The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 2)

In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 
This is the second installment in the series.

Emily Wills, BFA Fairfax Middle School Language Arts Teacher

A new rhythm to teach to….

My teaching and planning rhythm has changed quite a bit. It is challenging to plan for a half-hour of work, four times a week, and still feel as if I have any fidelity to our curriculum and high-leverage standards. However, I am also very mindful that I want students and families foremost to focus on health and well-being in this stressful time. I am adjusting by planning out roughly how a lesson would have proceeded in my 55-minute in-person class, and then getting creative about how I can reduce or alter work to hit at the most essential targets. I usually plan now for a full week at a time, since weekly plans are being sent home to families on Friday. I used to feel more nimble in my teaching and adjust the next day’s plans based on formative assessments and how today’s lesson went.  

Taking care…

One of my must do’s for self-care during this time is walking my dog.  Fozzie and I go out every day to stretch our legs, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. I usually do this as a break late-morning.  This also gives structure to my work day and gives my eyes a break from the screen. I stop checking school email at 7pm each night, because otherwise I just become glued to my computer and start to get headaches. I also need that stop time as a guideline for myself to “turn off” for the day. My students have the structure of me posting an update to Schoology each day with that day’s work, helpful links, and other information. It gets them into a routine like I would have in my classroom, listing the day’s agenda on the whiteboard. It also keeps me organized.

It’s new by design…

The new learning I have gained from this time is that I do some activities in my units of study that are not crucial for addressing the high-leverage standards or curriculum. They aren’t busy work, but they aren’t a streamlined way to teach and learn a skill. I have had to pare down what I do during this time of remote learning, and it’s giving me a new perspective on how to run my lessons when we’re back together at school. I will try to use more focused strategies, as I am being “forced” to do now. I also will go back to using humor and laughter as a tool to connect to kids, which is much harder to do over Schoology! 

JoAnn Harvey, GEMS Elementary STEM Teacher

Connect and learn….

I have really enjoyed getting the chance to thoughtfully respond to each of my student’s questions and comments. I would rather do this live, but this virtual teaching takes away the distractions of being in a large group and allows me to just “be” (virtually) with one student at a time. It has made me develop an ability to be more present and thoughtful. I am responding to all of students’ comments and questions in great detail, creating videos for them to respond to, and leaving voice memos. It’s a lot of putting things out there, and I’m not sure how it’s working. 

Missing so much…

I so miss interacting with my students, listening to their questions, building, creating and problem solving together. I miss their smiles and hugs. Teaching is all about connecting for me, and the human connection is gone for now. The greatest loss has been the physical energy that interacting with students provides me both emotionally and psychologically. The energy and responses, and sometimes non-responses, are what make how I teach work. It’s almost like doing stand-up without an audience. I always knew I was a social person, but now I realize how much I really need the feedback from students and the energy I get from interacting with students and colleagues on a regular basis. I just want to catch up and see everyone. I want to listen to all of their stories about how this whole experience went for them. I want to talk, play, and laugh together. Based on this experience, I know I will appreciate human interaction at a much deeper level than ever before.

Hopes and dreams…

I hope the big take-away is that the best instruction is instruction that integrates all content areas and connects to real life experiences–done in collaboration with colleagues, it’s possible!

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

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