They say to make lemonade when life you gives you lemons, and 2020 sure gave us some practice with that life lesson. Between the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a contentious election, racial tensions and so many other heavy events, 2020 was a year full of proverbial lemons. But, as usual, educators across the country took it in stride and we are confident that the challenges of 2020 will lead to an educational landscape that is transformed for the better. In the midst of the chaos of the last year, educators have found unique and inspiring ways to connect with their students and continue on the path of academic and personal growth. We asked teachers nationwide to share the ways in which 2020 has made them better educators and we are excited to share some of the responses in this blog post.
Emphasis on Social Emotional Learning
The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts have brought attention to the importance of mental health for the young and old alike. For K-12 students, this has created great opportunities for educators to focus on social emotional learning. See how these teachers are approaching SEL:
“I am a middle school teacher and these challenges have made me “see” my students. I have always had a great connection with them but I feel as though this time I see beyond the four walls of my classroom. I see their struggles, their successes and their hopes. I have focused more on SEL this year and watched my kiddos blossom more as humans. I help them realize that history is more than just a story to read, history is now, history is what we are making at this moment and how do they want their story to be shown.” – Vanessa Hannah
“Being a middle school teacher during all of this had made me rethink a lot. In previous years it was all about teaching them what was needed and then relationships/connections were secondary. This year my focus has been on the kiddos as a whole. We need to understand that our kiddos are struggling every day with these new challenges given to them and if we as adults can’t handle it mentally how do we expect them to be able to. We talk about Covid and how it affects them both on a personal level (like not being able to be in class with all their friends or go to the store) and also on a historical level (which they need to be able to see). The more we talk to our kids about what is going on the less scared they are and the more we connect with them. I am one of the teachers that shares my own personal stories with my kids and I think that makes it easier for them to talk to me than some of the other teachers in the building.” – Heather Dalton
“One thing I’ve shown my students this year is how to lean in and keep at something until you make it work. They’ve seen me do it a hundred times when something goes off the rails with simultaneous face-to-face and virtual teaching & learning. That’s authentic problem solving, for sure.” – Allison McCord
Embracing New Technology
In March 2020, teachers, students and families were thrust into the world of digital learning with no warning. It has been inspiring to see how educators have embraced technology and found new ways to connect with their students.
“As a School Librarian I have had to learn other ways to keep my students reading since we are not allowed to check books out to them. A new skill that I have learned is how to make Bitmoji Libraries, which allow students to continue reading or listening to stories. If it were not for remote or hybrid learning I would have never learned about Bitmoji Libraries.” – Bonnie Gaus
“I am an elementary band teacher an in a “normal” school year everything that I do with my students is in person and very hands on. The impact of COVID-19 has affected what I do GREATLY. Because my students literally blow air to make music, I have not been allowed to teach any students in person. All of my lessons have been virtual since last spring. A benefit from having to do virtual music lessons is that my knowledge and skills on technology has vastly improved. While I am hopeful to get back to in person teaching at some point, I am excited to utilize these technology resources into my future teaching to meet the needs of ALL my students.” – Heather Taylor
Enhancing Relationships & Communication
The shift away from in-person learning has actually strengthened the teacher-student relationship in many cases. We are confident that stronger connections will have a positive impact on learning outcomes.
“I am a fourth grade elementary school teacher who is staying virtual with my students for the remainder of the year. This year has shown me the importance of meaningful connections with all of my students and made me work to strengthen them as we progress through the school year. My students need to feel connections with me and their classmates, despite the distance that separates us. I also have learned so much this year about the importance of small group work and how meaningful time in small groups can be. I cherish the connections I am making with my students and the determination they are showing as we move through the school year.” – Kimberly Castner
“For me, being a first year teacher, this year has made my expectations of teaching different. It has been a struggle with trying to understand the students and get a personal relationship with the mask wearing. There have been so many times where either me or the student will have to repeat themselves or write the question on the board. I think this challenge though has provided me with new ways to get closer to students and build a better way to communicate than just talking. So even though my first year of teaching is different than most teachers for their first year, I enjoy it and all struggles I overcome help me be a better teacher and mentor!” – Levi Moellering
“2020 has been a roller coaster but it has really made me focus on what matters most: Building relationships and making sure the students know you are there for them and care about them and their well-being more than anything. Yes, it has also helped me become more creative in lesson planning and reaching students virtually and face to face, but the true joy was in the little moments where we got to share lunch together virtually or share stories of how we are handling all the craziness that is going on. I truly feel like this year has helped me connect more with my students and put their well-being at the top of my priority list!” – Morgan Moellering
Engineering a New Classroom
2020 has forced us all to rethink our lives; and for educators, this means re-imagining the classroom. Read on to see the ways in which educators are redefining the traditional classroom and creating incredible opportunities for their students:
“I’ve had to be more creative in how I approach things. Kids sit in front of the screen all day now so I have to think of ways to measure learning without the screen. Everyone needs a brain break!” – Melissa Survinski
“I am a STEAM Teacher in North Carolina and getting students to participate in online lessons was extremely challenging at first! I tried many different creative ways to draw students in and engage them, but I finally found something that worked! I reached out to the host of LEGO Masters, Will Arnett, and he helped me create a LEGO building challenge for my students. He made two videos publicizing it and announcing the winners. My students were beyond excited to participate in something with him! We use LEGOs all the time in my class and this was something that we were able to connect with and it got them more interested in completing online STEAM learning!” – Amy Erb
“Seeing how big the digital gap is for our students has been really eye opening. Working with community partners to find creative ways to bring wifi, computer devices, school supplies and food to our students puts into perspective the many ways that education saves lives.” – Trish Roddy
As we head into a new year with an uncertain future, we hope these stories remind you that there will be a rainbow after the storm. In spite of the many challenges 2020 has thrown our way, we are inspired by the commitment, creativity and devotion of educators. We are confident that when the rainbow appears, education will have been transformed for the better.