In partnership with eSchool News, Illuminate Education is spotlighting teachers in a series recognizing educators, the way they have moved instruction online during COVID-19, and how they have prioritized the needs of their students.
TVT Community Day School, CA
“We are all trying different things and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but then you come in the next day and it’s a new day.”
How has your school shifted to a remote learning model?
We actually started planning for remote learning a couple of years ago. We wanted to be prepared in case of an earthquake or fire or another instance where we wouldn’t have a brick and mortar building, so we wanted to have a plan of action.
After the school closed, we had about two days without students, where we just met with teachers and helped them prepare. I spend a lot of time getting resources together, recording screencasts, and creating tutorials—just to make sure the teachers are set up for success. Teachers will also reach out to me to join their Google Meets to help work with the students too.
At the beginning of all of this, everyone was sending in emails to let us know about all these companies that were offering free services. It was helpful and kind of them to reach out, but it made everything feel more daunting. So to support our teachers, we slimmed it down and just started with teachers holding a Google Meet, even if for a few minutes, to say hi to their students, and then have their students work on their assignments offline.
Right now we are using a learning management system specifically for private schools. Our goal is to really make sure teachers are using that to post assignments and to communicate with their students and parents. We also decided to stick with Google Meet instead of Zoom because our teachers were already used to Gmail and the Google world in general. Google Meet wasn’t really made for the classroom, but we thought it was best to keep things really simple for both students and teachers.
It was a little harder adjusting for our elementary school students–we want to try and limit their screen time and their parents are working during the day, yet those students also need the most help. That’s been our biggest learning curve so far. I do feel like our middle school and high school students and teachers have adjusted more easily and haven’t had too many issues.
What have been some of the biggest challenges for your team?
Just like students are at different learning levels, we also have teachers at different readiness levels when it comes to the technology needed to run remote classes. Some teachers felt really ready and others were just very overwhelmed. Not to mention our students are also already so tech-savvy. We had to warn our teachers that the students will figure out very quickly how to kick both their teacher and their classmates out of the meeting, or they will mute each other, or take over the chat, so they needed to set their remote classroom expectations right away.
In addition to the technology divide, a lot of teachers are saying that they are working many more hours than when they were in the classroom. Teachers are staying up late, giving parents and students the things that they need to be successful. So I try to pre-look at their assignments on our LMS and make sure that Google permissions are set so people can see them–just focusing on things to make it smoother for both our teachers and the parents. We are also making sure that our teachers can schedule set hours so that they aren’t working all of the time. However, we’re now to the point where we’ve got a routine and teachers are finally feeling somewhat comfortable.
Checking in with our students has also been a big challenge. Our teachers want to make sure that their students are okay and want to be able to answer all of their questions. Being able to meet individually with students who are feeling a little behind can be really challenging. So we are trying to find ways to help teachers with that. Group instruction seems to be fine, but it’s the individual conferences or checking in on families that is difficult, as it’s very time-consuming. It begs the question, “How am I going to meet with every single child?”
How are you staying connected to students and faculty?
We try to encourage our teachers to spend at least the first five or ten minutes just asking their students questions. We try to keep them open-ended questions that students don’t have to answer, but just to see how they are feeling or what they are doing for themselves. We try to keep all these relationships open, even though they are not together in person. Thankfully every student is at least attending the Google Meet sessions, so we have eyes on everyone so far.
As for the teachers, we have an all-teacher meeting every week, not only to go over the weekly agenda, but just to check-in and see how everyone is feeling. Sometimes we will even have a little happy hour or Tea Time, just to get the teachers all together. I think the teachers are trying to get the students to meet for the sake of connecting, too. I know even for our lower school kids, our teachers will have a workshop doing something fun, like making animal noises. We want to focus on being able to just give kids some kind of recess break.
Do you think this time will have any positive impacts for students and teachers?
I really hope that my teachers take away what they liked from remote learning, tech-wise, and continue to use it. I’m a huge fan of flipping your classroom a little bit. Not all the time, but having the students maybe watch a video at home so you don’t have to take the class time to do that and then you can meet more individually with kids when they are in the classroom. It would be cool if teachers could really continue to use the online resources, such as Google Meet, to make education more interactive—such as interviewing people from different careers and bringing them into the classroom virtually. I think there’s going to be a bit of both, remote learning and classroom learning, as we have to be prepared in case we need to go remote again. So I really hope our teachers see that there’s a lot of really unique things they can do with these new resources.
This can also really change the way we do homework. No one really loves homework and it can use a lot of adjustment. This can be the time to make that change, and start to really just utilize class time to meet more individually. I’m a huge fan of meeting with students one-on-one. I think that is the best method for a lot of kids. Having that time during class would be helpful and then the teachers can do general instruction through video or screen-sharing or even have kids video themselves doing self-reflections. I’ve found that kids, especially those who have trouble with writing or struggle to get their ideas down on paper, can talk to their camera for an hour straight. Using technology is really engaging for them, so I hope that continues.
Have there been any unexpected positives you’ve noticed?
I feel like our community has come together in a way it hasn’t before. Everyone seems to be very appreciative of each other which has been really nice. Even the parents will reach out about an issue but will also say, “Thank you so much for everything you’re doing.” I also think both teachers and students are now more willing to speak up about feeling overwhelmed or that they do not know what to do, and you don’t always get that kind of feedback in the classroom. People have gotten a lot closer and more understanding, and I hope that continues when we’re back together.
What advice would you like to share with other educators?
Remember to be kind and patient with yourself. A lot of teachers were afraid at the beginning to have their students see them mess up, and even more so if the parents were watching over their child’s shoulder. Teachers are putting themselves in really vulnerable positions. They are also learning and trying something new for the first time, so I would say that everyone needs to just be understanding of each other and give people the benefit of the doubt. My biggest advice is just to come to terms that you’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay. If a student kicks the teacher out of the Google Meet, yes it’s awful, but it’s also fine and we learn from it. We are all trying different things and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but then you come in the next day and it’s a new day. I feel that way with kids in general— every day is a new day, you’re going to have bad days and then you come in and you have a good day.
I also heard a quote that said: “You’re not just working from home, you’re working in a crisis.” You have to remember that people are dealing with trauma. It’s not just about learning eight hours a day. So really have patience with your students and especially with yourselves. Make sure you are doing things for yourself and spending time with your families.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about this experience?
I’m just really proud of everyone. It’s amazing to see teachers who were pretty scared because they’d always done everything on paper who are now completely online—and they did it all in a week. And I’m really proud of our students, parents, and community for really stepping up and diving in without knowing exactly every single step that’s coming next. Overall, we’ve had a good experience and have received a lot of positive feedback. I know that some schools don’t have a lot of the same resources or haven’t been able to stay open. So I’m really thankful our teachers can continue to have connections with their students and I hope they can continue to build those relationships.
Share your remote learning story
Our education community is facing unprecedented challenges around teaching and learning. In these times, more than ever, we are each other’s best resources. We invite you to reach out and share how you or a colleague, friend, or family member is approaching remote learning.
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