Educators in the Pandemic: From the Inside Out

By Larissa Rector
SPRING 2021

I am no stranger to technology, and I already had plenty of experience using Zoom for various school-wide meetings. However, when I learned that I would finish the remainder of the school year by creating virtual classes for my sixth-grade ELA students, I worried that I would not be able to adequately create an online learning environment that not only addressed the state standards, but created a culture where students felt safe and free to think for themselves—one that invited students to learn and discover meaning through books, ideas, and tasks . . . completely . . . 100% . . . virtually.

That is no small task when you are talking about keeping 85 middle school students engaged through a computer screen, but one that I tackled head on. That is what educators do: We dive right in and face challenges, always acting in the best interest of our students.

The Switch to Online Learning

Instead of going back to the drawing board, I decided to use the online platform my students were already familiar with: Google Classroom. This is where it began to get tricky. Before the switch to online learning, my students were already familiar with their assignments being listed on our class page each day. They knew how to access the various documents that I would attach for the lessons being taught and how to maneuver through different pages on a site. However, it was one thing keeping students interested and engaged in person; doing it online was a complete game changer.

Giving the Classroom Back

To create an online learning experience that would keep my students active and engaged, I decided to reach out to each child individually. I asked questions such as:

  • What has your online learning experience been like so far?
  • How does it compare with your experience as a student in a physical classroom?
  • What would you change about our online learning?
  • What do you want to see more/less of?

The answers to these questions made me realize that what the students needed most was support and understanding. They needed to feel comfortable getting on our Zoom meetings each day. They wanted to be actively involved with me, as well as their classmates. I began to realize that this new online platform that I was creating was not just about continuing to meet the standards that I was expected to teach. In all actuality, it was not even a fraction of what I needed to be establishing for my students. They wanted a say in the process.

So, essentially, I gave the classroom back to the students. I established a framework for the content I would continue to teach and let the students decide which activities they wanted to do during our time together. Collaboratively, we found several sites that allowed the students to play games for the skills we were learning that stimulated cooperation and/or competition among them as they worked toward achieving their classroom goals. All our assessments came from online quizzes and were comprised of a compilation of the literacy standards we covered each week. Together we had created an online learning environment that fit the needs and voices of all the students.

Concluding Thoughts

Whether we are teaching in a school building or through a virtual classroom, the underlying goal is the same: student success. Our role as educators is to encourage students to have a say in their own learning. We want them to exercise problem-solving and decision-making skills in order to achieve their individual goals. I believe that each student is capable of excellence, and with the right guidance and support, they will develop the avenues needed to succeed in school, as well as find happiness and a place of belonging in our society. To be able to help students discover and cultivate these educational and vocational potentialities, we have to ask. We have to listen. We have to give our students a voice.

Each individual child brings something unique to the table. They each have deeply ingrained social habits, identities, dispositions, and learning behaviors—all of which contribute to their academic success. We as educators need to start embracing these differences, as well as each child’s culture and experiences, in order to offer them the best educational opportunities. A student’s voice inspires and empowers them to begin taking ownership over their own education. Learning does not start with the teacher. It begins with the student. And even in a virtual world, learning comes from the inside out.

Ms. Rector is currently a Grade 6 English teacher at Prescott South Middle School in Cookeville, TN. Her teaching experience is distinguished by more than 13 years of service across different grade levels. Her passion is creating a positive classroom culture that increases student learning.

Further Resources:

Kahoot.com

Flipgrid.com

Baamboozle.com

Arcade Game Generator.com

Quizizz.com

Quizlet.com

Tips for developing online learning: Establish a homepage, such as Google Classroom. Develop a routine and stick to it. Make sure students are given breaks during class time. Create activities, like experiments or games that will keep children engaged.

Collaboration and Communication: Teaching During the Pandemic

By Leana R. Malinowsky
SPRING 2021

My second grade class of 2019–2020 was a dynamic group of students. Curious, social, energetic, and carefree would not suffice in describing their full character or potential. I’m grateful that spring of 2020 showed me they also were resilient, the most significant trait they needed as we shifted from the classroom to remote learning. Along on this voyage came my co-teacher (special education), their ESL/ESL bilingual teacher, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, two counselors, two RTI (Response to Intervention) teachers, four related arts teachers, and, of course, the students’ families. As the captain of this crew, I knew the ship had to weather the storm. Inspired by their kindred spirits and eager nature, I grabbed the helm for one of the most challenging experiences of my 12-year career.

Communication with families and as an educational team is important enough in a typical academic year. During all-virtual learning, it became even more critical to continue this positive interaction and not let the uncertainty act as an anchor. Maximizing collaboration with support staff naturally created positive communication with families.

 “Co-teachers must be good communicators, respect each other, have similar teaching philosophies, be willing to spend time planning together, and at times be willing to drop their own ideas and go with the other person’s plans. Good communication with parents is also essential” (Murdock et al., 2015, pp. 46–47).

