The Connection is What Matters Most

By Bridget Vaughan, an ELA and Literacy District Coordinator and teacher advocate

Recently my job has changed. I now support teachers with remote learning. As a part-time online educator in higher education for the past 16 years, and a full-time middle school teacher and administrator for over 20, I thought I had this figured out. I transitioned to teaching online classes many years ago. Back then, college students opted to take these classes and paid for them, so they were eager to learn. For many years, much of this was about helping students learn the technology. But after time, I built in every question or piece of content that was unclear, and students got more tech savvy. Of course, it never replaced face-to-face instruction, but it was pretty much smooth sailing.

That was and still is, my part-time job. Along with being an adjunct professor, I’ve taught full-time in an urban middle school south of Boston for years when technology in the classroom was non-existent, aside from the computer at my desk. We had no Wi-fi, but we made it down to the computer lab once a week and students composed writing pieces and learned to save them to a flash drive.

Fast forward to March 2020. School has closed. I still work in the same district as the Curriculum Coordinator for ELA and Literacy, but now I must create remote learning for the city. Immediately I get to work and put together grade-level Google Classrooms and paper packets to be picked up at lunch sites, until we hear what will happen next. I answer lots and LOTS of questions from teachers about what to do. They’re anxious. State testing is coming up and they’ve been planning lessons, targeting instruction, and helping students create goals. I try to explain that we don’t have the answers yet, but I will let them know as soon as we do. The answers don’t really arrive.

So, now it is April and the mandates have changed. Teachers are to provide their own remote learning opportunities. Here is where it gets interesting. I’ve worked with many of these teachers for years and years and they are experts in their fields. I’m not talking about content and curriculum. I mean connection. They can connect with children in a way that cannot be taught and they are eager to figure out how to do this remotely. So, I start sending them the latest and greatest online tools, videos, activities, etc. And there are lots of great ones. We have multiple virtual team meetings and share lots and LOTS of resources. Many teachers pick up quickly and some have experience with online tools, but most are frustrated and sad. We are on week 3 now, with several more to go. Our teachers have had to complete some professional development and they appreciated that. They have wanted to “do something” and this helped. What is still lacking is the connection. They miss it and I’m realizing that it cannot be replaced with engaging content, flashy interactive learning games and packets.

So, my advice to all teachers? Keep connecting to your students. Reach out with whatever means you can. If it starts with simple emails and ends with Flipgrid and sharing yourself with Screencastify and live meetings via Google Meets, that’s great. But there are other ways, too. Maybe it isn’t through technology at all. Maybe you send letters through the postal service and ask for replies. Maybe you make phone calls. You’re an expert at this thing called connection and it is a gift. It takes time, but you’ve been mastering it for years, every day in myriad ways. You’ve been able to reach students like no one can. So even though your face-to-face connections are on hold for a while, I’m pretty confident that you will connect with your students. Keep trying. With all of the technology competing for your attention, you will find your own way.

Bridget Vaughan has been a writer and educator for over 20 years. She lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts with her husband, 3 sons and a dog. She’s an ELA and Literacy District Coordinator for 16 schools, an adjunct English professor, and teacher advocate. She’s authored educational articles in USA Today and the Boston Herald publications.

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