Elementary Teachers Share Their Spring Successes, Part 2
Seven teachers reflect on their most memorable moments and effective strategies from the start of distance learning
This past spring, educators at all levels faced new challenges, many of which appear likely to carry over into the 2020-21 academic year. In part one of this piece, seven elementary school teachers, each of whom is part of the 2020 class of Extraordinary Educators named by Curriculum Associates, reflected on the most memorable and successful moments from a difficult semester. In part two below, find more insights from these same outstanding teachers:
Reflecting back on the various challenges, successes, and lessons learned from the transition to distance learning this past spring, what was the most influential or memorable moment for you as an educator?
Special Day Class teacher, 3rd-5th grade
San Altos Elementary School, Lemon Grove, Calif.
The most challenging, but also rewarding aspect of this whole experience was getting to collaborate with my colleagues. Like many adults, I can be rigid in my ways. I am quick to offer help, but very hesitant to give up control and allow others to help me. That said, it’s unprecedented how often we’ve been saying things are unprecedented. As educators, we’ve been asked to fly the plane while we’re building it. And for the most part, we have! But this wasn’t a situation I could tackle alone. I was “forced” to collaborate with other professionals.
This fortunately wasn’t one specific moment, but a process that we continually improved upon week after week. For the first time in my 15-year teaching career, I was granted the opportunity to collaborate with Pre-K through 8th grade special education teachers. We also had speech therapists, occupational therapists, adapted P.E. teachers, and administrators join our daily and/or weekly conversations. Having such a diverse group with different perspectives, and certainly different skill sets, has helped me more than I would have thought possible. It hasn’t been perfect, and certainly doesn’t always go the way I planned, but I’ve learned more new skills in the last three months than I had in the last three years! I don’t know if I’ll be teaching in person or remotely next August, but I do know that I’m more prepared because of our team approach.
5th grade teacher
Pelham Oaks Elementary School, Pelham, Ala.
The most influential or memorable moment for me as an educator was when I realized on Monday, March 16th that I would not be going back to school―and that there was no definitive timeframe for when I would be returning. As the week passed by, my mind was constantly on the sweet students that I taught. I worried about them throughout the days, and I missed them immensely. By reflecting on these moments I recognized that I had been taking my time with these children for granted, and it helped me to appreciate them and my love for education. I am honored to have the ability to make a positive impact in a child’s life, and I have renewed enthusiasm for the opportunity to do so.
3rd grade teacher
Drew Elementary School, West Monroe, La.
The willingness of my fellow educators to keep going without hesitation was something I will never forget. We are a team, a community, a family. Some coworkers were more tech-savvy than others, but we worked together to make sure we all felt supported and successful. We would have grade-level meetings via phone, FaceTime, or Zoom to make sure each of us could rely on each other for whatever we needed. Needs ranged from technology, adult interaction, parent/student contact, incentives, to online resources and more. If we as teachers felt unsupported and clueless, our students and parents were going to feel the same. We understood the need for stability and normalcy for our students. What happened was definitely not the “normal” our students were used to, so we wanted to make the transition as smooth and seamless as possible. We had tons of positive feedback from students, parents, administration, and district administration. We played the best hand we possibly could with the cards we were dealt and that is something I can say I am very proud of.
What online teaching and learning strategies did your students respond to the best?
4th grade teacher
George Welch Elementary School, West Monroe, La.
After a few live lessons via Zoom, I knew I needed to change my approach to teaching. The outside distractions that I could not control through a computer screen made it difficult for each student to learn during live lessons. Recording a lesson and posting it to Google Classroom allowed students to access the lesson at a convenient time and work problems at their own pace. It also gave students the opportunity to watch the lesson or parts of the lesson multiple times to get a better grasp of the skill I was teaching. Then I had students complete an assignment on i-Ready or Google Classroom for me to check for understanding. When my students and I met on Zoom, we were able to use the time to review the new skill, ask or answer questions, and play an interactive game with each other. I found that students were more eager to join me on Zoom when they knew we were going to be productive while having fun interacting with each other.