When navigating uncharted waters teaching virtually, use this guide for peer collaboration to enhance communication with families. These are key elements for success during a time when many families are managing virtual learning.

Compass Points

  • Flexibility is key. The virtual classroom has many unexpected challenges such as additional steps to deliver instruction and set up meetings through technology . Give colleagues and families flexibility on when to meet and plan. This allows everyone to access necessary resources and offers the opportunity to work as a team.
  • Make planning a priority. Set times to meet with support staff individually and as a group to discuss the structure of virtual lessons, scheduling, and methods of communication, and decide which families need additional support systems for success. Make sure the team communicates about ongoing plans and anticipates adjustments.
  • Debrief regularly. Educational teams need to utilize the same practices virtually as they would in the classroom to discuss student needs, understanding, roles, and differentiated lessons. Take advantage of others’ perspectives on lessons and student performance. This allows everyone to be objective and offer suggestions. Debriefing should be frequent and consistent based on scheduling flexibility.
  • Have dependable communication. Speaking with families frequently ensures they are aware of assignments and important information, and that their child is receiving all required resources and services. This refines and builds the trust of family members, especially those who might have language barriers. Invite ESL teachers to meetings for families who need translation. With this support, family members can communicate freely and have an active voice in the conversation.
  • Utilize shared spaces. Use a shared space to brainstorm, such as Google Keep or a Google Doc for all teachers and support staff to share ideas, concerns, and questions, and plan meetings, and so on. Implement a communication app such Class Dojo (Google Classroom or other related apps) to post general information to families to see collectively. Much like a weekly or monthly newsletter, this disseminates information quickly, and many apps offer translation. It also allows multiple teachers to post messages to parents and have them shared quickly. Shared spaces can help extend planning and communication beyond meeting times.
  • Set schedules. Create a personalized schedule for students who receive additional remediation and support services. Include dates, times, and any needed materials. Share the schedule with families and update it frequently. Schedules benefit everyone in and out of the classroom. They provide structure in a learning space that has the potential to become unfastened.

Rising to the challenge of remote learning was certainly not easy, especially with limited time to prepare. I knew I had to implement best practices, creativity, collaboration, and communication together in order to sail successfully through the remainder of the year. It was imperative we stayed on course and worked together as we learned new platforms. I learned much more in the last few months of school than I ever anticipated; however, my skills have stretched beyond the horizon. My compass points provided guidance and offered possibilities for teaching in the future, both virtually and in the classroom. Keep these points in a captain’s log for a guide on the next voyage, wherever it may be!

Ms. Malinowsky is an elementary educator at Carteret Public Schools and has more than 13 years of experience teaching general education, special education, ESL students, and reading intervention. Ms. Malinowsky is a certified reading specialist. She is the Associate Counselor for the KDP chapter at Kean University and is passionate about working with preservice teachers and teacher leadership.

Reference

Murdock, L., Finneran, D., & Theve, K. (2015). Co-teaching to reach every learner. Educational Leadership, 73(4), 42–47.

Solving the COVID-19 Conundrum: Using Maslow’s Hierarchy to Meet Students’ Needs

By Leonard Newby, Kimberly Stormer, and Desmond Delk
SPRING 2021

Over the last year, we’ve witnessed first responders, doctors, grocers, and other essential workers valiantly respond to the COVID-19 crisis that is ravaging the globe. Teachers and university faculty have adapted virtual-learning experiences to ensure continuity of instruction, in addition to addressing the social, emotional, and physical needs of our students. Here we highlight how three faculty members found technological tools that focused on the importance of relationships as a tenet of social–emotional learning, which insists instructors position Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as the underlying framework for their instructional practices rather than Bloom’s Taxonomy to engage students who faced a double pandemic (Bloom, 1956; Maslow, 1954). 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs identifies a person’s motivation as fulfilling needs in five areas: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1954). Traditional settings allow teachers to detect students’ met and unmet needs. However, in an online environment where some students are already disenfranchised, it may be difficult to assess their needs and respond appropriately. Our team provided an online community that recreated the safety and security of traditional class and office settings. While remaining in contact with one another via Zoom, texting, and email, we discussed the methods each of us used as our students continued to express their frustrations with their new contexts. We found that much of the technology we used fit the tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

