The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 3)

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 third installment in the series.

Heather Brown, GEMS Grade 6 Language Arts Teacher

Clouds and silver linings…

Even though we are connecting with students everyday, my greatest loss is actually seeing all of my students everyday. I miss greeting them in the morning and when they enter my class. I miss having a student run up to me to share about their book or that they finished their book. I miss them giving me recommendations for books. I miss joking around with them. I miss seeing their smiles when they are celebrated. I miss sitting down next to them to help them with their assignments. It’s overwhelming to think about how much I miss them. There is so much you know and understand about your students when you are face to face with them. Are they having a good or bad day? Do they need something? It’s hard to know these things without seeing them everyday, without being able to read their facial expressions and their body language, without being able to talk with them and ask them how everything is going. I hope my students know their teachers are here for them if they need anything, even though we are not seeing them every day. I firmly believe families and teachers need to work together to educate the whole child. A silver lining to this remote learning is how the bridge between home and school has strengthened. Communication and parent involvement in their child’s education has increased dramatically. Families and educators have truly had to work as a team to navigate this new way of learning. Everyone has learned new tools to communicate with each other and learn together. I think as we move forward and beyond this difficult time, the home to school gap will have drastically narrowed. These relationships will emerge much stronger than they were as a result of this pandemic.

I wish I’d known…

I think about those last few days before school was dismissed a lot. Everything happened so quickly. I wasn’t prepared to only see half of my students that Monday after learning about the dismissal. I found it difficult to balance giving my students honest and realistic information, while keeping their worries at bay. I always say goodbye to my students when they leave school for the day, but for some reason, when I said goodbye that last day, I could feel it was going to be goodbye for a while. As I watched them walk down the stairs, I could feel emotions arising like it was the last day. If I had known, I would’ve wanted to tell my students how amazing they have been this entire year and how proud of them I am. I would’ve shared how much I was going to miss them and how confident I am in their abilities as they transition to seventh grade. And I would’ve made sure they took home more books! 🙂

Hopes and dreams for students…

I am so proud of the way our sixth graders have navigated this new way of learning. So many of them have matured and taken on this huge responsibility with ease.  I’m impressed with their independence and willingness to persevere through challenges on their own. I hope my students remember to take these skills along with them into their future, to remember this time, to remember they possess these skills deep within themselves, and that they can accomplish anything.

Lorrene Palermo, FES 5/6 Teacher

Looking back…

On March 17, our last day together, my students prepared materials for younger students to have during their learning at home, organized materials for those classmates who were not there, and prepared the iPads for future learning. It would be the last time those busy hands and chattering kids would be in our classroom; the last time I would hear the sounds of students for the remainder of the school year. Somewhere deep inside I just knew that we would not be returning to school to finish our year together, but I put that feeling aside and hoped that we were. COVID-19 changed everything that day. 

Finding balance…

We all went home, and for four weeks I tried to find a balance with work and home. During our Maintenance of Learning phase, I worked hard to make contact with all my students via a phone call and lots of messages in Schoology to assure them that I was still there for them. My work days became longer and more stressful because of the amount of screen time.  Not having a set schedule made it so that days started to blur together. Some days were better than others, but many days I found myself emotionally drained by noon. Those were the days I needed to disconnect from technology and go outside and get fresh air or just go take a nap. Once expectations were set for the Continuity phase of our remote learning, I was able to put a plan in place and find my teaching rhythm again. Planning is becoming more fluid. and I am working hard to utilize my colleagues, my village, to support my needs and those of my students. The staff meeting is now a highlight in my week to see friendly faces who understand what I am going through. 

Finding joy in the smiles and voices of children…

Just before spring break I returned to school to make copies and gather materials for teaching and found the silence of school, during what would have been a normal day, to be unsettling. No school should ever be quiet. While I was there I had picked up some artwork for some of my sixth grade students who were working on an art project they had started with the guidance counselor. With art and paint, I set off to the students’ homes and dropped off the supplies so they could finish while they were at home. The smiles on their faces said it all. Seeing my students each week via a virtual meeting or just talking on the phone is what has brought me joy during this unprecedented time.

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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