5th grade teacher
Elsie Johnson Elementary School, Hanover Park, Ill.
I had two particular strategies that received a great response from students. The first was having a linked agenda for the day and for the week. Using Google Slides in conjunction with our Google Classroom, students would see all of the work they’d have for the day to complete. All assignments were not only assigned in Google Classroom, they were also linked in the agenda. They would only need to click and it would take them to the assignment. Students were given the opportunity to work at their own pace or with my help. I had some students that would wake up by 8 a.m. and because I would post the slides at midnight, they would be all set to go. I also had some students that didn’t wake up until later in the day and they would begin their work at that time.
Because everyone was running on different schedules, I had open office hours that students could pop in and get some help on work, but I also had times when it was expected all students logged in and we worked together. This was all noted in their agenda and because I kept a routine, all students knew what times they were to be with me.
I also made videos of my lessons or my teaching partners made videos. We shared those responsibilities. Students could watch the video and follow along, and could pause and rewind as needed. This was the second strategy that worked well for my students. When I was teaching a lesson live, students could not go back and rewind me, but with these linked videos they could. Several of my students loved the idea of having the opportunity to do that. Both of these are strategies I will continue into next school year, even once we’re back in the classroom full time.
4th grade teacher
Thames Elementary School, Hattiesburg, Miss
My students have a variety of favorite learning strategies, including the following:
• Collaborative group projects―To increase collaboration, I allowed the students to have editing rights on their group’s document.
• Google Forms―Students used Google forms to reflect on projects.
• Interactive Videos―I implemented the interactive videos from i-Ready on the instructional slides.
• Bitmoji―I provided students with hints they could utilize when completing assignments. On the assignment slides, I used a bitmoji to represent me and recorded audio.
• Google Meet―I used Google Meet for synchronous instructional time.
What is one standout anecdote that describes your experience this past semester?
Challenger Elementary School, Kentwood, Mich.
Being an educator this past semester was an experience for the books; it was an enlightening, emotional and challenging time. One thing that has stuck with me through my Zooms with my kindergarten students was their innocence. Even in the middle of the pandemic we’re all experiencing, they have the ability to say the funniest things and approach learning with such joy. They are still learning what it means to be a student, and during the spring, they needed so much more than a teacher. It revitalized my notion that I am not just an educator to my students, but I am also someone who loves and grows them in so many more ways than just education.
There are many lessons learned throughout the last few months. Personally, I feel it is important to not jump to conclusions or be judgmental. It can sometimes be easy to think a student is being lazy or irresponsible in class. However, I have been reminded that we must be empathetic to our students’ and their families’ needs. We do not know what our students and their guardians go through each day. We do not always know their stories.
Throughout the duration of providing virtual instruction, I would find it necessary to contact parents and guardians for various reasons. Many parents and guardians were out of jobs but, perhaps surprisingly, several students, fifth-graders, were left at home by themselves to complete their school assignments or were having to babysit younger siblings. During these troublesome times, I realized that math may not have been the top priority for my students and their families. Recognizing such obstacles is imperative when teaching the whole child and looking beyond a traditional curriculum approach.
One of the many things I love about teaching is the relationships that I build with my students and their families. When the stay-at-home order was issued, I worried about being able to communicate with my students, and how my students would communicate with their peers. Using Zoom as a virtual platform to communicate with my students was very helpful because we could see each other. Communicating through a screen provided us with some form of socialization when we desperately needed it. Before I ever taught my first academic lesson on Zoom, my students and I just talked and played games. They needed to see each other just as much as I needed to see their smiling faces. Just like in the classroom, a student is more willing to put in the hard work if he knows I care for him on a personal level. My district did not require me to teach virtually, but I had a large number of students that wanted to continue learning with me. Some were there to learn, and some were there for socialization. We all grew during the virtual learning process.