  • Physiological needs refer to the essentials of everyday life, such as food, sleep, and shelter. In the online environment, we moved to attempting all methods of contact through their phones. Given our students’ varied access to computers and wifi, we expanded our perceptions of making learning accessible rather than adding to their drought of essential technology needs. 
  • Safety needs refer to one’s personal security. Our original synchronous learning platform resulted in students being inundated with downloading software that either took up too much space on their hard drive, or they didn’t understand, regardless of tutorials, how to download it. So we tried to find applications that enabled students to video chat, text chat, or dial in to participate in synchronous sessions. Zoom became our go-to source . They felt proficient with it because it integrated well with their phone. We also moved beyond our need to enforce strict assessment practices on overburdened students by opting not to use lockdown browsers. 
  • Love and belonging refers to the human interaction that all social creatures crave. As we spoke with students who were having difficulties engaging with content during the COVID hiatus, many of them expressed their dismay with asynchronous learning. They often felt like instructors put up “busy work” for them to complete. Some of the nontraditional students expressed they not only had to do the mounds of work from their online classes, but they also had the same issue with their children’s teachers who made a Google Classroom but never showed up to class. Students were missing the emotional connection from being with their peers and us. We explored the use of GroupMe and Houseparty. Both of these free social networking services, one via text and one via video chat, enabled students to communicate with one another, hold each other accountable for completing assignments, collaborate in study groups, and talk with instructors who experienced the same anxiety and assured them we were there to support them. 
  • Esteem refers to the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. There were times when students needed quick assurance while completing assignments. When we were unable to be at our computers, students contacted us through Google Voice. The ability to provide feedback and solutions after-hours allowed us to reassure our students when they struggled with concepts or when they needed praise for correct answers. Furthermore, Zoom Breakout Sessions enabled social learning and knowledge validation when students worked together to complete projects.  

COVID-19, although an anomaly, will have lasting effects on the field of education. This impact, however, doesn’t excuse teachers from creating learning experiences that place students’ social–emotional needs before academic achievement. Modeling these techniques for our preservice teachers equips them with skills to become self-actualized teachers in traditional and online environments. 

Dr. Newby is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Langston University. Dr. Newby specializes in theoretical and applied aspects of learning and dedicates his expertise to elevating student motivation to excel and thrive in and outside of educational settings.

Dr. Stormer is the Department Chair of Education and Professional Programs at Langston University. Her research agenda includes the writing habits of underrepresented populations and preservice teachers’ culturally relevant teaching dispositions.

Dr. Delk is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation at Langston University. His research focuses on diversity in kinesiology graduate programs, physical activity engagement of HBCU students, and multicultural physical education.

References

Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, handbook I: Cognitive domain. David McKay Co. 

Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. Harper. 

Socially Just Technology Access in the Post-COVID Era

By Rebecca J. Blankenship
SPRING 2021

Since its inception in the 1960s and 1970s among radical criminologists, social-justice research has certainly evolved from the initial focus on injustices and inequities within the criminal-justice system to become a peripheral research interest among other disciplines. Within the field of education, social justice through equal access to technology has become a research area of particular focus as existing and emerging technologies have significantly changed teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Although the increase in technology use has, for the most part, significantly impacted pedagogy and instructional practice in a positive way, issues of equitable access frequently overshadow the anticipated benefits of providing students with alternative ways to engage with instructors while enhancing deeper cognitive development. This is particularly the case when engaging with vulnerable (marginalized) student populations, which has certainly changed the focus of the instructional technology and pedagogic narrative among educators and educational researchers.

These inequities in technology access require the redefinition of equitable engagement, understanding the current state of technology access among vulnerable populations and persistent barriers to access including hidden curricula, and proffer a change in the narrative towards more sustainable and equitable practices as educational theory and technologies continue to evolve in the new decade. Accordingly, the conversation among teacher preparation programs, especially in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and transition to complete remote instruction in the spring of 2020, has shifted from preparing future educators to implement best face-to-face practices to how teachers can translate those practices into a virtual classroom setting.

Additional considerations in terms of online best teaching practices parallel the narrative of equal technology access from the standpoint that many students transitioning to online learning did not have a computer or Internet access in their home. Further, for a large percentage of marginalized students, their only opportunity to interact with computers and mobile technologies is in the face-to-face school setting, which results in an imbalanced technical skill set for them compared to their non-marginalized counterparts.

Thus, the transfer to remote instruction created three imbalances in teaching and learning:

  1. Classroom teachers must now teach traditional face-to-face content in a virtual setting,
  2. Classroom teachers must now teach digital-literacy skills so that all students can actively engage with content, and
  3. Classroom teachers/school administrators must now ensure that marginalized students have equitable access to technology in addition to enhanced support services in order to actively and positively participate in the virtual classroom setting.
  4. Classroom teachers/school administrators cannot work in isolation.  In order to move forward, it is imperative that all stakeholders work in tandem with local, state, and federal agencies to secure funding and support services through specialized grants and programs that direct funds specifically to address the ongoing educational and technology access among historically underserved populations.  

Thus, teacher preparation programs moving forward in the new post-COVID era of virtual instruction are now charged not only with helping pre-service and beginning educators implement best online teaching practices, but also to do so in such a way as to ensure their practices are equitable for all students, especially those most vulnerable among marginalized students. Suggestions for program changes moving forward include:

  • Provide additional field clinical experiences that include working with sociocultural and socioeconomically diverse student populations,
  • Provide enhanced field clinical experiences that include working in more Title I and similar schools with large marginalized populations,
  • Redesign existing technology—key assignments to include more assistive technologies for marginalized students, and
  • Provide ongoing support especially for beginning teachers navigating the uncertainties of teaching marginalized populations face-to-face and virtually in the post-COVID era.

