Renewed Teacher Appreciation in a Time of Distance Learning: Three Takeaways as a Parent and Educator

By Diane Staehr Fenner

As a mother of three kids—in grades five, seven, and nine—it’s been utterly overwhelming to try and re-envision what schooling will look like for the remainder of the school year. This pervasive feeling is despite the fact that I was formerly a teacher and am currently an education consultant. Shortly after my district of nearly 200,000 students—the tenth largest in the United States—closed schools on March 13, I learned that all schools in my state of Virginia would remain closed through the end of the year.

The sea change to a distance learning model has left my head spinning both as an educator and as a parent. I recognize that I am privileged in many ways, including having the luxury of being able to work from home and minimize my contact with the coronavirus; having high speed internet access and devices for each of my kids; and being a native English speaker who used to teach in the same district where my kids attend school. Nonetheless, it’s been eye opening.

In this post I’ll share my three biggest take-aways and ways of coping with the experience so far, as a parent who knows a little about education.

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Classroom, Interrupted: Rethinking Assessment in a Time of Pandemic

By Sharon Kunde

It’s now week five of my school’s pivot to online instruction. We’ve weathered the chaos of week one, the understated pleasures of weeks two and three (no commute! teaching in ratty old slippers! baking during intervals!), and the tedium of week four. The time for soothing words and procrastination is over: it’s time for assessment.

If hearing those four words make you feel like this talented music teacher, take a deep breath. As traditional assessments – from pop quizzes to the SATs, from oral examinations to student presentations – become increasingly untenable in terms of both logistics and equity, we can use this moment as a chance to reflect on big-picture pedagogical outcomes. I, for one, want my students to cultivate an ability to engage with the world. I want them to develop critical consciousness, which involves curiosity about why things are the way they are and how they could be different. I want them to realize commonality with disparate people. I want them to develop the capacity to concentrate and to notice, along with the technical skills to develop meaningful responses to what they see. Grades merely index those nebulous capacities – grades are a language I use to communicate the extent to which I see particular habits of mind and technical capabilities manifesting in my students’ work.           

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What About Students Who Do Not Have Access to the Tools that Are Needed for Online Learning?

By Katharine Davies Samway

If we have a computer, regular access to the Internet, and a cell phone with unlimited calls and texts, we may forget that our students may not have the same access to these tools, which are essential for online learning.  In some cases, schools surveyed their students about their technological needs before the schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.  In other cases, teachers have had to use time during the school closure to identify students’ needs. 

Teachers I’ve interviewed comment on the importance of surveying students and families in order to determine which technological tools they have access to.  At Laura Alvarez’s K-8 two-way immersion bilingual school, teachers polled their students by phone, text, and email about their access to a computer and the Internet (as well as their access to everyday necessities, such as food).  Alvarez estimated that she spent one-third of her time in the two weeks before spring break calling, texting, and emailing students and their families.  She learned that most have some Internet access via a smartphone, but none of her 8th grade students had solid access to the Internet.  A couple of her students had a cousin or aunt who had a computer, and some had computers at home, but weren’t sure how well they worked.  Recently, the school has been distributing Chromebooks to students who do not have access to computers, using social distancing when doing so.

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Essential Pedagogical Shifts: Prioritizing Student Engagement and Self-Care during Lock-down

By Ivannia Soto

I have just completed my fourth week of teaching college-level courses online. With each class session I have had to make new pedagogical shifts, which are as applicable in a K-12 online setting as they are in a higher-ed environment. I mostly teach preservice teachers at Whittier College, a small liberal arts college in Southern California, known (for better or worse) for being Richard Nixon’s alma mater. My specialization is second language acquisition and designing equitable environments for English language learners (ELLs) within school systems.  Historically, ELLs in classrooms have been relegated to little or no classroom participation. ELLs have not been required, or oftentimes, expected to speak in the classroom setting. As I oftentimes remind my preservice teachers, the person talking the most is learning the most, so we must require all students to speak and be engaged in the classroom setting. I am taking this lesson to heart as I transition my own classrooms to an online setting, where students can easily become passive and disengaged, whether they are K-12 students or preservice teachers themselves.

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Early Learners Need a Home-School Connection

By Cindy Terebush

I recently participated in an online gathering of early learners.  Their teacher was reading a book.  The children, in little boxes on the computer screen, were making faces at each other, pointing, dancing and performing other feats of imagination.  When the session was over, the teacher asked me, “Why am I doing this?  They aren’t listening.”

In other areas where children may have less access to technology, teachers are preparing materials and packets that families can get in the mail or pick up at bus stops.  Numerous teachers have shared with me that they are convinced that it is a futile effort because most families are overwhelmed and not doing the activities.

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Perspectives From the Field: Teachers Teaching Online

By Mark Whipple

As an Instructional Technology Specialist in a suburban middle school south of Boston, MA, I was curious about the ways teachers might begin to use technology in our new and suddenly-online learning environment. The expectations coming from states, school systems and individual schools vary widely, and teachers’ level of experience and comfort with technology varies just as much. What techniques for in-person classroom teaching can be applied, and what new methods are needed? What are some approaches to meeting the needs of students when not physically with them? What do teachers need to do in terms of self-care to be present for their students?

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Salvaging a Failed Lesson

By Catherine Conley

Today we finished our third week of online classes, and my last class was the worst online teaching experience I’ve had so far. Usually being in this class is like being on Family Feud. The students encourage each other with chorus of “good job,” “great answer,” “you’re on fire,” “sooo good,” and the like. It is a mixed class of juniors and seniors, but they don’t discriminate. They cheer on all. It is usually such a joy to be with them.

But not today. Instead, they were whiny and negative. There were the regular complaints that they are tired and there is too much work, but it was more than that. They are beginning to feel the effects of staying home so much. They don’t feel well; their backs hurt; their curiosity is dulled. It didn’t help that there was a bit of a tech glitch too so that the question I wanted to post on the Classroom had to be retyped. And of course, it was a long one, so they were waiting while I prepped it. I tried to talk to them as I recreated their assignment, but as most of them do not use their mics and prefer to write their comments in the chat box, I couldn’t see those while I was typing on a different tab. And then, wow, did they misread the passage.

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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.

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Supporting All Learners During Remote Learning

By Kathryn Nieves, a special education teacher at Sparta Middle School in New Jersey

When my school district called me on a Thursday evening, I did not have to answer to know what the message said. I knew it meant we were going into remote learning. As a special education teacher, I worried about IEPs, accommodations, modifications, and, in short, just supporting the emotional needs of my students. Although my students have 1:1 Chromebook devices and experience using them, I knew we still faced many obstacles. The following are tips for supporting all learners that I have discovered throughout my journey (so far) in this uncharted area of education.

Stick with the technology they know first

    As an advocate of educational technology and a Google Trainer, I’m the first person to dive into using a new tool. Even though I was getting almost hourly updates from different edtech companies offering free accounts or trials, I knew this was not the time for me to try out all these tools with my students. For the first few weeks, I kept it consistent. I used tools where my students had a level of comfort and familiarity. Since moving into a fully online platform was new for them, I did not want to add more novelty to the pile until they felt more comfortable.

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A Recommended List of Resources for Remote Teaching and Learning

Organizations & Associations

ASCD

http://www.ascd.org/Default.aspx

CASEL

https://casel.org/covid-resources/

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)

https://www.cec.sped.org

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