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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Teacher Reflections on the School Closure Emergency

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 28, 2020 15 min read
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(This is the final post in an 11-part series. You can see Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here, Part Four here, Part Five here, Part Six here, Part Seven here, Part Eight here, Part Nine hereand Part Ten here.)

The new question of the week is:

How can we best support students when we teach online?

In Part One, David Sherrin, Lorie Barber, Janelle Henderson, and Cathleen Beachboard contributed their experiences.

In Part Two, Amy Roediger, Dr. PJ Caposey, Michael Silverstone, and Jeremy Hyler shared their reflections.

In Part Three, Matthew Johnson, Joseph Jones, T.J. Vari, Deb Blaz, and Cindi Rigsbee offered their ideas.

In Part Four, Nick Fotopoulos, Helen Vassiliou, Cornelia Okraski, and Sam Olbes discussed specifically how they were teaching their ELL classes online.

In Part Five, Maurice McDavid, Holly Spinelli, Ashley Wallace, and Kristen Koppers talked about what they were trying to do with their classes.

In Part Six, we revisited teaching English-language learners, with commentaries from Sarah Said, Sandra Mings Lamar, and Linda Heafey.

In Part Seven, Sara Cooper and Susan Scott used their very recent experience to write about what to do—and what not to do—when transitioning to online classes.

In Part Eight, Elizabeth Stein, Alexsandra López, Christine Kellogg, Mirna Jope, and Ceci Gomez-Galvez shared advice for those who are working with students with unique needs.

Part Nine highlighted contributions from Amy Sandvold, Jackie Haus Hoggins, Danielle Macias, and Dawn Mitchell who, among other things, explored what this crisis means for educators who work as instructional coaches.

In Part 10, Patrick Finley, Carina Whiteside, Benjamin Kelly, and Lauren Dykstra discussed their recent experiences.

I have also written about my own online learning plans, and you can listen to a 10-minute podcast conversation I had with several contributors to this series.

Today, Amber Chandler, Will Cannady, Tammy Brecht Dunbar, and JoAnne Brown “finish up” this 11-part series.

For now, today’s column is the immediate “last” in this series, and I’ll explore a different question next week. However, I’ll periodically include future columns about the crisis we find ourselves in, and some contributors will write “Part Two” commentaries in a few weeks discussing what they will have learned by that time. Also, look for a video and several related podcasts in a few days.

Be wary of multitasking

Amber Chandler is an English teacher, a coordinator of alternative education, and the author of The Flexible SEL Classroom:

I’m a multitasker. Most teachers are. However, it hasn’t even been a full week working from home, and I can see the writing on the wall: I’m not going to be good at this. I’m not going to be good at virtual teaching my students because I refuse to further the equity gap. I’m not going to be good at social distancing. I hug my students every day. I’m not going to be good at being a parent, either. I’m shocked by the amount of eating (and dishes!) that my 12- and 14-year-olds produce, and now that my husband is working from home, I am convinced they are sabotaging my efforts to work at all. I’m not going to be good at being a mom if I keep telling my 12-year-old, “Wait a minute” and “Just let me finish this” before I go outside to help him with his layup or not helping my 14-year-old with a new recipe. Put these two jobs together, and I’m pretty sure that my “multitasking” is resulting in mediocre results all the way around.

My reasonable side is OK with this. How can I expect myself to be a stellar teacher, wife, and mother while there is a really scary pandemic creeping its way into every aspect of my life? My multitasking mind is beating myself up, and I am seeing it across social media as well. Parents are irritated that a teacher’s website isn’t 100 percent clear about directions. Teachers are irritated that they can’t get into their rooms because their building is closed. Our students are irritated because they can’t go anywhere. We are all irritated by our inability to do all things, all the time.

However, the fact is this: With no notice or training on distance learning, teachers rose to the occasion and pushed out learning packets, Google Classrooms popped up, and teachers began making videos and Zoom calls. Moms and dads everywhere are quietly looking at budgets, setting up home offices, and planning how to entertain their kiddos and become de facto educators all at the same time. Students have made videos, started Kahoots, and are finding out exactly what we proponents of project-based learning have been preaching all along.

The research shows that though we all do it, multitasking is ineffective. What used to be a badge of honor is now an annoying hallmark of the overly busy. We now know that giving oneself over completely to a whole task by actively listening, putting down the phone, and attentively interacting is far more satisfying and productive. In this new reality then, what is a teacher and parent to do? As I’m pulled in multiple directions, my stress level is through the roof, and my family is a weird combination of lethargic and antsy, I’m going to give myself the grace to stop being an all-in-one multitasking machine.