Additional Reading

Bridging an engagement gap: towards equitable, community-based technology leadership practice. International Journal of Leadership in Education, by E. Chang. (2019)

Cruel optimism in edtech: When the digital data practices of educational technology providers inadvertently hinder educational equity. Learning, Media and Technology, by F. Macgilchrist. (2019) 

Equitable access to education and development in a knowledgeable society as advocated by UNESCO. Educational Research and Reviews, by C. M. Jemeli and A. M. Fakandu. (2019) 

“Just access”? Questions of equity in access and funding for assistive technology. Ethics & Behavior, by E. Durocher, R. H. Wang, J. Bickenbach, D. Schreiber and M. G. Wilson. (2019)

Technology for equity and social justice in education: Introduction to the special issue. International Journal of Multicultural Education, by S. Marx and Y. Kim. (2019)

Working toward equitable access and affordability: “How private schools and microschools seek to serve middle-and low-income students.” Bellwether Education Partners, by J. Squire, M. S. King, and J. Trinidad. (2019)

Dr. Blankenship is an Associate Professor and TESOL Program Director in the College of Education at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida. Dr. Blankenship teaches ESOL Endorsement and Compliance courses required by the state for professional certification. Dr. Blankenship’s research interests include the development of virtual training environments for pre-service teacher candidates, the digital agency and literacy development of pre-service teachers and university faculty, and the effects of politics and social media on the teaching profession.

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 .

Increase Student Engagement While Teaching Online

By Will Perry and Clinton Smith
SPRING 2021

Moving to an online learning environment is scary for teachers, students, administrators, and parents alike. Although blended and online learning have become online fads in education in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic turned “I’d like to try that” into “You don’t have a choice.” The move to an online setting has sent many teachers—brand new and veteran—into a panic of how to teach in the new environment. Teachers have scrambled to keep students engaged without having them in a face-to-face learning environment.

Building student relationships is one of the tools to ensure student engagement in an online environment, and it is not a new innovation. Student relationships are key to being successful in an online setting. Strong relationships enable teachers to engage students and lead them to success in their learning. Quin (2017) found that strong teacher–student relationships correlate positively to higher levels of engagement, better grades, higher attendance, less disruptive behaviors, and lower dropout rates.

In our brick-and-mortar classrooms, we naturally found ways to build relationships with our students but, with some strategic planning, teachers can build strong relationships with their students online, too. If you are still teaching exclusively online, remember these principles to build strong relationships with your students and keep them actively engaged.

Stay connected.

You are not a computer that posts assignments and assigns grades. As the cliché goes, students “don’t care what you know until they know you care.” That’s overly simplified, but within those words lay the keys to success. Let students and their families know who you are by providing some of your background and interests. Take the time to get to know your students. Get to know their likes and dislikes and try to incorporate them into your lessons. Let students know that you care about them and their well-being, distress, and trauma. We need to make sure the basic needs of our students are being met.

  • Create virtual opportunities for students to connect with one another and with you. Schedule one-on-one check-ins to make that personal connection with students just as you would in the classroom.
  • Enrich your lessons by using personal examples and anecdotes, and encourage students to do the same.
  • Send weekly updates for due dates and important events through newsletters or blogs.
  • Provide opportunities through virtual games such as Quizlet, Kahoot, or activities such as show and tell, comedy time, charades, or a scavenger hunt.

Consider student needs.

Consider your students’ basic human needs before getting wrapped up in academic content. Pearlman (2020) says we need to consider Maslow before Bloom. The pandemic may have caused students to experience grief, distress, and trauma. We may need to make sure the basic needs of our students are being met.

  • Ask students regularly how they and their families are doing. Students have missed important events such as sporting games and seasons, graduations, band concerts, and other school activities, not to mention normal activities they’ve grown accustomed to, such as birthday parties, holidays, eating in restaurants, or taking their yearly vacation to the beach. Worse, others have experienced the illness or loss of family members or friends to COVID-19.
  • Listen to them. Students are missing out on daily interpersonal connections with their peers and their teachers. Consider a “virtual hangout,” where you share about the good things your students are doing during online learning.
  • Look for opportunities for students to talk about their lives, their concerns, and any problems they may be having with the lesson.

Provide opportunities for engagement.

Students who are engaged are more likely to experience academic success.

  • Consider formative assessment strategies such as using journal entries or exit tickets to engage students.
  • Increase questioning during lessons, like “How would you feel if this were you?” “What’s something that’s happened in your life that’s similar to this character?”
  • Create writing opportunities for students to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • Examine crises through stories or historical analysis, and ask students to describe similar experiences and if they can relate to how the characters feel.
  • Moderate a classroom chat or discussion board.
  • Create funny videos of a science experiment, read a children’s book, or take them on a virtual field trip.

