While the challenges schools have faced during the pandemic are often portrayed in the media, some notable changes to practice have occurred. Each day I am in awe as I see innovation in action shared on social media, especially in the areas of blended, remote, and hybrid pedagogy. It goes without saying that there has also been a significant uptick in the purposeful use of technology. All successes, big and small, should be celebrated. In my work with school leaders, one of my goals is to push them to unearth these exemplars while also supporting teachers to grow and improve.
Recently I was facilitating some longitudinal coaching work with administrators from Paterson Public Schools in NJ. Leaders had been broken up into four different cohorts (elementary, middle, high school, and district supervisors). During a previous session, I assigned each leader some meaningful homework, which consisted of bringing an artifact to share with the group that showed growth in the area. During each conversation, it was empowering to see and hear the progress educators made in their schools. Therein lies what separates effective vs. ineffective professional learning. The latter is defined by one-and-done and drive-by touchpoints, while the former is ongoing, job-embedded, laden with feedback, and substantiated with evidence.
While each group shared amazing artifacts, I was blown away by the supervisor cohort. In particular, those who oversee Pre-K teaching and learning shared as a team with concrete examples. Then Stephanie Wright, the Supervisor of Early Education, provided us all with a bird's eye view of what Sofia Kadrmas was doing with her pre-K class. In a nutshell, she had replicated her real classroom in terms of how it looked and felt before the pandemic into a vibrant virtual environment. As I immersed myself in the experience, it was like I was in the classroom myself. I immediately begged Stephanie to get me permission from Sofia to view and share. Below you can see her work of art. The interactive classroom can be accessed HERE.
I was blown away and feel that this is the best example of a remote learning environment that I have seen in the field. Once I got access to it, I immediately set up a call with Sofia to ask her some questions and commend her on her efforts. My first question was in regard to how she learned to create this in Google Slides. She explained that she taught herself and always had a knack for technology. The other, probably obvious, question was how she had the time to create such a masterpiece. Her response was invigorating and the essence behind why teachers do what they do for kids. Sofia explained that she is passionate and motivated to help her students in any way that she can. Her goal was, and is, to create a fantastic experience for kids during this difficult time. She saw an opportunity during the pandemic and ran with it.
Below is Sofia's story in her own words:
When it was announced that our school district would begin the 2020-2021 school year fully remote, I knew it would be a challenge to engage my Pre-K students remotely while still adhering to developmentally appropriate practices and maintaining fidelity to our curriculum. One day I woke up with the idea that I could convert my physical classroom into a virtual format. As you will see in the Slides that have been shared with you, I've created a virtual classroom that accurately resembles Room #204 of Paterson Public School #28, complete with the same area rug, furniture, and interactive whiteboard. It also features a replica of the Tri-Fold Choice Time "Planning Board" I created last year. Clicking on it will redirect the viewer to an enlarged version of the board, including visual representations of the Interest Areas (or "centers"), which contain images of most of the same toys and materials that can be found in my classroom. The realistic aspect of my virtual classroom was intended to provide my students with a sense of familiarity with the physical classroom that they would hopefully someday enter in person.
My goal from the beginning was to create a virtual learning environment that would not only engage my students but also give them a reason to look forward to logging on for class each day. I do feel that I have accomplished this goal, as I have had several parents reach out to me in the last five months to express how much their child loves the resources I post daily. One of my students begs his mother to help him play the "games" that I post on my Daily Google Classroom Agenda almost immediately after the end of our live sessions. These are activities aligned with our curriculum that I have converted into Google Slides to draw my students into the lesson. I use them daily as my primary method of instruction so that both students and parents can efficiently utilize them outside of our live sessions as an extension of learning. I also heavily rely on the Google Translate Chrome extension to make these Slides equally accessible to my bilingual students' families and have posted many of my Google Classroom resources in three different languages.
It is essential to remind ourselves that these are unprecedented times we are living in currently. It's during times like these, especially when we must open ourselves up to the possibility that continuing to teach in the way "we have always done" may not be what's in the best interests of our students. Our profession is one that requires us to be lifelong learners. That includes the willingness to adapt to, as well as adopt new teaching practices as the world continues to transform around us. That is precisely what I set forth to accomplish this school year. I adapted.
My final piece of advice to all teachers in my position is this: Don't resist the change. Face your fears. Ask for help when you need it. It's never too late to learn a new skill, and you will never truly know the extent to which that newly acquired skill could benefit your students until you try it. The last several months have proven to me, beyond any doubt, that my "new way" of teaching is highly effective. My students are learning and growing every day, but most importantly, their smiles and laughter show me that they are having FUN in the process! That's more than enough motivation for me to keep pushing forward.
During the pandemic, so many teachers like Sofia have gone to great lengths for their kids. They have persevered in the face of adversity while embracing innovative approaches. Their example is to be celebrated.