This doesn’t mean I’m not going to work. I am. When I do, I’m going to be all in. I will not scroll social media, half-listen to the next wave of bad news while creating an activity for my students. My district has allowed teachers to do any combination of packets and/or online communication with students. I’ve been paperless for years, but when we are all at home, I know that adding activities to Google Classroom isn’t nearly enough for our students. Not all of them have the support at home to keep them on track. I’m chatting with my students on Remind every day, but it feels so half-done when I am used to an entire 40 minutes for their social and emotional needs. Pushing academics when the sky is falling seems so shortsighted to me, though I know that a regular routine would help all of us.

In the same way, this means that when I’m doing layups with my son or cooking with my daughter, I’ll be all in, too. I will not talk about my to-do list or hurry them. I will not multitask, despite the years of training myself to do as much as possible, as fast as possible. This pandemic has forced all of us to re-evaluate priorities and think about our daily lives in a different way. I’m determined to come out of this thing with a new paradigm that will have lasting impact: Lean into whatever I am doing and stop the false narrative that we can do it all well, all at the same time.

Prioritizing student relationships

Will Cannady teaches 8th and 11th grade U.S. history at the School of Engineering and Sciences for the Sacramento City Unified school district:

In light of the recent events and our prolonged absence, my goal has been to provide my students with a sense of normalcy during this time of uncertainty. Teacher-driven daily routines and standards-based instructional materials provide a sense of structure and calm, while turbulent events surround them. Currently, our site administration school provides each of our students with a Google account. Through this account, students have the ability to access Google Drive and the Google Classroom pages provided by our instructional staff.

One of my main goals is to prioritize personal relationships with my students. While curriculum is extremely important, students must feel safe, both socially and emotionally, in order to successfully acquire skills and understand standards. Prior to our mandatory shutdown, I spent the beginning of each class period fielding questions from my students regarding the coronavirus. My goal was not only to dispel any misinformation they may have heard, but also to reassure them that everything will ultimately be all right. I still want to continue that positive presence in my students’ lives. With that in mind, I currently produce daily videos, via YouTube, where I guide my students through their assignments. While maintaining access to standards and curriculum is certainly important, what ultimately matters to me is the sense of comfort and reassurance I can offer my students during this time of crisis.

My students have shown gratitude through emails and comments via YouTube. And while I am so grateful to know I am reaching some of my student population, my concern moving forward is my students I am not reaching. We maintain status as a Title I school with over 80 percent of our students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. The reality is that some of my students may not have access to the internet at home. With this in mind, my goal going forward will be to help parents gain access to programs that provide families with free or low-cost internet access. I am hoping that by reaching all students, I can help my classes to continue with their studies and maintain a sense of normalcy in a very abnormal situation.

As educators, we can continue to be a positive presence in our students’ lives by not only offering them continued instruction but also letting them know we are there for them. The coronavirus will pass, but the lasting impact we will have on our students will be something they appreciate for the rest of their lives.

“We are not afraid to learn”

Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M. teaches 5th grade in Manteca (Calif.) USD:

How can scientific knowledge change over time?

This was the big question in our 5th grade language arts curriculum two weeks before spring break. A real-life example of knowledge rapidly changing was beginning to dominate the news. By watching the map of COVID-19’s global spread,we could see change in real time.

The next week, the big question was: How do natural events and human activities affect the environment? We read news stories about the growing concerns around travel and we continued to monitor the map as we talked about how to make sure we were getting the best, most reliable information.

As they left my room for spring break, I handed out refrigerator magnets with my email and website, told my students to monitor our Microsoft Teams channel and our classroom Remind account for any news. I promised that I would be posting verified information at those locations should anything happen.

And I told my students that I loved them.

Then things changed. Fast.

We left our school at 12:30 p.m., Friday, March 13. By 5 p.m., our superintendent unexpectedly announced that Manteca Unified school district would be closed until April 6th.

Within moments, a message popped up on our Teams channel: “There’s no school until April 6, Mrs. Dunbar?” Many more followed. Over the weekend, I Skyped and messaged with almost a third of my students, reassuring them that we would get through all this and commending them for making sure they had the right information about what was going on in our school.

My husband and I canceled our planned spring break trip to New Orleans and instead prepped for a stay-cation full of doing taxes, laundry, binge-watching.

That changed, too.

So many of my students and their families were reaching out, I knew I would need to spend a good part of my spring break supporting them as much as possible.

