As we navigate under this new “normal,” we see the resilience of teachers all around us. In a moment’s notice, schools rewrote, revamped, and readjusted lesson plans to accommodate remote learning. At South Marshall Middle School in Benton, Ky., we are emphasizing the importance of getting back to the basics for teachers and students. Below, I share the six “R’s” that are guiding my mindset and teaching to ensure my students feel a continued sense of belonging, support, and encouragement.
As parents became more entrenched in their child’s learning, society is discovering revitalized respect for teachers. But, this time is also proving that teachers aren’t only important in education, they’re essential. No online curriculum can ever replicate the effect of human interaction and the teacher-student relationship.
First and foremost, it’s about maintaining relationships. When the governor of Kentucky made the announcement to close the school building, my co-workers and I began preparing for non-traditional instruction. Through personalized learning and the utilization of the Summit Learning program, we knew our students understood self-directed learning, time-management, goal-setting, and perseverance. Our biggest concern was how to continue the social-emotional component. How would we maintain those already established relationships and bridge face-to-face mentoring into distance mentoring? I decided to write personalized letters to each of my 25 mentees. I told them how much I missed seeing them in class and how proud I was of them this year. I encouraged them to finish strong, and I looked ahead to next year when we hopefully are able to return to the school building. These letters were in addition to Zoom meetings, phone calls, e-mails, texts, Summit messages, Google Form questionnaires, Remind texts, and Google Classroom announcements.
We then established routines and norms for our students. Fridays became mentor check-in day. Students chose to attend the morning or afternoon session, and we took the time to stay connected. The kids told stories. We met siblings, parents, and more pets than we can count. We discussed goals for the upcoming week, and one of our mentors held a scavenger hunt of household items. Most importantly, we maintained the mentor-mentee bond and showed an interest in even the most minute details of their lives. For my own sanity, I also established routines for communication. I posted instructions the evening before. During the morning hours, I called parents and students missing multiple days of work. Around 1 p.m., I sent check-in messages to parents and students if that day’s work was still incomplete. Finally, around 5 p.m., I sent a final message to any student still missing that day’s work. This kept me in constant contact with students and parents and allowed me to know if students were struggling with any of the work.
As we navigated non-traditional instruction, we learned to step back and reevaluate what is most important and cut out non-essential items. Guess what? Data and test scores didn’t make the cut. We thought about the safety and well-being of students. We thought about the quiet kid in the corner who needed extra attention each day or the “trouble-maker” who needed some extra encouragement. Having our already established mentor relationships allowed us to transition to remote learning much easier and know the needs of our students.
Next, we reduced the size of assignments. Fifty minutes of class time did not translate to 50 minutes of work at home. It is simply not the same. Many of our students helped younger siblings, shared computers, or couldn’t work on assignments until later in the evening because of wifi issues. We quickly realized the projects and assignments needed to be simplified to maximize learning and minimize stress.
This is new to everyone. We made mistakes from the start. We stepped back, apologized, adjusted, and started over. It’s the same cycle of self-directed learning we teach our kids to use. What better time to model this as adults. Kids are resilient. Any academic content knowledge missed during all this will be temporary. But the Habits of Success they are exploring right now like time management, growth mindset, and a sense of purpose, will last a lifetime.
While this Fall is still uncertain, I am certain that the six “R’s” – respect, relationships, routines, reevaluation, reduction, and reflection – will continue to guide me throughout the Summer and into the Fall as I nurture and create new ways to serve our students beyond the classroom walls.