Concluding Thoughts

Teachers are master relationship builders, so don’t let an online environment be a barrier to building student relationships. If you expect your students to be engaged, show them that you care about them, even from afar. Teaching in an online environment may be challenging, but focus on building strong relationships with your students and increase student engagement. Your students are depending on you!

Dr. Perry is Associate Director of Philanthropy at Vanderbilt University and a former high school Spanish teacher.

Dr. Smith is Associate Professor of Special Education at the University of Tennessee at Martin and the KDP Public Policy Chair.

The New Classroom: Pros and Cons From the Students’ Perspective

By Saundra Shillingstad and Sheryl L. McGlamery
SPRING 2021

On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 was officially a pandemic. The outbreak of the coronavirus prompted universities to make radical changes in scheduling and delivery of classes. An announcement was made on March 13 that the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) would allow students to take a 2-week break from campus and online classes. UNO started spring break early, March 14, and the semester resumed March 30. Course delivery shifted at UNO to become online for the remainder of the spring and summer semesters.

The disruption of going from face-to-face class meetings to online course delivery affected both students and teachers across the nation. For those of us who had never taught a course online, and for students who hadn’t participated in an online course, the learning curve seemed very steep. My colleague and I got busy getting ready to work and teach online. We had 2 weeks. The preparation evoked a bit of fear and anxiety in both of us. However, as we soon realized, we had nothing to fear.

The UNO College of Education, the Teacher Education Department, the Office of Digital Learning, and the Center for Faculty Excellence provided faculty and staff with numerous workshops for remote and online learning in an effort to prepare faculty and staff with guides for moving courses online as well as workshops for advanced support features and resources. We participated in the workshops, acquired the skills to navigate the online tools available to us, and were ready when classes resumed March 30.

During the 6 weeks of online course delivery, my colleague and I touched base with each other frequently. Our conversations often turned to how the students were adjusting and feeling about the move to online course delivery. Before the semester’s end, we asked students the open-ended question: What are the pros and cons of online course delivery via Zoom? We collected and reviewed their responses regarding the abrupt change from on-campus course delivery to online course delivery via Zoom. Here is what the students had to say:

Pros:

Convenient

  • “I love not having to travel to campus or worry about getting from building to building safely.”
  • “Taking the course from home was the only way I could have done it with my kids out of school.”
  • “No commute!”

Access

  • “Having the course delivered in Canvas (which we already use) made the transition to online pretty easy.”
  • “I loved having access to the recorded lectures. Instead of having to send an email if I had a question, I could quickly access the video and review what I had forgotten or needed clarified.”
  • “I love ‘anywhere’ learning. I had to move back home (my family lives in California). I am grateful we were able to finish the class online.”

Cons:

Attention

  • “The struggle is real. It is sometimes hard to understand the content and stay focused.”
  • “Large-group discussions are difficult. I am still trying to figure out how to insert oneself into the conversation.”
  • “Recorded class sessions were available for review when I did not pay attention.”

Distractions

  • “Classmates not muting their microphones was a major distraction”.
  • “People! Put your kid down, turn off your TV and music, stop looking at your phone, get out of bed, stop slurping and eating—you are driving me crazy!”
  • “Classmates need to figure out how to be professional when ‘live’ on Zoom (does everyone realize I can ‘see’ what you are doing?). PAY ATTENTION!”

Technology

  • “It stressed me out when my Internet service was unreliable or weak.”
  • “I disliked it when I would lose connection and have to figure out how to rejoin the class session.”

Socialization

  • “I missed conversing with my classmates, something that is SORELY lacking in this online environment.”
  • “We miss out on networking with classmates and finding friendly faces that we can connect with in upcoming semesters.”
  • “Missing the socialization period before and after class, as well as the small talk with professors. I hate it. I miss in-person.”
  • “Missing out. Don’t get the same ‘face-to-face’ contact that I would if we were in person.”

The students’ feedback leaned heavily on areas that could be improved, or what they viewed as challenges. We asked the questions to gauge and monitor not just how we as faculty were feeling, but how the students felt. To us, the student’s perceptions matter as we move forward during uncertain times. Our desire is to provide the students with high quality learning experiences, in and outside of the classroom.

Dr. Shillingstad is a Professor in the Teacher Education Department in the College of Education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Research interests include teacher induction, assessment, and program assessment. Saundra is a member of the Eta Omega Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi.

Dr. McGlamery is a Professor of Science Education in the Department of Teacher Education at University of Nebraska at Omaha. Research interests include teacher induction, assessment, multicultural education, and teacher development.

