Utilizing Teachers Remotely: Districts Find New Ways to Support our Frontline Heroes

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Teachers have always been at the center of learning, but what we’re finding is teachers have become even more important as the world has been forced to shift to virtual learning due to COVID-19. As part of the Learning Counsel’s Emergency National Virtual Discussion series, leading districts explain the ways they have found to effectively support their teachers during this period of emergency virtual learning.

According to Aaron Cooke, School Improvement Team at Southern Oregon ESD, “One of the main things that I do is help teachers to be effective at home. Teachers will often not ask for things that would really increase their efficiency. You need to have conversations with them about their workspace at home, about how to lay that out, about how to use different tools sets, how to try essentially using teachers from home. One of the things we always used to say is to try to have a place behind the door, so that if there are things going on in your house, they wouldn't necessarily affect you while you were teaching. We spent a lot of time talking about, what's a good learning environment, what's inappropriate or the appropriate systems for teaching? We look at the investment you might need in technology to set up a good home office. If I need to see documentation and other pieces while I'm conducting a meeting, for example, it's really difficult on a laptop screen. I would really encourage people to have conversations with your teachers around what would make them more efficient. Some of that may include looking at what is their workspace, do they have a window right behind them so they're always back lit, are they even thinking about these things and try to set up dedicated workspaces?

“The other big thing is really utilizing the teachers and finding islands of excellence and promoting those out. So that teachers can see what other teachers are doing. Right now, a lot of them are scared, thinking ‘I can't do this, or I don't know how to do it.’ But when they see something that one of their own partners is doing, they're more likely to reach out and see how they could do that and then to potentially work from it.”

Dr. Stacey Perez is the Principal at Classical Academy High School in Escondido, California. “The community is really, really important,” said Perez. “On the social emotional side, the school counselor and I both make videos weekly just to be there for the students, letting them know, ‘Hey, we're struggling too. This is a difficult time, but we're here to support you and we can get through this together.’ We know that they need those touchpoints, so although we have the physical environment, we started as a full online program, we've kind of transitioned back to that and now we're back to the online model.

“Our students set goals every week in a calendar that's on their platform. The mentoring piece is the most important feedback that we can give. And that feedback isn't necessarily to their education, it's to their social and emotional wellbeing. How are you today? What's going on? How's your dog? What'd you do this weekend? Having real conversations over that four-year period with those students that come to us for a variety of reasons.”

Ivy Nelson, Education Technology Manager at Belton School District, explained “We are in this place of growth where we have some different areas with more technology; it's been a challenge while we've transitioned to distance learning and we're not virtual learning because not everyone has the technology. So, as we're growing and as we're getting the resources for everyone, we have to be creative about how we're doing it and we have to be flexible from building to building and class to class.

“As we're working with teachers, we want to provide every opportunity and all the resources and things they need, but we also don't want to overwhelm. So, we use zoom and then teachers also have the option of Google Hangouts. we have had some really great sessions. They were led by our technology integration team, our instructional coach team, some library media specialists as well as some teacher tech leaders. We also had a counselor share about self-care for educators. We had some wonderful participation.”

Phillip Jankowski is the Assistant Superintendent at Armada Area Schools in Michigan. According to Jankowsky, “Thankfully, our teachers had their systems pretty much flushed out. It was just now how do you go from seeing your kids every day to not seeing them every day?

“We use Google Hangouts because we're a Google district or Google Meet Now and our principals did virtual trainings with the teachers. Then we gave them some base guidelines. Basically, we asked each teacher to give 90 minutes of work that students can do on their own at the secondary level; they can do a little bit more at the elementary because they only have one teacher. And we asked teachers to do office hours each week. Starting out, we told our teachers, we don't want you to move forward right away. We want you to take the first two weeks to go back and just make sure you cover content, things that they've already done because this is a new normal for students.

“The outpouring of emotion from kids when those office hours started, especially with the younger kids like kindergarten and first grade, was very strong. Many students were just in tears because they get to see their friends again and they're afraid of what's going on. They see the news, they see their parents are home and so on.

“We ask their para pros to make contact with students who are in 504 plans and special ed teachers made contact once a week with their IEP students. And we basically said, we're going to focus on what our power standards are. We're not going to try and cover everything we would have covered. We use the five E instructional model. We want them to really give kids opportunities to explore things and to give them the ability to give feedback to kids and those kids to share things, whether it's recording something where they're explaining something to their parents, whether they're taking a picture of an assignment that they did or a project or they were doing something in their backyard. And that's gone over very well with the community and with the staff. And our goal has been making it less about compliance and more about quality learning opportunities for students.”

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In these districts like other districts across the United States, teachers are at the center of learning, whether it is distance learning or place-based learning. Supporting teachers is crucial, and never has it been more so. Find out what districts are doing to support teachers during this challenging time, and how you can up your game so teachers can continue to shine.

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