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Four Teachers Share Their COVID-19 School Closure Challenges and Triumphs

Four Teachers Share Their COVID-19 School Closure Challenges and Triumphs

Disrupting and evolving the traditional format of education has been a topic of discussion for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly made huge shifts in teaching and learning a reality. As school buildings have closed and learning has shifted to online at home, access to technology has clearly become a question of equitable education. School closures have also shined a light on the broader services that schools provide for the community—educators don’t just teach standards, but they also offer quality daycare, serve up reliable meals, and provide a safe space where students’ emotional needs and long-term goals can be addressed.

There have been plenty of struggles as teachers, administrators, students, and parents have navigated this new world with very little time to prepare—but there has also been plenty of truly inspiring success. Here, we wanted to share stories from a few of our own Edmentum Educator Network members about how they are rising to the occasion, dealing with the challenges, and experiencing unexpected triumphs and gifts throughout this pandemic.

Victoria Howard, 4th & 5th Grade Teacher at Jackson Independent School, in Jackson, Kentucky:

“For the last several years, the Kentucky Department of Education has offered the Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) days program to Kentucky schools. This program offers days that schools can employ when unforeseen events prevent school from taking place. These are days that can be counted toward the schools’ instructional days that do not need to be made up as long as the participating school has evidence that procedures are in place to reach every child each NTI day, [that] teachers still carry out their duties virtually, and that participation remains high. The Jackson Independent School District has opted in to this program for several years to receive 10 NTI days per year and, although it always has been a beneficial program to our school, this year it turned out to be a lifesaver for many of us.

At the beginning of each schoolyear, teachers are required to plan 10 extra days of instruction that aligns to their grade and subject standards. Student and family surveys are given at the beginning of the schoolyear to determine the virtual capabilities versus the need to send home paper copies of lessons. Each teacher is a Google Certified Educator and is given many training sessions about Google tools for education from the IT department. Teachers are also encouraged to use these tools in their regular classroom settings to familiarize their students before they will have to use them at home. Teachers are also required to complete their own Google site that is housed on the school’s main website where students and their parents can visit to see all assignments, training videos, and teacher contact information. Beginning-of-the-year open-house events also allow parents to receive training from teachers about how NTI days will operate using Google Classroom or other platforms that teachers choose to use.

When it was announced that schools would be closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our district still had a full week of NTI day lessons already uploaded to our class sites and/or Google Classroom [sites]. Although the preparation to move to fully virtual/Non-Traditional [Instruction] has been daunting, these expectations and procedures that were already in place have greatly helped the teachers, as well as the students and parents, to absorb the shock.”

Lesley De Paz, 3rd Grade Teacher at Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School in New Hope, Minnesota:

“Five weeks ago, the governor of Minnesota took the step to close Minnesota public schools and move to distance learning. In the blink of an eye, our teacher heads were spinning. What does this look like? Who is doing the planning? Online? What about our kiddos who don't have Internet, computers, any access at all? Lunches? The list went on and on.

Overwhelmed is an understatement to what we as 3rd grade teachers were feeling. We wanted answers—no we needed answers. Yet, there were no answers. No one had answers; the last pandemic was in 1918, and I am pretty sure there wasn't any distance learning going on. The governor and Minnesota Department of Education had handed us a list of requirements to fulfill so every child could continue learning. My team panicked, then dove in; we took it on like more as a challenge, a challenge to keep teaching. We had huge holes to fill in so all of our students could continue learning, and we were working with an infrastructure not set up to do what we were tasked to do.

So, just like we tell our students, we had to have a growth mindset—control what we could control—and we had to do some learning. We prioritized what we could control. Hour by hour, we learned that we were actually doing what we should have been doing all along. We were prioritizing content, collaborating, delving deeper into our new language arts curriculum, and learning how to use the tech tools. Had we been doing this before? Yes, through PLCs, team meetings, alignment to state standards, and so forth, but this was different. We had a set timeline and four days to pull it off. We had to set everything else aside and simply learn, together. Each day, we received more guidance and more answers from our administration, but in general, we were trusted to know what was best for our students.

Looking at the bright side of this entire situation, we have gained many skills during these past weeks that have strengthened our team, enhanced our knowledge of curriculum and tech resources, and will no doubt benefit our future students.”

Kathleen Hester, Principal at Link Community Charter School in Newark, New Jersey:

“We have a number of things going on each week. Each advisor (homeroom teacher) talks to each student two to three times a week with a check-in; content area teachers touch base with students a few times a week, including Google Meet, Google Hangouts, and phone calls. Our social workers and nurses reach out to every family once a week. My administrators jump in and handle any issues with parents or students. We as a school send out a weekly letter with updates, student awards, and highlights of teacher lessons. There is so much good stuff happening at this time. . . . This is what should be celebrated!”

Heather Magill, STEM Teacher at Palm Springs Community Middle School in Palm Springs, Florida:

“I host online office hours, and students have asked me a million and one questions. We have had drawing contests to mostly poke fun at my inability to draw. They play online games like chess and Monopoly. We discuss virtual field trips, and they introduce me to pets, siblings, and parents. . . . I have two students working on a collaborative music piece that they keep sharing with me and many bakers! I miss being in the classroom, but this opens up for downtime interests and discussions that we don’t have time for in the classroom.”

Finding creative ways to embrace and celebrate digital instruction (like Edmentum Education Network member Brad Zellner’s inspiring “Mindful Moment” videos for his elementary and high school students) is creating success for educators and students dealing with school closures. If we see the possibilities during this strange and challenging time to disrupt education for the better, we can incorporate new and meaningful ways to connect, engage, and recreate approaches to instruction. It may be a forced opportunity, but it is an opportunity nonetheless—so, jump in; the water is fine.

Looking for more inspiration to navigate online learning? Check out these 11 Free Resources to Support Online Teaching and Learning!