Teaching (Calmly) During a Pandemic

By Kayla Oscarson and Susan Trostle Brand
SPRING 2021

On Friday, March 13, 2020, Mrs. Peecher’s world changed. As a kindergarten teacher, she and other teachers in her building and throughout the nation listened with astonishment to the intercom announcement, “Please pack up your belongings and take them home today. Prepare to teach from your computer for the foreseeable future.”

Teaching virtually during a pandemic is definitely not in the New Teacher Manual. During these uncertain and turbulent times, teachers, parents, caregivers, and children alike have been forced to learn a new way of teaching, learning, and coping. For many parents, assuming the role of teacher opened up a plethora of stressful factors, including emotional, physical, social, and economic considerations (Shea, 2020). For students, the pandemic and school closures have signaled a decline in opportunities for cultivating new friendships and sustaining old ones.

In the past, while at school, students learned how to make new friends, control impulses, delay gratification, see others’ perspectives, assume responsibility for their work, adhere to a regular schedule, and show respect to their teachers and classmates (Ho & Funk, 2018; Kostelnik et al., 2015). Darling-Churchill and Lippman (2016, p. 2) added, “Interactions with other children and adults early in life set the stage for future academic and personal outcomes.” A plethora of skills emerge from students’ experiences in school.

With the advent of learning from home and the need for isolation, students devote approximately 4–5 hours to computer time each day, and rarely if ever see their classmates aside from onscreen. Therefore, consider the importance of students’ social–emotional skills in the context of virtual teaching and learning.

Creating Virtual Teaching and Learning Success

The following suggestions may support the delicate balance between achieving academic goals and maintaining emotional and physical well-being for teachers and students alike.

  • Understand the family/home dynamic.
  • Learn families’ schedules. Find out when they are available to support learning and with whom the students spend their days.
  • Review a plan of action. Consider caretakers’ native language.
  • Ensure that families and students understand how to navigate interactive assignments.
  • Establish a routine and stress the importance of consistency.
  • Provide daily communication hours.
  • Check in with students and families at the end of each week; showing that you are thinking about them goes a long way!
  • Keep track of students in a spreadsheet regarding work completion, attendance, participation in Zoom, and scores on assignments.
  • Create a plan of action for those who are difficult to contact.
  • Provide meaningful feedback and effective, focused praise.
  • Identify best ways to learn, track data, and incorporate differentiation.
  • Consider students requiring additional supports, and ensure those supports are provided.
  • Incorporate frequent body breaks in interactive assignments.
  • Make suggestions for multiple ways to complete an assignment.
  • Include challenges within assignments for those who are higher-level thinkers.
  • Include character education and promote positive thinking.
  • Recognize their hard work by posting a weekly “shout-out” or certificate.
  • Create suggested scavenger hunts and STEM or STEAM projects.
  • Offer an Author’s Share, Joke Day, or Show and Tell.
  • Schedule “Make a Difference Mondays,” sharing stories about how they spread kindness.
  • Read stories with protagonists whose emotions match those of the students.
  • Follow up stories with related activities.
  • Use mistakes as learning experiences and ways to improve your distance teaching.
  • Brush up on your tech skills and collaborate with other teachers to share ideas and knowledge.
  • Take time to check in with yourself and reflect on your experiences.

The Silver Linings of Distance Learning

  • More opportunities and time for one-on-one teaching
  • New technology skills for teachers and students
  • Enhanced family involvement with students’ learning
  • Strengthened home–school connections through daily communication
  • Savings on costs of travel to and from the school building
  • Flexible schedules for students and teachers

Concluding Thoughts

Students mirror their teachers’ dedication, enthusiasm, and love for learning, whether in the face-to-face or virtual classroom. In these uncertain times, teachers need to stay calm and continue on.

Ms. Oscarson is a second-grade teacher. She has her master’s in Early Childhood Education from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kayla has been teaching for more than 10 years. She specializes in the psychology of teaching, and social–emotional well-being. Kayla also runs workshops devoted to mentoring new teachers.

Dr. Brand is a Professor of Early Childhood Education and Social Justice. A 35-year counselor of the Iota Sigma Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi at the University of Rhode Island, Dr. Brand is the author of four education textbooks and numerous articles and chapters. She served on the KDP Executive Board as Vice-President and President-Elect.

References

Darling-Churchill, K.G., & Lippman, L. (2016). Early childhood social and emotional development: Advancing the field of measurement. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 45, 1–7.

Ho, J., & Funk, S. (2018). Promoting young children’s social and emotional health. Young Children, 73(1), 1–12.

Kostelnik, M., Whiren, A., Soderman, A., Rupiper, M. L., & Gregory, K. (2015). Developmentally appropriate curriculum. Cengage.

Shea, S. (2020. April 22). How parents can help children cope with mental health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Massachusetts General Hospital. https://www.massgeneral.org/children/coronavirus/how-parents-can-help-children-cope-withmental-health-concerns-during-the-covid-19-pandemic .

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