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Teachers Get Tips on Remote Instruction Strategies in Online 'Open Mic' Sessions

TeachersConnect photo.jpgMore than a month into the country's sudden experiment with distance learning, many teachers are having a tough time adapting their instruction to computer-based tools. But an ever-increasing number of online communities are emerging to help teachers get strategies and tips from their colleagues.

In mid-March, as schools were shuttering because of the coronavirus, we reported on how teachers were sharing resources on Twitter and Facebook, and in virtual PLCs. Membership in one Facebook support group, the Global Educator Collective, has soared to more than 127,000 since it began two months ago. 

Even as they learn to shift their instruction online, educators are grabbing the opportunity to learn online themselves. A recent survey by the Education Week Research Center asked teachers and district leaders if they had participated in virtual events related to their jobs, such as webinars, conferences, and summits, since their schools closed. Ninety-four percent said they had.

Education organizations are adding features and services to meet that need. Future of School, a charitable organization that supports technological innovation in K-12, just launched a "teacher triage" campaign that will feature webinars every other week.

The first session, on April 24, featured middle school teacher Kyair Butts, Baltimore's current teacher of the year, discussing ways to build social-emotional learning and strong connections with students while teaching online. He encouraged teachers to allow students flexibility in their assignments by letting them dive into projects on topics they're interested in. 

The webinar also featured several other current and former teachers, covering topics from how to use various learning-management systems, how to make instructional videos, and how to set boundaries for work, such as creating office hours so teachers don't feel they must be available to students and parents around the clock.

The next Future of School webinar, on May 8, will focus on supporting special education students remotely. All sessions will be archived on the organization's website, said Amy Valentine, its executive director. 

Shifting to 'Empowered'

Founded in 2016, Future of School focuses on supporting innovation with technology in schools. It gives grants to teachers, awards scholarships to students who've taken online or blended-learning courses, and provides resources on its website.

Amy Valentine, a former high school and college Spanish teacher who founded the organization, said its leadership felt the need to do more once the coronavirus shutted schools across the country, in a bid to help teachers who are in "crisis schooling mode" shift to "empowered, effective remote learning."

Another organization, TeachersConnect, has created what it calls online "open mic" events. Teachers sign up to be presenters, and each session features advice from several teachers.

At its third open mic event, on April 28, Jim Yanuzzelli, a technology integration specialist from New Jersey, showed teachers how to use the Microsoft suite, including Teams, as a "central hub" and Newsela for content English/language arts, science, and social studies. He highlighted how Microsoft's immersive reader can help special education students by converting text to speech, and can aid English-learners by translating text into different languages.

Alexa Del Piano, a middle school art teacher from Rhode Island, showed colleagues how she set up a virtual art gallery that students can annotate. A social studies teacher from the South Bronx, Pablo Muriel, and his student-teacher, Dennis Belen Morales, demonstrated how they build an instructional website that is accessible to students using smart phones, and said participation in instruction had increased from 23 percent to 75 percent because of that increased access.

As the open mic began, teachers checked in from far and wide: North Carolina, California, Massachusetts, India, Turkey, Canada, and Mexico. 

TeachersConnect CEO Dave Meyers, a former elementary and middle school teacher, co-founded the organization four years ago to serve as a resource hub for teachers. It now has 18,000 members. He designed the open-mic series to offer tips and strategies that are quick and easy for teachers to use in their instruction right away. 

He's now planning the next open mic session, for May 12, which will focus on collaborative planning for distance learning.

Image: Pablo Muriel, a social studies teacher in New York City, and Dennis Belen Morales, his student teacher, make a presentation during an April 28 "open mic" session organized by TeachersConnect.

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