Reframing Rigor and Reinforcing Relationships in the Time of COVID-19

By Joshua C. Tipton
SPRING 2021

In the time of COVID-19, educational organizations have, once again, proven to be irreplaceable institutions of public good and service. School leaders from the elementary to university level led the way in making difficult decisions to care for their students, staff, and community while state and federal leaders at times hesitated. All 50 states experienced school closures, impacting more than 55 million students nationwide (Education Week, 2020). Though schools are the most important communal setting for children aged five to 17, closing the school doors has been a meaningful mitigation strategy to address widespread transmission of illnesses since the flu pandemic of 1918 (Carlo & Chung, 2009). Social distancing, rather than shared experiences and celebrations, marked the conclusion of the 2019–2020 academic year. The loss of both instructional and social opportunities for students and teachers was prevalent and palpable.

As a new teacher, reference to the importance of rigor, relevance, and relationships was frequently interjected into professional development and faculty training. The associated framework was viewed as crucial to student engagement and achievement (McNulty & Quaglia, 2007). Though the catchphrase has perhaps gone out of style, these concepts remain vital to effective teaching. But as district leaders, school administrators, and classroom teachers prepare for the possibility of the continued vacancy of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a reframing of rigor and relationships is especially needed. Both require a different approach in the virtual classrooms that many of our students logged into when the 2020–2021 academic year began.

Reframing Rigor

Academic rigor in the classroom is intended to provide students with the opportunity to engage in work that requires not only awareness and comprehension but also application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Unfortunately, rigor is often confused for workload, and students are inundated with simply more assignments rather than rigorous assignments that inspire intellectual growth or build 21st-century skills.

This misconception of rigor poses more potential pitfalls for teachers and students in the virtual classroom. Some helpful tips from digital learning experts include:

  • Avoid panic-gogy. Focus on practicality rather than attempting to fully convert an on-ground course to an online format (Kamentz, 2020).
  • Emphasize the quality of class objectives and assignments over the quantity of completed work (Davidson, 2020).
  • Engage students through assignments and assessments that promote 21st-century skills, such as problem-solving, collaboration, adaptability, analysis, curiosity, imagination, and creativity.
  • Utilize backward design. Clearly define what learning objectives and skills students must master, and scaffold assignments and assessments to support them (Dimeo, 2017).

Reinforcing Relationships

All teachers should understand that relationships are critical to supporting student success and establishing effective classrooms. Positive relationships and interactions between teachers and students can impact student engagement, achievement, and overall educational experience; however, establishing strong teacher–student relationships can be more challenging in virtual classrooms. Darby (2019) offers the following advice:

  • Utilize technology to infuse the class with opportunities for collaboration and feedback to prevent feelings of isolation and disconnection.
  • Offer both synchronous and asynchronous options for class meetings.
  • Offer virtual office hours to increase your accessibility for students and parents/guardians.
  • Allow students to see your face and hear your voice on the screen to create a warmer and more welcoming online environment.

View the virtual classroom as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to positive classroom relationships. As Darby (2019) stated, “When you teach in person, you do a lot of things to help students feel welcome and comfortable in the classroom. You greet students. Smile. Make eye contact. Apply that same principle to your online classes” (para. 54).

Concluding Thoughts

Summer break was different last year. The time that school leaders and teachers typically take to rechargewas instead needed to revise traditional back-to-school plans. Though any presumption of what is to come would be projection at best, the coming spring and summer will certainly still present challenges for schools and students. We must prepare to continue engaging students in virtual classrooms. Online learning doesn’t have to be dumbed-down and distant. Reframing rigor and reinforcing relationships will engage students, energize teachers, and produce success.

Dr. Tipton is an Assistant Professor of Education at Lincoln Memorial University. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in instructional leadership, classroom management, and social studies education and has served as a middle and high school teacher, administrator, and district supervisor.

References

Carlo, J., & Chung, W. (2009). Review of school closure as a pandemic mitigation strategy. Texas Medicine, 105(7), 21–26.

Education Week. (2020, September 16). Map: Coronavirus and school closures in 2019–20. https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-closures.html

Darby, F. (2019, April 17). How to be a better online teacher. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-online-teaching

Davidson, C. (2020, May 13). Quantity is not rigor. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/05/13/academics-should-rethink-way-they-assign-homework-opinion

Dimeo, J. (2017, November 15). Peer advice for instructors teaching online for the first time. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/11/15/peer-advice-instructors-teaching-online-first-time

A Day After

By Jody Googins
SPRING 2021

In the wake of the Capitol Building riot on January 6, 2021, I was “doom-scrolling,” the term for how we get sucked into social media in the wake of tragedy or stress, pulled down into the abyss of endless, mind-consuming information-gathering (Fitzgerald, 2020). I had been at it for over 24 hours at that point, stopping only to eat, sleep, and (kind of) work. I was spending far too much time at it, especially following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

Like many others, I was having difficulty turning my brain off. I simply couldn’t stop thinking about all that was happening in our world and in our country, and the endless scrolling was an unwanted but addictive side effect.

