Teachers as Lifelong Learners, Now More True Than Ever: Fall Successes from the Classroom

By Paloma Cotton-Herman

The Covid-19 pandemic brought “learning as usual” to a halt in the spring of 2020, causing teachers and administrators to shift plans and routines with little to no runway for planning.

Throughout the ensuing months, teachers collected ideas from colleagues and online resources, as well as performed their own testing and iteration. Nearly six months after the start of virtual learning, though no one would claim expertise in the new format, our member schools began sharing successes from their experiments.

Though many challenges of teaching and learning during Covid endure, we have heard of so many shining moments from the start of the 2020-2021 school year that we reached out to Elevate member schools for more anecdotes from the elementary and middle grades. We hope that sharing some of these positive moments, of which we know there are many more across schools nationwide, will inspire other educators both during this school year and into post-pandemic teaching.

Taryn Kook-Clark and Natalie Sullivan

Nashoba Brooks (MA), Kindergarten Teachers

A big success from this fall was virtually recreating our iconic “Night Magic” culminating event. Night Magic is a memorable Nashoba experience, and we wanted to make sure that these Kindergarten students would feel the same way. We started by making sure we named the “must haves” that define the event: a sharing of understanding, a singalong community feel, collaborative attitude of all teachers and specialists, an interactive experience, and of course, s’mores! Knowing those non-negotiables, we then went to work to plan. The result was more successful than we could have imagined. The students shared one interesting fact that they wanted to teach, using Chatterpix. Parents and older siblings joined, we read poems in Spanish, sang songs, and of course, enjoyed kits of s’mores and hot chocolate that we sent home. We even surprised the kids by having a real owl join us!

Liz Stocksdale

The Willows Community School (CA), Science & Math

One of the things I have done during distance learning has been to “flip” my classroom for math. I am teaching Algebra, which meets every day, and since Zoom is such a hard format to evaluate whether students are truly engaged, I decided that instead of giving directed lessons during class and then giving them homework to do on their own, I do the opposite. I make videos (anywhere from 10-20 minutes long) for each lesson and release them about 18-24 hours before the next day’s class. The students are expected to watch the videos before our next class, and then I have them start the “homework” in class. This way I am available to help answer any questions they have about the video lesson as well as if they have questions for any problem on the assignment. Then, their only homework is to watch the next day’s video and take notes. I realized that this helps students who need to stop and rewind or slow down to take notes, but it also allows facile learners to move quickly through the lesson and not get held up by a slower classmate. And now I have a whole collection of videos available if I want to use them again next year! On the tech side, I use Loom to screen record and Notebook software on an iPad to make the lessons.

Robin Lentz

The Hewitt School (NY), Lower School Visual Arts Teacher

I have always prioritized emergent curriculum, what is interesting to both me and the girls. For this reason, I don’t tend to redo projects but see what is engaging for this class of students. We moved quickly from hands-on, exploratory projects at school to the Zoom space, with no art materials (particularly after I discovered through a poll that the students had zero art supplies in common in their homes). I wanted to maintain the same level of student agency in the virtual space as in the classroom, so one idea that stuck was creating a “Virtual Art Room”. As I wrote on the site, “My goal for you is to watch some of the videos below, try whatever you like, and find ways to keep creating artwork at home”. The girls were able to explore a concept at their own pace, or review one many times if they liked. I linked to the virtual space in Seesaw, and they engaged with it outside of our synchronous class time.

Kate Smallberg

Columbia Grammar & Prep (NY), Grammar School Math Coordinator

All of the teacher “moves” I knew were in person and physical. But I was able to find success trying out some new moves. One thing I turned to during virtual learning was purposeful content creation, modeling strategies for other teachers and as empowerment to try something new. I also created montages in order to make teaching more visible to parents. I found myself more easily able to be in multiple places at once in the virtual space, so I was able to watch other teachers teach. As for students, I used videos to pose questions (that I did not answer), trying to get away from the myth that they have to be purely instructional.

I also am in conversation here with a fellow math educator about number strings and share some concrete strategies about student collaboration in the virtual space.

Ann Istrin

The Willows Community School (CA), MS Science

I try to do as many hands-on activities as possible for Science. I sent home a science kit for our Crime Scene Unit that was used to conduct the experiments that analyzed the evidence left behind on the crime scene. The kit had 3 levels with compartments for each lab. I sent home everything needed to conduct the experiments (including tape, pencils, notecards). I wanted to make it as easy as possible for the students to conduct the labs. They recorded their observations in Google Classroom and submitted their work to me. They loved the unit and their science kits.

Katie Oetinger

Inly School (MA), Children’s House 4 Lead Teacher

We found ways to organize both the classroom and materials so students could keep a safe distance. The room is laid out so that each child has their own little “corner”. We also have a rolling cart, where we place all materials that might need to move to our second indoor space during the day, and a wagon, where we place materials that might need to be rolled into our outdoor space. Outdoors, there is lots of great gross motor work, and full body learning happening. Children receive initial handwriting lessons on a giant blackboard outside, which of course develops their entire body for better handwriting. Children are breaking down sentences, syllables and sounds in words while jumping on tree cookies, where usually children would just tap these out on their arms or by clapping. Children are studying science while naturally observing nature around them. As educators, we know that children need to develop and work their bodies before we can expect them to sit in a circle, hold a pencil, etc, so it feels like such a gift that they have a space that encourages big movement and heavy lifting.

Marissa Weiss

The Willows Community School (CA), Upper Elementary

We have sent home a lot of kits. For example, students have received bags that include all of the materials they need to make Oobleck or slime. On Zoom, we meet them in their kitchens, and we make the substance together. Then we explore their properties – the color, shape, smell, texture, its behavior. How does it move? Can you form a ball? We have had slime contests where we see who can stretch the slime the furthest. Slime races – whose slime drips out of their hands first. We then ask why this happened, which gets them to think critically. We have them fill out lab sheets as well, but the discussions have been great! Our science has been most successful because we have been able to recreate hands-on activities. The kids absolutely love it. Overall, the way we design the day is thinking about how to make less time for them just staring at the screen and more time for them engaging in an activity and learning hands-on.

Jamie Truax

Virgin Islands Montessori & Peter Gruber International Academy, MS Mathematics, Humanities, and Design Teacher

I think my biggest success teaching in a COVID19 world is that I communicate clearly with teachers, students, parents, and colleagues. This may mean that I need to type out the directions word for word to post on our online learning platform, ManageBac. Or, that I have to send personalized emails to students with instructions or documents via email who are participating on Zoom. Or, that I need to be flexible with when students can turn in their work because they have a poor internet connection. Specifically, consistency in communication has been a savior in my new teaching world. It may not be perfect, but teachers are working their hardest every single day to ensure the students get the best education, whether online or face to face. The mantra for the year has been adapt, adapt, and adapt some more.