I spent more time than I'd like to admit trying to conjure up an introduction for this article. I couldn’t quite find the words I wanted to say, so what I'll write is this: life is extremely challenging right now. We are experiencing this in both similar and different ways, and we're scared, sad, lonely, and (probably) bored.
There is no escaping these feelings, but what we want to share here are stories from the education community in the midst of a rapid transition to distance learning that made us laugh, gave us hope, or simply allowed us to forget the current circumstances for a moment. Good news still exists.
1. Opting for Student-Centered Learning
Will Ehrenfeld, a Social Studies Teacher in New York, quickly struggled with attendance and engagement in the new online learning environment his school deployed. To cope, he looked at this as an opportunity to revisit why he became a teacher and his personal mission.
“I thought about how to motivate students to complete work from their bedrooms or kitchen tables and how to get them excited about their learning when we have to fight through shaky connections just to see each other.”
So, after a week, he canceled classes opting to instead assign independent research projects, which he will collaborate on with students. In doing so, he is handing the power to the students and allowing them to ask, “what do I want to learn?”
Read more about how Will is teaching for equity during the pandemic.
2. Gathering in Socially-Distanced Parades
In San Antonio, 55 faculty members from a local school hosted a social distancing-approved parade where they rode through neighborhoods, waving to students in their homes and shouting messages of encouragement. The school's mascot even made an appearance.
Photo Credit: mysanantonio.com
3. Keeping Students Fed
Despite school closures, faculties are rallying to ensure students stay safe, healthy, and protected. The team at Kansas City School District is working tirelessly to pack thousands of daily lunches and distribute them to students.
Likewise, the Los Angeles Unified School District is also developing a meal distribution program to provide nearly half a million students with breakfast and lunch. To deliver the meals, the district has curbside pickup options for both cars and pedestrians (who are safely distanced when standing in line).
Photo Credit: laist.com
4. Printing Personal Protective Equipment
As protective gear for medical personnel on the front lines of this pandemic dwindles, districts are volunteering their 3D printers to manufacture this gear. At Cohasset Public Schools in Massachusetts, they are 3D printing masks as well as donating extra masks they have on hand from their shop classes and medical offices in the district.
In fact, the CTE teacher at Kannapolis saw this as an opportunity to engage students in real-life problem solving and demonstrate how robotics, engineering, and design skills are essential in times of crisis.
5. Reading Stories Over Social Media
To keep students engaged and promote critical skills like literacy, educators are turning to social media to read with students. For example, a principal at the Redmond School District in Oregon is reading to students via Instagram live.
And Nathan Sailor, a teacher in Ohio, recorded himself reading amongst his cows, who were seemingly loving the story!
Photo Credit: sidneydailynews.com
Children's authors are also joining and posting videos of themselves reading stories on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Check out this example with Eva Chen and her bestselling Juno Valentine series.
6. Putting Community First
To promote the feeling of community and support, Ashley Young, a social studies teacher at Learwood Middle School in Ohio, encouraged her 7th and 8th graders as well as other school community members to record three- to five-second videos of them reaching their hands to the left and right. She compiled the clips into this heartwarming video.
7. Ensuring Graduation is Still on the Horizon
One of the affected student groups are high school seniors who are left unsure if they will be able to graduate in the midst of school closures. Assuring them, the South Carolina Department of Education announced that students will get credit for the work they have already done and that the department will waive instructional hour requirements so closures are not an impediment to graduation. For those needing additional credits, it will also give seniors first priority for remote learning opportunities online.
The spokesperson for the Department of Education explained:
"This year has not been fair to them in letting them experience everything they would have been able to experience, but they will be able to graduate."
8. Coding a Virtual Graduation
Speaking of graduation, students in Virginia organized a virtual graduation for their peers using Minecraft.
Photo Credit: dailyprogress.com
9. Posting #TeachersofTikTok
Who said educators can’t Tik Tok? These teachers are creating Tik Tok videos to connect with their students and their fellow teachers as they collectively venture into online learning. Here are some that we’ve seen.
10. Letting There Be Music
Finally, two Middle School band directors from New Mexico’s Desert Ridge Middle School and Eisenhower Middle School teamed up to create a virtual concert.
They had their students record themselves playing different parts of the same song and pieced the clips together to create the concert we all needed right now. Let there be music!
What draws people to education is the desire to cultivate a better future – to support and empower today’s students. Crises, like this one, remind us of that.
There was a time before Covid-19, and there will be a time after. So, as the education community grapples with what to do in the present, there are also distinct moments of optimism when we are reminded that we are working toward that future, when Covid-19 will be a crisis of the past.
The present will not be easy, it will shape the future in unexpected ways, but there will be a future. And in these anxious and difficult times, that promise found in some of these stories shared here fills us with hope.