Tyler Sarlouis quickly realized that he needed his fifth-grade students to view him as more than a teacher during this unprecedented school year.
“It was important to show them that teachers are humans, too,” said Sarlouis, who teaches math at Greater Johnstown Middle School in Johnstown, Pa. “We’re humans and we have bad days and good days, just like them. Not everything is about school this year.
“We talk a lot with each other about how we have to try our best to use bad times and flip it over into something positive.”
Similar relationship-based teaching methods have taken place across the country at Summit Learning partner schools during a year that has been altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The mentoring component of the program has taken on a greater meaning for teachers and students as they’ve been able to share their feelings while experiencing the year together.
“It’s been beneficial for us because we get to understand a little bit more about their side and what their struggles are,” said Willie Vang, an eighth-grade English teacher at Tioga Middle School in Fresno, Calif. “It’s been especially enjoyable when students are proud of themselves and they let you know that you’ve done something to impact their lives.”
The positive impact teachers have had on their students in the 2020-21 school year has been immeasurable. As we kick off Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s take a look back at previous Summit Learning stories that showcase the many ways educators have kept students engaged over the past 12 months, regardless of the learning environment.
We understand that a sense of community is a big part of school, so we created accounts with Zoom and each selected a day to conduct a video conference with any students that required additional support or if they just wanted to log in to say “hello.” These are hard times for students and families. Despite the circumstances, the educators at Henry Snyder High School are dedicated to ensuring students continue to have access to quality education beyond the four walls of the classroom.
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.
Throughout last spring, teachers at Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy (HFCA) posted a weekly “Friday Shout-Out” video on YouTube dedicated to their students.
“Hey HFCA! I hope everyone’s staying safe,” said Math teacher Amy Webb during the March 20 video that wrapped up the first week of distance learning for the Milwaukee, Wis., public charter school.
“It’s making me feel like we’re still connected even in this really weird time,” said Social Studies teacher Courtney Steggall, who proceeded to “shout out” several students who interacted with her online posts and showed curiosity in their work.
Enter March 2020 and “The Covid Shuffle.” It became a minute-by-minute dance: two steps back, one step forward, two spins left, and now hurry up and repeat. We were all forced to learn this shuffle in the moment – seemingly in the dark – with the tempo ever-changing mid-move. As the days and weeks passed, something quite interesting happened for me. The abrupt change in our school day and the need for creativity with our interactions turned this into an exciting opportunity. We were forced to shift from what we knew and how we went about it. There were times when it felt like we were failing, but the learning continued for all of us.
With Summit Learning, we have intentionality in building strong student relationships and focusing on the Habits of Success. This will help ensure that our students gain the skills to manage the same high expectations we had previously, despite being in a new environment. I enter this new year with gratitude in being part of this community that was prepared for us long before there was an immediate need. And I’m reminded that IDEA Toros has never been about the building.
It has always been about the people.
As Adam Mogilevsky researched potential projects to teach remotely last spring, any initial panic he felt was replaced by inspiration. Mogilevsky, a seventh- through ninth-grade Humanities teacher at Ryan Banks Academy in Chicago, found himself drawn to a Summit Learning project called “Justices and Injustices.”
“Because of the pandemic I knew I had to get creative and think, ‘What’s going to pull them in, engage them and essentially inspire them to speak on things that touch their hearts?’” Mogilevsky said. “And luckily Summit had this unit that I hadn’t seen before. I read through it and was like, ‘Yes, we can definitely do this.’”
Mogilevsky was excited by the “Justices and Injustices” project because it accomplished his goal of providing equitable education virtually in an engaging way. He loved the idea of using examples of injustices from the past to show students the power of taking action to pursue justice in the present.
Using Summit Learning’s mentorship program, Kairos Academies has thrived in keeping students engaged in their learning and willing to discuss their feelings about life with their coaches. That emphasis on building strong student-teacher relationships recently received the national spotlight when NBC’s “Today Show” visited Kairos Academies in St. Louis, Mo.
“I feel like we have the model,” Today host Hoda Kotb said. “Someone has done it right. That was something none of us had back in the day.”
Being a teacher this school year can be sink-or-swim, but being a student largely depends on the teacher offering them a safe harbor. When we started our year, we knew it would be different. And the changes began immediately. Mentor teachers became the crux of beginning and ending every day. To keep classroom sizes down, mentors took on various roles – from paraprofessionals, to administrators, to classroom teachers. Keeping students safe was a top priority for our administrators at Chester County Junior High School in Henderson, Tenn.
Chrysantha Norwood’s living room is no longer the place she relaxes in after a long day of teaching.
“This is my classroom now,” Norwood said, laughing. “But this is life and we’re all making the best of it.”
Norwood, a sixth-grade teacher at Distinctive College Prep-Harper Woods in Harper Woods, Mich., has turned her living room into a space filled with learning. She’s within arm’s reach of at least 75 books from her remote learning desk and will often grab one during a conversation to illustrate a point.
“I want to encourage them to read, read, and read some more,” Norwood said. “I want them to think of books not just as something related to learning, but as related to living. How you can go anywhere in the world by just opening up a book.”
One Year Later: From Shutdown Stress to Academic Success, Teachers and Students Navigated ‘Whirlwind’ Year Together
There is plenty of hard work ahead, but the one-year mark of the COVID-19 shutdown has served as a powerful reminder that it’s been a collective effort from school leaders, teachers, students, and parents to make the 2020-21 school year as engaging as possible. Kelsey Tackett, who teaches science at South Floyd Elementary School in Hi Hat, Ky., recently received some positive affirmation in an unexpected setting outside of school hours.
“A parent stopped me at the grocery store and said, ‘I don’t feel like my eighth-grade student has had any less of an education than he would have if he were in-person,’” Tackett said. “That was one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever heard. That feels really good that we’re pushing ourselves to step up and make sure that our students are having a full, well-rounded education.”
“If nothing else, the situation created due to the pandemic has given us the opportunity to try new strategies and approaches to learning,” Reding said. “I always frown when I hear someone say, ‘I can’t wait until it’s back to normal.’ At Russellville Middle School, we don’t necessarily want to transition back to normal. I think in certain ways our experiences this past year have been a breath of fresh air and allowed for shifts in mindset.”
Over the past year of remote and hybrid learning, we’ve heard countless stories of teachers, school leaders, and students who are continuing to make learning fun, strengthen relationships, and think outside the box during trying times.