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Teachers Should 'Give Everyone Some Grace' This Fall

(This is the second post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

Using the framework of "Do's and Don'ts," what would you list as the do's and don'ts of teaching in a COVID-19 environment?

In Part One, Emily Golightly, Guadalupe Carrasco Cardona, Amy Klein, and Ann Stiltner share their recommendations.

Today, Amber Chandler, Kiri Sowers, and Kiera Beddes contribute commentaries.

 

"Give everyone some grace"

Amber Chandler is the author of The Flexible SEL Classroom, the 2018 AMLE Educator of the Year, an 8th grade ELA teacher, and the president of the Frontier Central Teachers' Association. Amber is also a trainer and speaker:

Face-to-face (behind a mask). Hybrid. Distance learning. I've never had a summer where I was more anxious and worried about what I will do on the first day of school. More precisely, I'm worried about HOW I'll do it. The thing is, though, teachers are always asked to do things without always knowing how, so I'm confident we'll all figure it out. What I'm doing lately instead of panicking is  considering some Do's and Dont's as reminders to myself. I think that we can all benefit from some certainty and direction, so here's my list, which I promise to read each day in the fall: 

Do's 

  • Do give everyone—complaining students, disgruntled parents, and even myself—some grace. Grace isn't deserved or earned but rather courteous goodwill. I need to remind myself of the courteous part. Heavy on the manners and the kindness, and I don't need to congratulate myself on my goodwill, either. It's.A.Pandemic. Grace should be a given. Skip the lectures about being on time, leave the judgy tone behind, and help kiddos do their best during this tremendously difficult time. 

  • Do embrace awkward. Those first days of school are always a bit awkward when I don't know students' names and I don't know how to react to situations yet. This is going to be even more strange. In-person, yet socially distanced, and with a mask on. Distance learning only I'm going to need to loosen up a bit and laugh at myself, acknowledge the awkward, and move on. The key is going to be to keep things light and provide at least the illusion of confidence. Students are going to need us to be an example of how this fall will feel, and we need to make the most of it. 

  • Do remember rigor. I'm not a fan of the word "rigor," but in the teaching world, we all know what is meant. I don't mean forgo relationships and pile on the curriculum but rather truly weigh what is important and make it stick. Students are going to have to be pushed to do difficult things, and I need to make sure that I'm providing the scaffolding and background information to help all students succeed. I never want to look back on this experience and wish I'd pushed students harder. 

Don't

  • Don't isolate yourself. What I wouldn't do right now for a stroll down to the office to check my mailbox! As with most things, I never really appreciated that walk until it was gone. We may not be able to stop and chat about our families, good-naturedly complain about a faculty meeting, or share a funny story that only a fellow teacher would truly appreciate. However, we can set up a Google meeting (yes, another one!) to socialize. We can use snail mail to send a card. Facebook and instant messaging will do the trick, too. It isn't the same, of course, but isolation is not the answer. 

  • Don't complain to students and families. Vent to your own family, other friends, or your living room wall but please don't complain to students and families. We set the tone. Of course, this isn't going to be comparable to any other year, so we might as well stop comparing. Focus on the positive, praise our students, ourselves, and our colleagues for doing our best with what we have. It is OK to be overwhelmed, but it is not OK to broadcast it. Our students and families will follow our lead. 

  • Don't forget to take risks. Modeling academic risk taking will encourage our students to have a growth mindset.
    Demonstrating that sometimes things don't work out as we planned is healthy for everyone. We have to be flexible and willing to try new technology, platforms, communication methods, and lesson dynamics. In these complicated times, it is important to show our students that they need to take risks and embrace the unknown, too. 

I don't pretend to be the expert on how to approach all of the uncertainty, but it is helpful for me to set some "ground rules" for myself, and I hope you'll consider them as you approach the fall. 

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Do's and Don't of remote teaching for MLL's

Kiri Sowers supports the kindest teachers and the bravest students as an instructional coach for the Multilingual Services Department in beautiful Champaign, Ill. 

These ideas are based on a summer learning program we designed for our most vulnerable multilingual learners in K-5 in our district, which has approximately 1,200 MLLs K-12. Our program prioritizes connection, engagement, and voice. We did one-hour Zoom sessions two days a week and socially distant, mask-wearing, front porch home visits every Friday.

Do rethink your measures of success.

We targeted our most vulnerable multilingual learners. We did socially distant, mask-wearing, front porch home visits every Friday, teaching kids and parents how to login to Zoom and  bringing "Friday surprises" (bubbles, Popsicles, school supplies). After two weeks, we had kids logging on who had never connected in the spring! Success!

Don't judge kids for not connecting.

On one of our home visits, a 5th grader was visibly caring for three younger siblings and their pet squirrel (talk about funds of knowledge!) while their parents were working. She looked at us like we were crazy to suggest she take an hour to Zoom with us! During in-person learning, she had been a hard-working student, but laundry, cooking, watching three kids took priority. Since we know caregiving is full-time work, our next home visit was just to tell her she was doing a good job and we were so proud of her!

Do treat technology as a new language.

