Bright Spots from Teaching in a Pandemic
Waleed Shaban, Rocketship Brilliant Minds
The first day of school, with a full in-person start. Cars were lined up along our driveway, and the excitement in the air was palpable. Regardless of the excitement, my nerves were hitting me on a whole new level, in a way I hadn’t experienced in my previous 4 years of teaching.
Was it because I hadn’t seen our school running at full capacity in 17 months? Was it making sure all of our layers of protection were in place as students filed in their classroom? Regardless, coming back to school in the midst of a pandemic has had its ups and downs. Over the past month of school, what have gotten us through are the bright spots in and around our campus.
Here are a few examples of what has been making our school year great so far:
Amidst the myriad of changes our students have undergone, one thing has stayed constant – home visits. Home visits have personally always been a favorite part of my experience as a teacher, as it is a chance to understand what makes a student who he/she really is outside of an academic setting. These are the opportunities where families begin to build that relationship that will flourish throughout the school year.
Rocketship Brilliant Mind, in thinking about how to engage with families in the midst of a pandemic, offered a “Home Visits in the Park” day, where families could meet in a socially distanced, outdoor setting. As a school leader, I eagerly prepared the coffee and donuts for our families as they came through to see their teachers for the first time. The warm sunshine mixed with the sweet donuts and vibrant conversations reminded our staff that our relationships with families are definitely a bright spot.
INSTANT, CLEAR FEEDBACK
As we returned to campus, our teachers have benefited so much from the instant access to their students for giving feedback and supporting in-person. As a teacher who taught through Zoom, I know the struggle of providing precise feedback to students when I could barely see their face, let alone what work they had in front of them. The systems and routines we’ve built in our classrooms have benefited our students tremendously already. For example, our teachers, now back in a phy
sical classroom, can move quickly from desk to desk during phonics practice to ensure that students are properly engaging with the letter or blend of the day. In our higher grades, the ability for face-to-face discussions has enriched student comprehension and engagement in our close reading blocks. I saw a 3rd-grade classroom full of students physically turning and looking at each student speaker as the class was collaboratively building towards finding the lesson of a short story.
A REVAMPED LEARNING LAB
Our schools have identified the need for students to experience even more hands-on learning and opportunities to tap into their creative sides. Every morning, so many of our Rocketeers countdown the minutes to make it to their Learning Lab block of the day, where they are able to engage in various activities such as puzzles, art, science activities, lego building, tutoring, and so much more. Learning Lab centers engage students in a realm outside of the 4 walls of the classroom. Our Rocketeers are building skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, persistence, and problem-solving by interacting with different modes of learning.
In addition to our centers, our learning lab provides a space for Tier II and III instruction. This means that our schools use reading/math foundational data collected earlier in the year to identify students who could benefit from extra support. That support comes in different ways, such as targeted reading intervention, math fluency practice and activities, and guided reading. But personalized learning isn’t just about academics, it’s about helping the child grow as a person. So, we also use this same tiered approach for social-emotional learning to make sure they are building behavioral skills that help connect with the classmates, focus, and excel in and outside of the classroom.
CELEBRATE, CELEBRATE, AND CELEBRATE MORE!
Being in person means having physical celebrations. Whether it’s special school-specific stickers or free college shirt raffles to reward perfect attendance, we’ve loved the ability to step into classrooms to celebrate others. One Kindergartener, Raul, could not stop smiling when he received his Oregon Ducks shirt. His college pride could barely even be captured as he jumped excitedly around the classroom. Our Rocketeers have been focusing on implementing academic feedback to earn virtual “points” in our classroom management program, ClassDojo. A group of leaders stepped into each classroom and surprised each classroom with a mini-dance party. We then celebrated those students who hit the 70 point threshold with ClassDojo and passed out our very special Rocketship Brilliant Minds Aviators stickers to show off to their families and friends.
LESSONS FROM ONLINE LEARNING
Our teachers across our schools became tech experts last year. We piloted multiple new programs and partnered with great companies in EdTech. A return to in-person learning allowed us to create hybrid opportunities for learning. Our programs meet students at their instructional levels, and we are able to provide opportunities for students to submit work and receive feedback in multiple modalities. This personalization and customization of our curriculum has created new opportunities for our students to engage with their work and their teachers.
KEEPING ROCKETEERS SAFE
Transitioning from a year of safe, distanced virtual learning to one in-person has provided its set of challenges. The number one thing we could do as a leadership team was to make sure we were providing as much transparency as possible. Throughout the summer and school year, we’ve held numerous virtual “cafecitos” in a presentation/town hall style format, where families could bring up legitimate concerns and questions regarding our return to school. The trust built through these conversations has shown with our Rocketeer attendance slowly and steadily rising week after week.
While we are at school, there are so many bright spots regarding health and safety! We have on-site rapid COVID tests to ensure that even those presenting symptoms have a more clear indication of what is going on, potentially providing students the opportunity to return to class.
There is no doubt that this school year has been challenging. The nerves are still real, even for a month into the school year! However, what we have been proud of at our schools is the everlasting resilience of our students, staff, and families. As we continue the school year, these elements of our school year will carry us to new heights and spark more moments of joy and learning for our Rocketeers.
Published on September 25, 2021