Tech & Learning's "COVID Diary" series follows educators and administrators as they share how their districts are handling teaching and learning during the pandemic.
Dr. Tracy Daniel-Hardy is Director of Technology at Gulfport School District in Mississippi, which has 6,500 students, 83% of whom are on reduced or free lunch. Classes are hybrid/blended, with a combination of face-to-face and virtual.
Tools being used across the district
Google Classroom, Canvas, Zoom, Kami, iReady, STMath, Edulastic, Edgenuity, Swivls with ipads and Lenovo Tab 8s, webcams, microphones, iPevo document cameras, Chromebooks, etc.
Our biggest challenges are balancing the teaching of students face-to-face in class with those students who are participating virtually in the same class and getting the virtual students and parents to take the virtual learning schedule seriously. Tardiness of virtual students is a pain point for some teachers. Interruption of virtual instruction by toddlers and/or parents is also a bit of a challenge.
What are the advantages of teaching in this environment?
Our hybrid/blended approach reduces the number of students who are physically sitting in our classes, which allows for greater social distancing than would be possible if all students were physically present.
Do teachers enjoy teaching in this environment?
I think the teachers prefer to teach the students in class physically OR to teach them virtually, but not both at the same time.
How are teachers being supported?
Our Virtual Learning Coordinator directly supports the teachers along with other members of the Department of Instructional Programs and Technology Support Services. Virtual teachers meet regularly to support one another, instructionally and emotionally. Several school administrators posted signs in the yards of their teachers and staff as encouragement and a show of appreciation. School counselors are giving happies, notes, and checking in on teachers weekly to support them.
How are you supporting your students?
Our teachers conduct wellness checks on virtual students while school counselors conduct wellness checks on their students. One virtual lead teacher had pizza delivered to the homes of virtual student leaders of the week and has planned a virtual ice cream social. Our high school held a mental health break with donuts, water, and mental health information for traditional students last week. Instead of just calling to check on students, counselors and teachers conduct video calls with students. One teacher sends positive referrals by USPS to virtual students, and has planned virtual field trips for her students. Another virtual lead teacher mails virtual goody bags home to her students and distributes "student of the week" yard signs.
How are you supporting parents and families?
Teachers communicate often with parents about their child's progress. The superintendent and assistant superintendent began making home visits to check on students and parents. School administrators, the technology department, the EL coordinator, and other school/district staff have made home visits to support virtual learning and to conduct wellness checks.
Did anything unexpected happen (good or bad) during remote learning that can now be used as a teachable moment for others?
PIVOT! :-) Be very flexible in your planning and be prepared to pivot because unexpected things WILL occur, and often at the worst moment. Our very detailed plans for the start of school for virtual learners began changing a couple of weeks prior to the start of school and continued to change until after the start of school. Some teachers who were trained to use our designated virtual learning equipment and programs chose to ditch those tools to use a simple document camera or Chromebook and Zoom to engage students. Others became rock stars using the Swivl and Zoom.
Anything else about your successes and challenges being an educator during the pandemic?
Although we have been in school since August 6, we are still learning and conquering. For many of us, trying to provide a quality and impactful education during a pandemic has been the most challenging thing we have done in our careers. BUT, it is all so worth it because we are on a quest to inspire our students to be problem solvers, lifelong learners, and productive members of society.
If you would like to participate in the COVID Diary series, please complete this form. Email Ray.Bendici@futurenet.com with any questions.