Then I came across the following tweet from @JustinAion (2021): “A first year teacher asked me a question today. It shook me deeply. I will ask you. In your teaching career, how many times have you had a ‘day after?’”

I felt my heart skip and my breath catch. A day after. My thoughts immediately went to February 15, 2018, the day after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. I was teaching high school in Southwest Ohio and had watched the events unfold on the 14th. To put it mildly, I was wrecked. And angry. When I walked into school on the 15th, I felt like I was in a fog—but my students jolted me awake. They were angry, too. And motivated. In class that day, we talked and cried and hugged. We plotted and planned in the safety of our classroom community, grounded and secured by our common humanity. It was cathartic, and it was powerful.

February 15, 2018, was not my first day after; by then I had experienced many of them. Events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Newtown school shooting, the tragic deaths of students and parents and community members—each was followed by a day after, when emotions and opinions ran high. As a young teacher, contending with these days was difficult. I was not prepared to tangle with the emotions of my students; I was not fully able to create a safe environment where we could dialogue and process their emotions and feelings. I wasn’t warned about a day after in my teacher preparation program, and I was often overwhelmed. All these years later, I feel more prepared, more ready, but it is still daunting and draining and scary and hard.

The day after the Capitol riot, which followed several years of increasingly polarizing rhetoric culminating in the election of Joe Biden in November, would prove to be especially hard for teachers across the country. This particular day after was so politically charged, so messy, and its timing in the midst of the pandemic, on top of incredible fatigue on the part of teachers, was harrowing.

My two best friends—both incredible high school teachers—began preparing for the day after on the night of the Capitol riot, before the events were even clear or understood, if that was even possible. Our group text came alive as we exchanged ideas and writing prompts, warnings about what we could and should say, and what we definitely could not and should not say. We feverishly exchanged texts, giving advice and input on plans for the next day. They both planned on creating a space for their students to ask questions and engage in dialogue, mostly through image analysis, writing, and reflecting. They were readying themselves for what the day might be like, preparing for yet another day after.

One of my friends received an email from her superintendent in the late evening, reminding teachers that, although facilitating conversations is important, they must always follow Board of Education policy, which states that teachers are forbidden from promoting a “partisan point of view.” A partisan point of view? Our immediate thought was that, in these times, it seemed like the truth had become partisan. Regardless, a veteran teacher could easily ascertain the meaning: Don’t talk about what happened. Adding more confusion, the next day my friend received several emails from various building administrators who were incredibly supportive and encouraging, providing resources for dialogue and also for teacher self-care and care for students.

My other friend received a similar email from her superintendent, perhaps slightly less censoring, but no less consequential. She was encouraged to provide a safe environment for her students to dialogue, but to remain completely unbiased and calm. She said the email was accompanied with resources about remaining unbiased. It was laughable, really. The notion of remaining completely unbiased and calm was a big ask, an ask that we weren’t sure was even possible. After all, this wasn’t our first day after, and experience had taught us well. Young people are not stupid, nor are they walking blindly through the world. They are not self-absorbed, and they are not incapable of critically assessing the events unfolding around them. They are also incredibly attuned to the hypocrisy that adults around them practice, and they are quick to call us out.

When we touched base that next evening and debriefed on our days, I learned that their lessons had gone as well as they could have. Some of their students were so angry at the injustice that it was palpable; some of their students were clueless. Some students turned on their cameras for the first time in awhile; some kept them off, breaking from their norm.

These teachers were practiced in the day after. I was relieved that they had navigated their own emotions, the expectations of their schools and districts, and their students’ varying degrees of angst. I knew they would. But I could not stop thinking about how many teachers had struggled that day, and how many teachers were not prepared for a day after.

What are we doing to prepare our new and veteran teachers for the complexities of their classrooms, schools, and communities? How are we preparing them to contend with everything that students are bringing into the classroom? How are we preparing them to connect their classroom lives to all that is happening outside of their walls? How are we teaching them to look deep inside themselves for biases that might upend their ability to love and embrace their students and their experiences, experiences that might differ immensely from their own? I do not have quick, succinct, “a-ha” answers to these questions. But I do intend to keep asking them, to keep pushing my own pre-service teachers to consider what a day after might be like, what challenges might await them in their classrooms. Many people believe there should not be space in schools to talk about divisive events like the Capitol riots of 2021; that children and young people should be kept in the dark about the realities and complexities of the push and pull of democracy. I disagree. The kids are not in the dark. There will be another day after soon, and another after that. And those days will be hard. To pretend not to see the world around us and the ways our students are contending with their emotions, some of them suffering so deeply, would be turning a blind eye to what it is that calls us back into the classroom every day. I, for one, will continue to work with my friends and colleagues to meet the next day after with resilience, respect, and resolve.