"Open a new tab," "Click on the link," "Scroll down to the second page," "Mute yourself." Some of our students will need scaffolding with remote learning technology and terms. Our students also serve as language brokers for parents who are new to technology, so we have to explicitly teach them these skills so that they can navigate and problem-solve this world more independently. 

Don't give up.

Keep reaching out without judgment just to let families and students know that you care about them. Our Friday home visits were one of the best parts of our summer program. We met baby sisters, heard news of a grandmother's death, saw remote-controlled cars, and helped families get food. We found that after two or three weeks, more and more students connected. 

Do use all of your resources.

This summer we had a student join with video only—he couldn't hear us, and we couldn't hear him! We quickly grabbed our whiteboards and went back and forth for 35 minutes drawing and writing. He had a blast, and we stayed connected!

Don't talk so much!

Play this game—make a tally mark for every time YOU speak in a complete sentence and for every time one of your STUDENTS uses a complete sentence. Who will win? What is this data telling you about student voice and engagement? We need to provide opportunities for language learners to be productive AND go beyond one-word answers!

Do prioritize wellness over academics. 

The act of walking into a school building can be a respite from the stresses of home, but the opposite is true in remote learning. Our families are stressed. Make them smile! Play a game at the start and end of each session to give students a chance to laugh and keep them coming back.

Don't assume kids are OK. 

They may not feel safe to tell a video-version of you what's on their hearts and minds. A scavenger hunt for "Go find something that makes you calm" and share why it does can be  less intimidating than "How are you?".

Do say their names.

Praise frequently and let them hear their names! Such a simple but powerful word! Remember, our names are our identity—so pronounce them correctly and use them often. Prepare equity sticks (Popsicle sticks with each student name you pull one by one out of a cup at random) that you can show to the screen to call on them.

Don't go big. 

Smaller groups are better! It's weird to talk on Zoom, and students NEED to talk. So, more opportunities are available when the groups are smaller. Cooperative structures are vital for language practice, and this becomes easier in smaller groups.

Do stay positive!

Celebrate all of the good despite the overwhelming challenges. My heart broke for one our teachers who had no students show up for her 9:00 Zoom or her 11:00 Zoom. Then it was time for the 1:00 Zoom, and still no students. At 1:20, someone joined! We were elated and couldn't stop smiling and cheering for this student! We called the day a success!

Don't stop believing.

You've got this! Trust your instincts about what is best for students. We had one teacher who did not think she had enough knowledge/experience with technology to teach, but with the support and encouragement of her colleagues, she did it and learned a lot! Now, this teacher is ready for fall armed with more expertise and ready to help colleagues. 

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"Emphasize human relationships"

Kiera Beddes has been a high school ELA teacher in Utah for eight years. She is currently a member of the Utah Teacher Fellows and is passionate about social science, literature, and technology in education:

Teaching in a COVID-19 environment is as much trial and error as anything connected with education. Here are a few things that I've learned in my experience teaching during a pandemic and making the shift to online learning.

Do:

  • Emphasize human relationships: With social distancing, we need human connection now more than ever. Connect with your students in authentic, meaningful ways. Always remember there is a person on the other end of the screen.

  • Wash your hands frequently and wear a mask: Be safe and thoughtful when engaging with others.

  • Sanitize your workspace and classroom: You would think this would be a no-brainer even before COVID-19, because classrooms are dirty, grimy, shared spaces that could always be cleaned more.

  • Be flexible: Flexibility is king in the COVID-19 classroom. I always encourage my kids to troubleshoot. If something isn't working, which invariably happens when dealing with students and technology, ask students to think of alternatives. More often than not, they come up with some pretty great ideas.

  • Offer a range of options: This is part of being flexible. Give students options to exercise their voice and choice. If you are requiring a specific product (write a paper, conduct a lab, take a test), give them options in how they get to that end result. Or, if you are requiring a specific process, like conducting academic research, allow them a variety of ways to demonstrate their learning.

  • Asynchronous learning: Rethink your content in easily packaged pieces that can be digested in chunks. Students get overwhelmed with large amounts of info (a long video, lots of text, etc.), so break down the lesson in parts that can be stopped and started

  • Streamline online instruction: The less you have your students go from website to website, the easier time they will have navigating the instruction.

Don't

  • Recreate your physical classroom: Online learning and physical learning are two very different types of education. They don't translate directly. Focus on what is the heart of your pedagogy and use the right tech tools to target that goal.

  • Stick solely to synchronous learning: We don't know what life is like for our students at home. We can only control what we give to them, so as much as possible, allow for flexibility in the learning to work with students whenever/wherever possible.

  • Strictly adhere to deadlines: Time is flexible, not the learning. Design your lessons to be student self-paced as much as possible, then you can spend more time intervening with the students who need the additional support.

These are just a few ways that can help teachers returning to school in a COVID-19 environment and help them focus on the most important bits. Remember, this is new for all of us, so you have to find what works for you. The good news is there is a world of experience and expertise that is going through these unprecedented times together. We will get through this together.

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Thanks to Amber, Kiri, and Kiera for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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