Teaching and Learning During COVID-19: Boston EdTalks (Part 2)

This year's Boston EdTalks fellows open up about the challenges and opportunities of teaching and learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

May 4, 2020

Boston Ed Talks 2019 group
This year's Boston EdTalks, originally scheduled for May 7, has been postponed due to the pandemic.
Teachers’ worlds have turned upside down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond having to suddenly adjust curriculums and schedules accordingly, many teachers are finding themselves in a pickle as their classrooms are now confined to the computer screen. Connecting with students, families and other educators who have wide variety of needs and capacities is proving to be challenging, but also an opportunity for growth.  

We spoke to some of our 2020 Boston EdTalks fellows about how they’re navigating teaching and learning in this time of uncertainty. We’d like to thank each one of them for taking the time to share their experiences and best practices with us.  Read part 1 here.

4. Administrators: What have your days looked like since schools have closed? If you are supporting teachers and/or students, a) in what way are you doing so and b) what are some of the areas of support that you see are needed the most?  

“It has been meeting after meeting, trying our best to understand the situation as it unfolds. With so many variables, one change can disrupt an entire plan that you might have just developed. Leaders have shared best practices via documents, and emails, texts, and phone calls. It's been very interesting being a first year in this situation, but thank goodness for the internet and a strong network of caring educators.” - Gavin Smith, Fenway High School  

“The support I'm providing is very individualized, at this point. Not all teachers have fully adopted some of the newer digital tools, either because they hadn't readily meshed with their classroom pedagogy or work flow, or they just hadn't been interested, or they never developed the digital skills or confidence that were needed to meaningfully adopt the tools. So, the support I'm providing is really meeting people wherever they are at -- skillswise and adoption-wise. In practice that takes a lot of time, as it makes for long emails and video chats. But it's not really about efficiency to me at this point, because I think it's important that this isn't just a time of frustration (though there's certainly a lot of that), but also an opportunity for educators to gain digital skills and confidence. When a colleague will contact me because they’ve hit a wall and aren’t sure how to do what they want or need to do, I really try to take the time to model my own thought process, and say out loud all of the questions I'm asking myself to figure out how to solve the problem they have posed.” - Michelle Ciccone, Foxborough High School  

5. In what ways do you think the education system has and/or has not prepared for school closure during the school year? If you feel like the education system was not prepared for school closure, what better preparation do you think was needed?  

“Preparation of the school system to respond to a school closure is something that definitely varies by school. School districts that engaged in virtual learning platforms prior to the school closure were able to develop distance learning plans much faster than districts who did not. One area that did rise to a level of concern regarding preparation was how schools were able to provide meals to students who relied on free breakfast or lunch while at school, or technology to students who did not have computers or internet and needed to engage in virtual learning. Another way schools have had to adjust was to determine how to return student's prescriptions to them if students were taking medication at school during the day. One way that the school system can continue to address some challenges in light of the closure is to consider the needs of bilingual families who are supporting their students to engage with distance learning that may be in their non-dominant language. How are schools making distance learning accessible in multiple languages and to these families?” - Becky Muller, KIPP Academy  

“It has been extremely hard to go digital, and create expectations about work that is done at home. I believe that we have repeatedly said that our students home experiences don't always allow for productivity at home, so many students do not view home as a place to do work, and many teachers share that same mindset. It is now hard to make that shift, and accountability as well as expectations are hard to shape in a week or two. I hear similar stories from my high school and college students who are taking care of younger siblings who just don't want to do the work. I think that's okay though as many articles have suggested, there has to be balance and an understanding that people’s situations vary greatly, whether it's the children we serve, or the adults with children, families and responsibilities of their own. We all know that technology integration will now be more of a focus. The question from an equity lease now becomes: how do we ensure that our students have 1:1 computers/technology and also internet - things that proved to be signs of privilege are now clearly viewed as necessities.” - Gavin Smith  

“We had no time to prepare. If we did, I would have given my students books and other materials. We saw our students on Thursday, and classes were called off that evening. Many of my students don’t have devices or internet access, so my school worked tirelessly to try to provide both. Teachers weren’t trained on distance learning, but most of us jumped in to help one another learn about platforms like Meet and Zoom. It’s been frustrating sometimes—I spent HOURS making a PowerPoint slide presentation only to realize that it was too large to upload, and I had to do it all over again using another platform. One of my colleagues created a Facebook group for quarantined teachers, and we’ve bounced ideas off one another and posted resources. I get about 5 phone calls from colleagues a day, and we are helping each other through this.” - Nancy Barile, Revere High School  


6. What are some of the best practices/innovations that you find yourself following as an educator during this time?  

“As the Technology Integration Specialist, I would imagine that some people might think that my MO during this time would be, “Hey, check out this cool tool! And here’s another!” But actually, much of the time I find myself advocating for slowing down and simplifying. This is not the time to adopt a whole bunch of new stuff; this is the time to prioritize. I also am really leaning on the dispositions I developed during the five years I worked in the nonprofit world, which gave me a spirit of “we’re going to figure this out, let’s roll up our sleeves and problem solve.” That doesn’t mean you have to make the impossible happen, but it means that there’s always a way forward.” - Michelle Ciccone  

“As an English Language Arts teacher, I’ve tried using learning platforms like NewsELA, which provides excellent and high-interest readings, quizzes, and writing assignments. I thought students would like them, but the response has not been as good as I’d hoped. I’d advise all teachers to try and reach out to students via a platform like Zoom so they can SEE their students. That really makes a difference. Sometimes students just need to talk to an adult about what is happening, too, and so the face-to-face meetings give students an opportunity to chat and share experiences. Teachers should set guidelines for these online meetings. Some teachers have told me that they’ve had students playing X-box during their meetings or lying in bed. I’ve explained to my students that in the business, corporate, and collegiate world, they’ll have to do Zoom meetings, and presenting themselves in an appropriate way is important. I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson on the importance of schools and teachers. Distance learning is difficult, and it is not the same as classroom learning. That being said, teachers, administrators, and students are doing their best to make lemonade out of lemons. We are all working so hard to stay connected and to ensure that our students are safe, happy, and engaged in learning.” - Nancy Barile  

Read part 1 here.