Dr. Googins is an Assistant Professor of Secondary Education at Xavier University, where she teaches education methods and foundation courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. Her research interests include culturally responsive pedagogy, curriculum, and critical discourse analysis.

References

Fitzgerald, S. (2020, July 30). The internet wants to keep you ‘doom-scrolling.’ Here’s how to break free. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/coronavirus-doom-scrolling-stop/2020/07/29/2c87e9b2-d034-11ea-8d32-1ebf4e9d8e0d_story.html Justin [@JustinAion]. (2021, January 7).

A first year teacher asked me a question today. It shook me deeply. I will ask you. In your teaching [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/JustinAion/status/1347309286888779778

Successfully Teaching K-5 Online

By Queen Ogbomo and Stephanie Wendt
SPRING 2021

On March 13, 2020, most schools in Tennessee, like others around the world, were shut down because of COVID-19. Educators were left in limbo, unsure of what was going to happen next. For some, it was weeks before they were informed of what to do. Like one teacher said, “For me it was very frustrating not having clear directions on what we should be doing with our classes at first. Not just for teaching them, but even communicating with their families. I was worried about how my students were doing and the conditions they were going through” (Teacher 1, personal communication, 2020).

Teachers were left to fend for themselves during an unprecedented pandemic—without direction from administrators—and with many eyes looking to them for answers. No clear guidelines or expectations were given for teachers and families for several weeks. 

Two to three weeks following school closings, teachers were informed that instruction would be moving to online distance learning. Many teachers were in shock. This was unchartered territory. Both teachers and families were facing the reality that students would be learning at home together. While families are central to the education of their children (Burgess & Sievertsen, 2020), the question now was, how many of these parents or families have the skills and time to teach their children? How many of them have the technology at home, or even know how to use the technology, to successfully support their children? There were clear frustrations on the part of teachers with the rapid decision to transition to online learning. Were school administrators assuming that everyone involved had adequate Internet service and/or technology to support online initiatives, or that parents knew how to use the Google tools?

Like one teacher from Michigan said, “I feel like we were thrown into online teaching. We did get some quick basic training sessions on Google Classroom and Google Meets; basically, we had to learn by trial and error, just spending time on each” (Teacher 2, personal communication, 2020).

Recommendations for Teachers

1. Be flexible with instruction times.
Providing clearly written directions and video instructions within an online classroom is imperative for students’ and parents’ understanding of materials. Having these accessible will aid in student comprehension. 

2. A popular platform for many teachers and students is Google Classroom.
If this is what you’re using, list everything by week using topics, and include a “Resource Tools” topic at the top. The resource tools should include, but not be limited to, how to use Kami (online document annotation and markup tool), how to take a screenshot, and how to print assignments. 

3. Stay in regular communication with your students and their parents via email.
Email communication should be brief and include regular times for Zoom meetings by topic and days of the week. By establishing regular Zoom meeting times, students will become accustomed to a “class schedule” at home. When you schedule meetings, designate specific times for teaching concepts and having other meetings be strictly for question-and-answer sessions. Don’t require all students to attend the Q&As—just the students who have questions and need assistance or further clarification. Of course, all students should be required to attend Zoom meetings when you’re teaching new content. A suggested schedule might be meeting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In the morning on these days, hold required 1-hour Zoom meetings with students, during which you will teach content. Offer a 1-hour open Zoom meeting in the afternoons of the same days for students to attend on an as-needed basis. When you prepare for your meetings, write down a list of things you want to accomplish in your time with the students and always have a backup plan in case technology does not work. 

4. Keep your Zoom meetings as interactive as possible.
Show students how to use the microphone and video functions as well as the hand-raise and chat functions. During your first class meeting, set expectations for using these tools, as well as for behavior and dress code. Continue to reinforce these expectations as needed and communicate them to students and parents via email as well. 

5. Lastly, make the most of your Zoom sessions by incorporating different types of media.
Show videos—these can be teaching videos found online or ones you’ve prerecorded for classroom use such as read-alouds, science experiments, or direction videos. Students also enjoy playing games online to build community. These could be team-building activities that you would typically use as icebreakers. The goal is to make the online classroom as personal and engaging as possible.

Dr. Ogbomo is an Associate Professor at Tennessee Technological University. She teaches social studies, mathematics, and science methods courses. She maintains an active research agenda in minority and multicultural education, mathematics and literature connection, science and literacy, STEM education best practices, and online learning.

Dr. Wendt is an Associate Professor of Teacher Education at Tennessee Technological University. She teaches courses on science methods, field experiences, learning theory, educational technology, and grant writing. Dr. Wendt assisted educators and preservice teachers with transitioning to online instruction during COVID-19.

Reference

Burgess, S., & Sievertsen, H. H. (2020, April 1). Schools, skills, and learning: The impact of COVID-19 on education. VoxEu. https://voxeu.org/article/impact-covid-19-education