2020 has been a tough year to be a PreK-12 teacher. As spring was beginning with all the promise of the final push of the year, schools nationwide abruptly shut down. Teachers, sometimes over the course of a weekend, had to shift to remote teaching while at the same time navigating their own quarantine experience.

Our team of researchers, all former elementary and secondary teachers who are now teacher educators, saw this as a moment in educational history that had to be captured–and so we asked teachers these questions: What are your top 5 issues? How are you problem-solving? On who or what are you relying for help?

Related content: America’s great remote learning experiment

Our survey was open from May 4-May 31, 2020. Using the power of Facebook friends and family and our email network we shared and sent our survey to any teacher who responded yes to our posting (or our Facebook friends’ reposting). We heard from over 700 teachers in 40 different states.

While the challenges were many, the ways in which teachers exhibited their resiliency spoke to the intelligence and creativity of our nation’s educators. It is becoming clear that there are a number of effective practices of teachers who successfully supported and taught our children and their families. These are their practices and their voices.

1. Teachers were collaborators. For so many teachers, education and community went hand-in-hand. This spirit was on full display as teachers reached out to each other to brainstorm, troubleshoot, create resources, talk through their trial and error processes, and collaborate.

“I work with a fabulous team. We collaborate and share the tasks of making and posting assignments. I can always ask for help from them.” (Washington, Grade 3)

Though they were no longer down the hall from colleagues, successful models of meeting the diverse needs of learners involved teachers who continued to work together to ensure that students had access to the resources they needed.

“I have also been working closely with the Special Ed Department to make sure all students on Ed. Plans can access material, and it is modified to their needs.” (Massachusetts, Grade 4)

Many teachers collaborated beyond their circle to work with teachers around the country and around the world. They connected with other educators through social media to get ideas, forming their own virtual professional learning communities. One high-school teacher from Pennsylvania even mentioned that she joined a Twitter professional learning network “for inspiration and support.”

“I am working with other colleagues at my school as well as joining groups on social networking sites to discuss solutions.” (Florida, Grade 3)

Other important collaborators for teachers were the parents and caretakers of the children with whom they work. Teachers made meaningful and purposeful connections with families, demonstrating their care for the role of families and their students.Teachers put forth intensive efforts to connect and communicate with families throughout the school building closures. Teaching, unsurprisingly, became about so much more than instruction.

“I changed my focus to building connections and supporting families in need.” (Connecticut, PreK)

“I have begun sending out an individualized email to each student (copying parents) checking in on them, praising their accomplishments and encouraging them to work hard.” (Virginia, Grade 7)

“I’m learning with my families as we go and try[ing] to set realistic goals to accomplish each day.” (Illinois, Grade 7)

2. Teachers sought balance. Teachers faced extended hours teaching, reaching out to students and their families, learning new technologies and researching curricular resources better suited to the online platform. Many teachers also had families they were caring for at home and even their own children were engaged in remote learning. Teachers discussed the ways they attended to their health and well-being; simply turning off their screens all played a vital role.

“I’m trying my best to turn my phone off on the weekends to parents[’] texts/emails…” (Massachusetts, Grades 1-5)

Teachers cared deeply about the students and families with whom they worked. It was not surprising, then, that they kept the whole person in mind when making decisions about teaching and learning. Many found success treating students as people first.

“[I tried] not adding more stress to a stressful situation.” (California, Grade 5)

3. Creativity and flexibility were teachers’ mojo! Teachers seemed to exhibit the greatest agency in the area of instruction. Here their creative sides flourished as they sought to find ways to better engage learners, to use what they know to be developmentally appropriate instructional strategies and more.

3 practices of resilient teachers during COVID-19

A public high school teacher from Colorado shared this success:

“…I talked my principal into allowing us to do asynchronous instruction. This has helped a lot, especially for those families that have only one computer.” (Colorado, Grades 11-12)

“For seniors, I have incorporated music lyrics as poetry analysis and letting them choose their own songs to analyze in an attempt to keep them engaged.” (Massachusetts, Grades 9 and 12)

We often heard from specialist teachers (music, art, PE) that they were struggling to connect with learners. It is here that we saw a wonderful mash-up of creativity and collaboration.

“[I have been] dropping into classroom teacher’s google meets as a special guest.” (Virginia, PreK-5)

This flexibility was demonstrated by teachers across the country as not just simply a practice but also a mindset.

“Some families want more to do, some families are totally overwhelmed. So to try to accommodate all their needs, I offer a mix of “required” instructional small group meetings and several optional drop-in enrichment or support online meetings.” (Washington, Grade 3)

Teachers told us, “I was never prepared for this,” and “I’ve learned more in the last 3 weeks than I have in the last 10 years.” Our teachers are rock stars – they have demonstrated determination and compassion throughout this crisis and we as a nation have much to learn from them.

About the Author:

Jeanne Carey Ingle, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Bridgewater State University (MA). She is relatively new to higher education after working for many years as an urban elementary school teacher. She teaches courses in elementary education, inequality in education, educational technology and English learner education. In addition, she coordinates student teaching experiences and undergraduate research programs. Her research includes teacher experiences during remote emergency teaching, best methods for supporting English learners, increasing access to undergraduate research for marginalized groups and using immersive technologies to prepare pre-service teachers. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @careyingle and on Instagram @teachingandlearningwdringle.

Dr. Andrea Cayson is an associate professor and Graduate Program Coordinator for Elementary and Early Childhood Education at Bridgewater State University (MA). Andrea taught elementary school in Florida for many years before moving to Massachusetts to pursue a career in higher education. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Sheltered English Immersion and mathematics methods. Andrea’s research is focused on supporting English learners and best practices of teacher education.

Dr. Heather Pacheco-Guffrey is an associate professor at Bridgewater State University (MA). There she teachers undergraduate and graduate courses in science, technology, and engineering methods for pre- and in-service teachers. Heather is a former urban public school geoscience teacher. Heather’s research is focused on educator TPACK and how teachers use technology across domains to support the wide range of learners.

Melissa Winchell is an associate professor in Secondary Education and Professional Programs at Bridgewater State University where she teaches graduate and undergraduate students. A veteran of Massachusetts urban public education for over twenty years, Melissa’s research interests are in antiracist education. Melissa is founder of the non-profit Inclusion Matters and a community activist with Massachusetts’ National Association for Multicultural Education, the Federation for Children with Special Needs, the Arc of Massachusetts, and the Department of Developmental Services. Follow Melissa on Twitter @melissawinchell or contact her at mwinchell@bridgew.edu.