Helping teachers find a sense of calm, balance and rejuvenation in these unprecedented times is critical. They're under enormous pressure. But how do you do that in a virtual environment? How do you nurture connection, support and community?
Two keys: relationship and instruction. Investing time and energy into these areas has helped us foster morale, focus on a purpose and create a sense of normalcy for our teams. Here's how we're doing it.
We are using a couple technology tools to maintain communication and relationship with students and teachers.
One is Microsoft Team. Teachers in middle school and high school grades have started using Teams as a learning management system to support students as they work on their materials at home. Many elementary teachers have also created groups in Teams to communicate with parents and students and provide them with free resources.
Another tool is ADVANCEfeedback, designed for recording and sharing videos and getting feedback. It includes ADVANCElive, which I use for coaching and doing check-ins with teachers. These check-ins are essential. They help boost morale and keep the educator community connected. These meetings are informal and relaxed. Teachers can lean on each other, ask questions, share wins and be there for one another as they make their way through these unusual circumstances.
When teachers were first faced with virtual meetings, some were hesitant to participate, while others readily contributed. I had to be mindful -- and respectful -- of these differing personalities. It's easy to fault a teacher for not participating in a virtual meeting but I realize now that I need to be understanding about this. Some teachers are more comfortable emailing or texting questions. In the same way, some students have not been very active participants in virtual class meetings; they prefer asking questions through chat or email. That's fine. A little flexibility goes a long way.
Collaborating on Instruction
Before the pandemic shuttered our schools, teachers in my school district were working in teams to produce standards-aligned instructional plans. We had to pivot once we began working remotely. I am now doing video-training sessions that teachers can join live or watch on their own time. These sessions let teachers gather information, brainstorm ideas and then come back together with their own findings. We may not be in the same room, but we can still meet and continue to work through the building process.
Many of our teachers have never taught using an online platform. Teaching remotely to a group of students who are at home dealing with various issues at the moment can feel overwhelming. As educators push through these hurdles, sharing different digital lessons with colleagues and coaches provides an opportunity not only for input but also for future innovation.
Planning for the Fall
Our teachers have begun the work of forward planning. They've started with standards, looking at what hasn't been covered yet in the current school year and finding the commonalities between grade levels so that they can overlay concepts. They’re collaborating in grade-level teams, using virtual calls and shared documents. Once grade-level teams identify concepts that need to be covered, we’ll move into vertical teams to narrow down specific concepts and key learning. Many state departments of education and district curriculum departments will also work on similar guidelines, but our teachers felt that it was important to complete this process in-house, too. We wanted to keep our students at the forefront of the conversation.
Other preparation for the fall includes a series of (optional) professional development webinars that I will host this summer to help teachers prepare for potential changes in instructional practices.
It also includes renewed focus on teacher support and relationship. To help staff unwind, our school recently hosted a virtual Kahoot! game, and we’re planning another session to close out the year. It was so fun to sit “together” virtually and laugh at everyone trying to stay on top of the leaderboard. Laughter is refreshing.
And relationship is critical, especially amid such uncertain times. I ask myself, “What do they need as people first?” Once I know that answer, then we can talk about moving forward with teaching and learning.
Rachel Caulder is a K-8 instructional coach at Creek Bridge STEM Academy in Marion County, South Carolina, where they use ADVANCEfeedback to record and share videos. Prior to her current coaching role, she taught high school ELA for 12 years and worked as a middle/high school literacy coach. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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