(This is the first post in a three-part series.)
The new question-of-the-week is:
How will your lessons, teaching, and classes look different this year and in the post-COVID 19 era from how they did in previous years?
Classroom lessons will be different this year from what they were last year, when many of us were teaching remotely or teaching concurrently—Zoom and in person at the same time.
This three-part series will explore how some teachers foresee their classes being different this coming year and what their crystal ball says even further out about how their postpandemic classes will be affected by these past three years.
Today, Sarah Cooper, Sheila Wilson, Keisha Rembert, and Tara Bogozan share their ideas. All four were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.
You might also be interested in my previous post, Ten Ways I’ll Be Teaching Differently Next Year.
In addition, today’s post is the latest in a series supporting educators entering the third COVID-affected school year.
The previous posts have been:
Now, for today’s contributors:
Sarah Cooper teaches 8th grade U.S. history and is dean of studies at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada, Calif. She is the author of two books, Creating Citizens (Routledge, 2018) and Making History Mine (Stenhouse, 2009). Sarah speaks at conferences and writes for MiddleWeb’s Future of History blog:
Teaching remotely last year showed me how much more I could learn about my students. Here are three very human practices I want to continue in real life.
- Make class as comfortable as it can be.
While learning at home, the 8th graders I teach had their favorite drink at hand, their coziest pillow behind them, even their best stuffed animal at the ready. (Two that come to mind are a pink monster and a large broccoli.)
I’ve always been a teacher who looked the other way when kids wanted to eat in class, as long as they cleaned up well. A class meeting went late, and they didn’t have time to eat their snack. They got sweaty during a basketball tournament at lunch, and their sandwich is waiting for them. They bought ice cream at the end of lunch, and it’s going to melt.
In post-COVID times, I long for the day when licking an ice cream sandwich inside is not a threat. Even more, I’d like to see if there are other ways I can add comfort to our space, through pillows, a couch, or simply the ability to sit against a wall if students feel like it.
My goal is for class to feel professional but relaxed. I realize that school days can be jam-packed and I want kids to be fortified and comfortable.
- Include a daily check-in.
Daily opening questions, which every student answered last year in the Zoom chat, were one of the best additions to my class. I’m sorry to admit this never would have happened without remote learning. I was one of those teachers who would say hi to every student by name, maybe ask how a recital or game went, but when the bell rang, I rarely could resist squeezing every last minute for academic purpose.
With the pandemic, our daily schedule changed from 43-minute to 60-minute classes, giving me more leeway. Also, I realized the power of checking in each day—not simply to have fun with questions such as, “Do you like your hot chocolate with or without marshmallows and why?” but also to go deeper.
Wondering about a recent moment students were grateful for, a kind action they did for another person, or the details of an interaction they want to cement in memory also allowed me to hear about what they value in an understated way.
- Include more 1:1 conversations.
The several rounds of five-minute conversations I did last year with each student, while they were doing independent work, felt like breaking through the screen. They not only enhanced class but also seemed necessary to feel I was reaching students at all. I would usually open by asking, “What’s something exciting or challenging going on for you?” and end by saying, “Is there anything else you’d like me to know about your family, school, or your life right now?”
In prior years, I had conferenced with students about their writing or research, but I had never set aside time during regular class (as opposed to advisory group) to talk with students about how they were.
A barrier for me had always been the idea that such brief conversations were not genuine, did not always flow. Happily, a Cult of Pedagogy podcast with Dave Stuart Jr., on what he calls “moments of genuine connection,” gave me permission to be awkward. As Stuart says in a blog post about such chats, “It’s normal for them to be awkward sometimes. The solution for awkwardness is to chuckle and smile; when needed, end the conversation with a, ‘Well listen, I just want you to know that I appreciate getting to teach you. Have a good rest of your day.’”
This advice sure helped, and this year, I’m hoping to incorporate into my classroom rounds the even briefer connections of 30 to 90 seconds that Dave recommends.
