Teaching in the Time of COVID-19: Part TwoApril 3, 2020
In the first piece, we highlighted some key ways that teachers provide for students and how parents can support their efforts without either side feeling overwhelmed. In this post, we will focus on how teachers are coming together and utilizing supports to ensure that they are ready for this next phase of learning. Teachers pride themselves on being prepared. Teaching requires you to show up to class with a planned lesson and graded assignments. Many teachers emphasize the importance of students coming to class prepared, otherwise, their teaching is less effective. Yet, in the face of this national and international crisis, it is difficult to find a teacher who was 100% ready for the shocking and indefinite suspension of classes.
As a digital learning coach, I always work with technology and use my time during the normal school year to help teachers integrate new tools into their instruction. Now, those tools have become the primary form of instruction and it has left those prepared teachers scrambling, trying to cobble together a Google Classroom or quickly learn how to ‘Flipgrid.’ Digital learning is now the only tool we have for the educational continuity of our students, and many teachers are not yet fully equipped.
The Mad Dash
Fortunately, my middle school chose to invest in a digital learning coach position before the year even began to help ensure adequate support for classroom teachers. I used to cross my fingers hoping teachers would show up to after-school training sessions or read my weekly newsletters full of tips and tricks to spice up their classrooms. With the wave of school closures landing in Kentucky, I began getting calls and emails on how to set up online classrooms, manage student experiences, and build online meeting spaces for students and teachers to discuss some content.
However, there are so many districts and schools that lacked the resources to mobilize quickly in a time of crisis. It’s led to teachers frantically scrambling to come up with lessons, learning tools on the fly, and, unfortunately, students receiving various levels of instruction. Some students will receive high-level, interactive lessons, while others may get review worksheets and simple reading comprehension questions. It is crucial for districts and schools to support teachers on this journey to remote learning.
The Next Phase
As we are just now entering this unnerving time, it is unclear how many more teachers need support or how much support they need, but I know that they will continue to need assistance. I’ve started building a quick website full of resources (https://sites.google.com/fayette.kyschools.us/jcmsdigitalresources/home) that the teachers I know can utilize to build up their skills. But I also know that my job is not just to show teachers how to use a website or what a specific tool can do. Instead, it’s about how to use those tools to build stronger virtual instruction.
Districts have prioritized hardware as the biggest need. Schools are handing out Chromebooks and wireless hotspots to provide technology access to students. Yet, that is only half of the battle. Those tools can only serve their greater purpose if they have quality instruction built to maximize potential. Teachers have used technology as a supplemental tool in the past; now, they will have to develop fully integrated lessons that can actually help students who struggle in the traditional classroom setting. Schools can assist with this transition by investing in the experts that they have in their schools to ensure teachers get training on how to use certain apps or tools, and time to collaborate on developing a strong, interactive curriculum.
The crutch most teachers tend to fall back on is to use the technology as a substitute. The online version of a textbook replaces the paper copy. The Google Docs worksheet replaces the copies they would make at the copier. But to really get the most out of the technology is to build on those ideas and look at activities and lessons and reinvent the learning taking place. That reinvention or redefinition of a learning task requires having an expert on hand, helping to guide teachers into a new future.
Building the House
There are thousands of websites, tools, and strategies that have been thrown out in recent days. Many companies are making their premium features free for the duration of the school year. With all of these options, it can make it difficult for classroom teachers to decide what to do. That’s where a digital learning coach can come in with the assist. My recommendations for teachers have been pretty basic. Keep it simple. Don’t try to do too much. Make sure you reach every single student, internet or not. Allow students to work at their own pace.
And finally, be human. As stressful as this is for stockbrokers on Wall Street, our students face the mental adversities of finding their next meal, keeping warm at night, and wondering if their parents will have a job in the morning. I encourage teachers to find a way to get multiple students together virtually, if possible. Let them hear each other and talk and be social, while distant. If some students are without the internet, try to build in a conference call (or use a tool like Zoom to have students phone in) so that they can hear each other. Because we will only get through this if we get through it together.
Brison Harvey is a Digital Learning Coach at Jessie M. Clark Middle School in Lexington, Kentucky. Prior to becoming a digital learning coach, he served as the Communications and Engagement Manager at the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and taught high school social studies at Lafayette High School in Lexington.
Kari Patrick currently teaches English Language Arts at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington, KY. Kari has taught in both rural and urban schools across the state and was named the 2016 Kentucky Council of Teachers of English High School Teacher of the Year. She loves using passion projects in her classroom to spark student interest and inquiry. Kari is passionate about supporting new teachers and elevating the voice of teachers and students in policy creation.