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Near or Far as a TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More

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TEAM is central to my philsophy of teaching and learning. Through 18 years of teaching, I have found TEAM supports learners develop a sense of belonging to their learning community, which is essential for their social, emotional, and cognitive flourishing.

During the COVID-19 crisis maintaining TEAM has been an essential aspect of ensuring ongoing education provision.

TEAM at a Distance

Professional Community Connection

With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis school staff were quick to mobilize. It was an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to support the transition to distance learning. In the first instance, all children were issued Chrome books to take home for the duration of the crisis, and staff development sessions enabled teachers to make the transition to online learning using Google Classroom. These sessions began in a face-to-face environment and transitioned to online as the ‘Stay at Home’ orders were issued. The strength of our professional community emerged in these early days, as colleagues supported one another making the transition, learning new instructional tools, and discussing how to support learning at a distance. From the Suite of Google Apps, teachers adopted Google Classroom, Google Meet, and JamBoard. Within Google Classroom, Google forms are used for quizzes; videos and interactive online activities from Educational support sites like EdPuzzle, Legends of Learning, ABCYa, and YouTube support learners engage with content.

Weekly Google Meet staff meetings have been an asset – promoting teacher and staff well-being, through opportunity to de-stress, share worries and successes, get Education updates, and to reboot for the week to come. These have highlighted for me, the importance of maintaining a strong professional community connection in order to ensure continued teaching and learning.

Professional development (PD) has been available in-school and at district level. Our school Director of Technology and Media, and the district level Technology Integration Specialist have provided 1:1 and small group instructional support on various technologies via ZOOM and Google MEET. I have benefitted directly, learning how to use Flipgrid, Screencastify, and Google Slides to integrate stop animation into my programming.

A strength of this PD support has been the openness to individual interests. My interest in establishing a District-wide Professional Learning Community Forum has been readily embraced by the District Tech., who acted immediately, setting it up for elementary teachers. Teachers can access the space to support one another through professional discussion and shared practice-related experiences.

 

Building Community through Parental Connection

I have used technology to develop TEAM-like connections with parents. A key part of TEAM has been working with parents to help them become comfortable and connected with the new learning environment. ‘Google Class tours’ using Google Meet, regular emails, and timely Google Meet drop-in sessions allow parents to connect with me to provide feedback, ask questions, and to troubleshoot dilemmas. Parents have become ‘class members’ to Google Classroom and ClassDojo, where they can track their children’s activity and see a portfolio of  their children’s work. Strong parent-teacher-child partnerships have been a tremendous asset to the success of online learning.

 

Nothing Like Routine: Keeping Students Connected

Developing an online TEAM with the children has been essential to ensure their ongoing learning. Routine has been an important element. Children use Google Classroom to access their daily schedule, and lesson activities. We meet every morning for our Morning Meeting, which involves many of the same routines that defined our first 30 minutes of ‘normal’ in-class activity.  Adding to this, ClassDojo has been an invaluable resource to maintain a focus on working together. I can take attendance, share videos that support Social Emotional Learning topics; use positive incentives; and create student portfolios. All of these features mirror routines the children had in the classroom, which has supported maintaining their class-connectedness.

As a school, we have developed a Daily News programme, written and hosted by our P.E. teacher. This program continues the routines that defined the beginning of our in-school, school day including birthday announcements, certificate awards, prayers and Pledge lead by 6th Graders via video recording.  The Daily News hosts photos that children send in, showcasing activities they have participated in and work that they have completed. It is a valuable sharing time that consolidates our connectedness as a community.

 

A Different Way to Teach

This crisis has certainly challenged my creativity, innovation, and flexible approaches to practice. It has underscored the importance of continued professional learning. Adopting a distance learning approach with children has demanded complex thinking – trying to ensure the social, emotional aspects are included; trying to be sure the children are connected as learners; and trying to introduce new concepts with tools that don’t always support practices essential for children’s learning, takes resilience, constant reflection, and a willingness to ‘have another go’!

 

Wendee White

5Th Grade Elementary School Teacher, Syracuse, NY, USA

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This piece is part of the Teacher Task Force’s #TeachersVoices campaign, created to bring forward the experiences of teachers working every day to ensure their students continue to benefit from a quality education despite the COVID-19 pandemic. To participate, go to our dedicated webpage.