Connecting With Parents
Sheila Wilson is a native New Orleanian who currently serves as a 5th grade teacher in Virginia. She is also an adjunct professor, conference presenter, and self-proclaimed lifelong learner. Sheila is the learning architect and CEO of AmplifyED Educational Consulting:
Worldwide, COVID-19 shook us to our core. As a human, this pandemic humbled me not only personally but professionally. Looking back on 2020 and reflecting on the important takeaways has served to inform my practice this year and beyond. While many look at the “so-called” negative aspects of remote learning for students and teachers, I have used them as steppingstones upon which I am advancing my professional practice.
I believe in some ways COVID leveled the playing field for teachers with regard to instructional practice. Whether you were a veteran or novice teacher, you were immediately thrust into the world of distance learning. There was no warning, no training, and in many cases little technological support. It was like building something from the ground up independently, yet collectively. Just like anything else, you got from it what you put into it by way of learning new platforms, designing digital content, navigating virtual meeting platforms, and developing creative ways to present lessons to students. Now add delivering engaging lessons, communicating effectively with families, and sustaining continuous learning despite absences, distractible home working environments, and technology glitches.
While my main priority is to educate students, it could not be plainer that if learning was to take place in the home learning environment ... parent interaction had to move past involvement to engagement. In order to get the most ideal learning situation for my students, I had to put intentional time into working with parents on creating ideal learning spaces for their children at home, managing the social/emotional health of their children, and monitoring their children’s progress remotely by accessing learning platforms.
Without the direct connection of face-to-face learning and being in close proximity to students, the need to develop autonomous learners was heightened. Therefore, not only was I teaching the content, I was also instilling the importance of learning for learning’s sake and practical steps students could adopt to take ownership of their learning. This included goal setting, organization, reflection, and weekly check-ins. Additionally, providing voice to students and allowing them to share their successes as well as struggles truly supported them all as they worked to become more intrinsically independent and goal-directed.
The importance of communication was never clearer than in the remote learning world and COVID-19 era. Being an elementary educator meant that my primary communication was through parents. Therefore, developing the parent-teacher partnership was paramount. With no physical communication as an option, the methods that I employed for parent communication had to evolve. Just as the learning styles of children vary, I had to learn which form of communication worked best for each family.
The shift to effectively communicate now included the learning platform Schoology, apps like Class Dojo and Group Me, text messages, phone calls, emails, and parent info sessions via Zoom and/or Google Meet. In addition, I had to provide greater flexibility on the times that I communicated with parents as they were often grappling with changing home situations as they navigated remote learning (mostly unskilled), changing work situations, child-care issues and other real-world concerns. The most critical aspect of this communication was providing a space for my parents to articulate their needs, share concerns without feeling judged, and how I could support them to ensure success for their child.
My biggest takeaway as an educator was to intentionally function with grace as I worked with students and families. I now had a clearer picture of my families’ daily realities. COVID times forced me to see past any preconceived notions and understand the real issues that families were facing. I was able to connect with them more authentically as I managed my own feelings//challenges during the pandemic. Though we are different in so many ways, we are also quite the same in that we want what’s best for our families. While our resources and abilities may differ, we are all doing the best we can with what we have. This is what I will take with me moving forward as an educator and as I continue to grow my skill set to support my students and families.
‘I Will Give But Not Break’
Keisha Rembert is an award-winning educator who is passionate about anti-racism and equity in schools. Currently, Keisha is a doctoral student and an assistant professor of teacher preparation at National Louis University:
If this year was instructive at all, I’ve learned that teaching with compassion for students and self is essential. While I Zoomed, crafted lessons late into the night, and taught to black boxes, I doubted everything. I felt like nothing was going right. Was I even teaching? Were my students even listening, let alone learning? Did the world even understand all my efforts? Did they care? I gave enough to almost break.
I’m reclaiming my time.
Even now, I write that with trepidation. Won’t people view this as a dereliction of my duties or against the teacher’s eternal vow of selflessness?
But I’m not a superhero, so it’s time to take off the cape.