Communication is the key to success, as I tell my students. I started reposting announcements from our superintendent and Gov. Gavin Newsom on our Teams and Remind accounts. I checked my email often so I could answer questions in a timely fashion. When I got the email from our district apologizing for “difficulties with incoming calls,” I knew my efforts were even more important.

Judging from the tone of student messages to me, I knew they were a little bit scared, and they just wanted things to be as normal as possible.

Videos, I thought, would be a great way to provide information while making them feel more comfortable, because my students would see my smiling face and hear a calm voice providing updates. I started a playlist on my YouTube channel and began making a video each day, sending out the links through Teams and Remind.

Learning we might be in this for a much longer run, I started putting together a Wakelet collection of resources and activities that families could access from home, just in case.

And that made me think of my fellow educators.

The teachers at Lincoln Elementary and I had been text messaging and emailing, but I found a treasure trove of resources and support in my Professional Learning Network. If you don’t have a PLN, it’s time to join one. It’s as easy as creating a Twitter account and following the companies and people you like.

Suddenly, you have an incredible reservoir of knowledge where you can ask questions and share ideas. Many global educators are anxious to share, and dozens of educational software companies are making their services and products available at no cost!

So I put together another Wakelet collection for my educator friends, ready for when spring break ends and we begin teaching again—in person or via the internet. The more we prepare, the more confident we can be for our students.

Now is the time for educators to be fearless. We’re going to have to try new things and be willing to learn along with our students. We’ll need to model working through challenges with creativity, collaboration, and calm.

When they see us do that, they will know that we are not afraid to learn and that they shouldn’t be, either.

Practical ideas for online teaching and learning

JoAnne Brown is a national-board-certified teacher of science at Olympus Junior High in Holladay, Utah. She has spent her career bringing tech into the classroom through grants and training. She is currently serving as a Utah Teacher Fellow and is the Governor’s Energy Educator for 2020:

There was a time that I was proud that I was one of the few teachers in my district who had five laptops available for students to use for projects and interactive learning in my middle school science classes. Twenty years later, I find myself in the driver’s seat of a fully online science course, trying to figure out ways to make science fun, meaningful, and relevant to students I can’t see. We have gone from a normal in-person, hands-on class to online within the course of a week, thanks to COVID-19. Here are some suggestions based on the training and experience I’ve had in digital learning.


Hyperdocsare interactive Google Docs that students fill out and experience almost like a website. They range from a simple Tic-Tac-Toe style menu (where students must choose three activities in a row to complete) to a full Google Slides presentation with videos, drawings, and quizzes (if you’ve tried Nearpod, it’s similar—but the students fill everything out themselves). Hyperdocs are interactive, fun, and allow students to show their learning in interesting ways. There are hundreds of hyperdocs available for free online. Just Google your topic!


If you are working in Canvas, an easy way to interact with your students is through Discussions. You can post a question about anything, and can even make it a Graded Discussion. I ask students to comment to each other as well. Set some clear ground rules, but I’m finding that my students are hungry for social interaction and are flourishing in this format. I even threw in a nongraded chance for them to post a spring break meme—a good chance for us all to laugh.

Explain EDU (school purchased) or Explain Everything Whiteboard (personal purchase)

This is an Apple device app used for screencasting. It allows a teacher to create a presentation on a virtual whiteboard. On the whiteboard, you can drag in pictures and video, all the while narrating what you are doing. And of course, you can draw and label as well. When finished, you just export it as a video. It’s a great app that allows you to share presentations with students while everyone is apart (and especially while you might not be in front of an ACTUAL whiteboard).

Breakout EDU

If you’ve ever done an escape room, that’s the idea. The original idea was a physical box with six or so different locks and clues to open them. It’s a great activity for groups in the classroom ... but what to do online? Enter Digital Breakout. The games themselves are brain teasers that allow students to open “digital locks” to break out of a virtual box. You do have to spend $100-$150 to get started here, but it comes with a one-year subscription to digital breakout games. You can build your own games, have the students build their own games, or choose from hundreds of games they already have available in most subject areas and grade levels. Students don’t even realize they are learning because they are having so much fun!

These are just a few of the ideas I’m brainstorming as I sit at my dining room table. The number one thing to keep in mind is that moving online doesn’t have to mean that you take the humanity out of learning. Keep it fun, keep it real, and give the students a chance to innovate, rather than just reacting to things. The key to learning is truly the relationships. Let’s not forget that!

Thanks to Amber, Will, Tammy, and JoAnne 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.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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