely grass roots aspect of the pandemic response movement, I began to see more and more Bitmoji classrooms pop into my stream, and I knew that was something I’d jump right into, were I still a classroom teacher. I easily dismissed the naysayers who soon took to twitter to denounce Bitmoji classrooms (their argument is that teachers should be spending more time on concrete lesson planning, and less time on making “pretty pictures” for their online learning space).
I know ALL about classroom set up. This is the season when, for nearly two decades, I annually spent way too much money at Staples, Scholar’s Choice and the Dollar Store, and way too many hours in a hot, sweaty classroom, making sense of the jumble of desks, chairs and other furniture left piled on one side of the room, putting up integer lines, reference posters and bulletin board borders, setting up a cozy and inviting reading corner (hello, IKEA pillows and stuffies!)... Hell, I even got written up for it once, when a full colour photo of me standing on a desk, painting one of my bulletin boards, was published in a teacher mag and a reader got upset about the health and safety ramifications of not using a stepladder. (As an aside, have y’all SEEN the rickety old stepladders at some of these schools? Give me a good, solid table to stand on any day!!!)
But I digress.
The point is, I understand how for many teachers, a beautiful learning space has always been a critical first step before launching into serious “first week of school” and cross curricular planning. I remember how the rubber plant really could not wait, and yes, I really did need to have all those colour coded bins before I could even think about planning for an implementing any strategies from the three guided and independent reading books I had read earlier in the summer!!! Because before I can do my best thinking around culturally responsive pedagogy, integrated instruction, assessment and learning, I need to know that where I spend the vast majority of my day is a visually energizing and well organized space.
I imagine that a virtual teaching and learning environment is no different. And so, when the Bitmoji classrooms hit the Twittersphere and Instafeed, I was right there, coveting people’s colourful, creative and engaging digital classrooms!
When I left the classroom to work at the ministry of education a few years ago, I had just been getting started with things like virtual classrooms (to supplement my in-person space and support myself and any students with frequent absences). Collaborative online docs and digital assessment tracking were new to me, and I was frequently a resistant adopter. I was in some ways ahead of my time with the cross-board and international partnerships I forged with other educators while colleagues still dusted off the same binder of laminated lesson plans from a decade ago, but compared to the many who had already been experimenting with this stuff for years, I was (and still am) in many ways a Luddite.
So I had to do a little research.
A few that bedazzled me include:
Undeterred, I continued to search, and intended to build at least a base this weekend. All I wanted, really, was a white board and/or chart stand that I could customize with a hypothetical welcome message and instruction, some sort of “woke” virtual poster with an inspirational message and a picture of a black, indigenous or queer woman on it (bonus for all three!!) which I would rotate monthly, and a bookcase with clickable books and math manipulatives on it.
After several hours of failed attempts, I am left with no personalized Bitmoji classroom, and heaps more respect for the many educators across Ontario who are feeling the uncertainty and trepidation of heading back to school this September, and who are nevertheless somehow finding within themselves the strength and courage to prepare a warm and inviting welcome for the students they will teach this year. We are not out of the woods yet with this pandemic and its aftermath, and these teachers on the frontlines are the ones we need to learn from and listen to.