This next year, I will give but not break. I will plan, instruct, assess, and discuss the profession with intention focusing on what really matters. This year, I was able to peel back the layers of the curriculum to reveal what students really needed to know and do. What I discovered was that there is a lot of fluff that gets in the way of effective and efficient teaching and learning. Getting to the heart of teaching and learning without unnecessarily grinding myself and my students is my primary focus.
I am confident this new focus will enable me to bring joy and balance (if balance is possible) back for my student and teacher community. Will I work hard? Heck yes, because that’s what good teachers do. And I’ll also remember a world that stopped and missed human connection, and as a result, my lessons and classrooms will become spaces that center connection and laughter and story and healing knowing just how important that is.
‘Stop Rewarding Speed’
Tara Bogozan is an English teacher and AVID elective educator. She has taught both middle and high school in the Atlanta metro area for over 18 years. You can follow her @mrs_tbogo on Twitter or @mrs_bogozan on Instagram:
Teaching during a pandemic forced me to change my decadeslong practices instantly. I longed for “normalcy” so much that I cried daily; if a day or two went by without tears, it felt as if I forgot a task on my lengthy to-do list. I was convinced I couldn’t keep it up. I was NOT an online/ hybrid teacher.
But then a year went by. I am still not a relaxed, imperturbable teacher, but I am adaptable. Early on, I was dismayed by the blank screens of my online learners and the serious, masked faces of my in-person students, but over the course of a few weeks, we all settled into a routine. In spite of all the changes in education, there are two new practices I incorporated during 2020-21 that I am planning on maintaining.
I must redesign lessons with “Googling” in mind.
One post-COVID paradigm shift for me was creating lessons with “Googling” and “cheating” in mind. Technology and the internet are integrated with education now more than ever, which means students need more performance tasks and repeat interactions with content material instead of multiple-choice tests or easily plagiarized writing assignments.
For example, instead of traditional weekly vocabulary quizzes for my co-taught class, my co-teacher and I pulled a handful of unit vocabulary words that would most frequently appear in our anchor texts. We devised multiple ways of interacting with the words. Students would define the unit vocabulary words, create Frayer models, incorporate the vocabulary words into their plot summary skits, and were required to use the vocabulary words in their exit tickets. By returning to the words repeatedly, students realized that understanding the vocabulary was the goal, instead of just passing a quiz for a grade. These performance tasks were easy to incorporate and were virtually impossible to “Google.” I made similar changes in methodology for my AP classes as well; discussions, one-pagers, and timed writings replaced other writing tasks that were easy to plagiarize. While these were small changes, the goals of vocabulary acquisition and thoughtful writing remained the same.
I am going to stop rewarding speed and continue to reward carefulness and mastery.
During the pandemic, I taught AP Literature and co-taught American literature and the AVID elective. No matter the subject or level, I would find myself so frustrated with the pacing of each class. Why were we only able to “get through” so little each day? Why did the assignments and units take twice as long as I had planned? Even though I have been teaching for almost two decades, I felt like I just couldn’t figure out how to pace my classes in this new environment.
One day I had a great revelation watching my 4th grade daughter complete her schoolwork for a virtual day; I realized that timed assessments and rewarding speed are not the same idea. My daughter would get so upset with herself when she did not make a perfect score on a math assessment because she wasn’t fast enough. Even though she is brilliant and could answer every single question correctly with just a few extra minutes, speed was valued as much as mastery was.
It was then that I realized I was also rushing my students. Regardless of level, all of my students needed time to process and perform on the work I gave them. If I expected quality work and true learning to occur, the students needed ample time. This isn’t to say that timed assignments aren’t useful. Timed writing, in particular, is a great formative assessment for all levels, but I am now careful about assessing mastery of standards and not speed.
Changing these two practices will hopefully help me reach my students in this postpandemic learning environment. Focusing on the balancing act of covering priority standards, planning with “Googling” in mind, and allowing students enough time to demonstrate mastery of skills will be my ongoing professional goals for years to come.
Thanks to Sarah, Sheila, Keisha, and Tara for contributing their reflections.
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