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Teachers share at-home learning challenges, opportunities

online learning

Families, students and educators received a crash course in at-home learning this spring, as schools across the country took the unprecedented step of closing their doors to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

For teachers in the HSD, this transition away from traditional, in-person classroom learning presents both a series of challenges and opportunities. We asked our teachers to share some of their experiences thus far, and here’s what they had to say:

What has the transition to distance learning looked like for your class?

Shawn Sears, Kindergarten: “Moving the learning of a traditional kindergarten classroom to an online format has been a challenging, yet rewarding experience. It is obviously an experience that doesn’t come without some bumps along the road, but thankfully my students and their families have been understanding, supportive and extremely resilient. Currently, my students and families use Schoology every day, as well as a classroom website I created to provide resources, daily lessons and assignments. This process is running smoothly now and is working for students, families and myself. The success of this current distance learning format would not have been possible without the support I have received from my grade-level teammates, as well as my school principal, associate principal and instructional coach.”

Anna Penttila, Algebra 1: “I have a folder for the week which includes a Google Slides document. These slides have everything the students need to do over the course of the week, and everything that is due on Thursday. Inside this same folder, students can turn in photos of their classwork and homework. Additionally, I have “office hours” over Zoom every day from 1 to 2 p.m. I have been uploading instructional videos on the slides so that students only have to go to one document to see their work and instruction.”

Beth Tugaw, ASB Leadership Advisor; Athletic Coordinator: “My students have worked hard to plan Color War, Tolo, the spring recognition assembly, prom, 8th Grade Move-up, Mr. Hockinson -- the list goes on. Now that those events are not taking place, we are working on building school culture while not being at school.  Our first projects were a video and a virtual ‘spirit week.’ We are constantly brainstorming new ideas to keep the Hawk spirit alive.”

What are your priorities as an educator as we move forward with at-home learning? 

Jade Scott, 9th Grade English: “My priority is making sure everything is clear. I give video directions and written directions. I also don't want to give students too much work; what I might imagine being 2 hours of work could be 3 hours for some students. I can't see their faces or talk to them if they look stressed; I can’t read their body language and know what they need, so I find myself focusing on making everything clear and giving an appropriate workload.”

Myke Pace, Counselor: “My main priority is looking after the social/emotional well-being of my students. I worry about the ones who are not engaged in their distance learning. It is also a priority, and challenge, to ensure that my students (seniors especially) are meeting all their graduation requirements in this new model.”

Corey McEnry, Band: “My priorities as we move forward are to keep people focused on the fact that this is only temporary and that the ideal performance-based situation is to be together in a room making music. Music is not meant to be made and enjoyed alone. Equal in my attempts to help students grow as individual musicians is to encourage them to stay positive and remind them of why they have chosen to be a part of our music program over the years. There is a reason why more than 1 in 6 students at the high school are part of the band. My goal is to keep our student musicians focused on the positives and keep an optimistic eye on the future when we can finally get back together and work as a team. We will keep up our communication, build and maintain relationships from a distance, and keep our memories of the past and goals for the future in the forefront of our minds.”

How has this experience changed your perspective? 

Kari DeBower, Algebra 2; Pre-Calculus; Computer Science: “I am so impressed with how so many of our parents and students have taken on this challenge of remote learning and excelled! This experience has highlighted how important it is for students to reach out and communicate with their teachers when they have questions and need help.”

Sally Drendel, 10th Grade English; Yearbook: “I realize how much I miss the daily interaction with students: the passing jokes, the “aha!” moments, the friendly interactions, etc. Also, I realize the importance of writing clear emails! When so many people are sending emails, sorting and responding is much easier when people keep it simple, concise, use bullet points and/or bold text for key parts. Perhaps this will all make us better writers!”

Shannon McCombs, 10th Grade ELA; Instructional Coach: “My perspective hasn't changed so much as my outlook, as I'm seeing opportunity for a shift to using technology to enhance instruction. We are able to enhance student learning opportunities. I can provide specific written or audio feedback that is attached to a specific part of a presentation. We can bring in presenters from a distance who can interact with our students. There are so many different possibilities. Now the limitations have become our own imaginations.”

What's your advice to families who are still trying to adjust to this model? 

Myke Pace, Counselor: “My advice is to try and get organized and have a routine. With families, many of whom have students at different levels, getting inundated with emails and other information, they need to have a way to keep it all straight. Also, stick with it. Students will start to get into a groove again much like they do at the beginning of the year after a long summer. And the most important thing: reach out if you are feeling overwhelmed, in over your head or at the end of your rope. There are many of us willing to empathize and help.”

Shawn Sears, Kindergarten: “My advice to families trying to adjust to this model of learning would be to just do the best you can, give yourself some grace, and know that reading, writing, math, social studies, and science skills are important, but not as important as a child’s emotional and social wellbeing. While many things in life are cancelled right now, things such as family dinners, family walks, board games, and family nights are not. These moments are just as valuable to a child’s development in life as any classroom assignment right now. When children feel safe, secure, nurtured, and loved they simply learn and develop better overall.”

Leslie Pershall, 9th Grade Health: “Take it day by day! Be patient with yourselves, your students and your teachers. If we all commit to doing our best, we will get through this! Our classrooms will be filled before we know it. We can’t wait to be with your kids again, we miss them more than we could ever express.”

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