Little girl looking at computer where it shows teacher teaching a lesson.

Samantha Poleon is a middle school teacher in Manitowoc and MS-Education Literacy graduate student at Concordia. She reflects on virtual learning thus far in 2020.

Piece written by Samantha Poleon:

Unless they are working for a virtual school, virtual, distance, and online are not words any teacher thought they’d use to describe teaching in their career.

At Wilson Middle School in Manitowoc, WI, teachers are working diligently to make the most of the experience for their students. With two days to prepare before online learning began in the spring, as many teachers across the country experienced, there was little time to be fully trained in any aspect of online learning. The focus has always been students, but even more emphasized now is the need to take care of students. Our administrators have talked about the importance of taking care of all parts of the student, not only their education, and connecting with them in any way possible as frequently as we can. We want to make sure that mentally and emotionally, they are thriving the best that they can because, without it, it would be difficult for students to focus and engage completely in their distance learning. As teachers, we are working to connect with each student weekly in any way we can, whether it be Google Meets, emails, letters home, or phone calls.

In spring, each teacher created and added students to a Google Classroom if they did not have one already running for their class. Core content area teachers posted daily lessons for students to engage in their class. Electives or classes that would meet every other day or on a three day schedule posted lessons for the days that they would have typically seen the specific group of students. The lessons are typically twenty minutes in length; each students’ school work for the day should’ve taken them approximately three to four hours. Once assignments were submitted, teachers could choose how to give feedback to students.

Feedback varied. The feedback could be in individual comments, whole class notes, video recorded whole class comments, small group/individual Google Meets, or whichever means the teacher thought was most effective for students.

Many teachers have Google Meet weekly schedules for the students to view live lessons, ask questions, receive help, interact with their classmates, or get any support they may need. Specialists are able to support their students by creating their own Google Classroom, working with students through a core teacher’s Google Classroom, or through Google Meets scheduled with the students they service.

To ensure that students are not falling through the cracks, the Student Support Team, made up of administrators and counselors, created a contact document that is editable to all teachers in the school. In the document, teachers notate any communications or attempted communications with students and families to discuss issues with engagement in distance learning. If teachers’ communication attempts are unsuccessful or there are many notes of communication to one student from teachers, the Student Support Team also begins working to contact the student and their family along with the teachers. In this way, we are reaching out to families and students in a variety of ways and from many different staff, checking in to make sure that they are doing well and determining if they need anything to help be successful in this time of distance learning.

Teachers at Wilson are relying on their teams and other staff members more than ever; conversations are constantly being had about lessons, engagement, student contact, parent contact, and next steps. We have continued the professional learning community (PLC) weekly team meetings, allowing teacher teams to maintain the work that was being done while we were in physical school. In these collaborative meetings, we are ensuring that students are being provided with the best possible instruction that we can give them during this time, that we are working to maintain learning, and that students are being connected with as much as we can.

While many teachers did not expect to become virtual instructors in their career, it is safe to say everyone is making the most of it. Teachers at Wilson Middle School are working diligently to ensure students are learning in a variety of ways during a difficult time in our world. They are not only ensuring learning for students, but connections with students; teachers are making sure that students know that we are here for them and support them through each connection that is made.

Samantha Poleon is a current graduate student in the MS-Education Literacy program at Concordia. The Literacy program is offered online and students can start every 8 weeks.

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