The 2020-2021 school year was a challenge for many people. Despite these challenges, the past year at AOS was a positive learning and growing experience for all of our constituent groups including administrators, board members, parents, teachers, and students.
As a school community, we began planning for the 2020-2021 school year before the 2019-2020 school year ended. We wanted to examine the feedback regarding what worked and what did not work as we were thrown into the chaos that erupted in March of 2020.
While the worldwide pandemic affected us all in different ways, we remained focused on our students’ continuing education as they did
not return to our campus after spring break. Teachers, with the support of parents, rose to the occasion to finish the year virtually. We did as well as could be expected, but we knew even more could be done for our students. Spring and summer were dedicated to preparations for the teaching models we assumed would be available for our students in the coming school year. Our administrators led the charge to read, research, and watch what other schools were doing (or not doing). We wanted to be armed with the most effective tools to tackle a myriad of situations. It was our priority to rise to the highest possible level of excellence for all of our students in all learning environments.
With the school’s mission statement at the core of our efforts, we dedicated ourselves to determining how to best prepare our students
for success. This new COVID-19 complication taught us that our students needed to be empowered for any obstacles that lay ahead.
“‘Our job as teachers, parents, and leaders is not to prepare kids for something.’ Our job is to help kids prepare themselves for ‘anything.’ There is no better time to be in education than right now. Education is the bridge to so many opportunities for our learners. We must step aside as the gatekeepers and instead move next to our learners to take the journey together” (Juliani & Spencer, 2017, pp. 11, 20).
We coordinated to support three different models for teaching and learning: Dolphins at a Distance (all students at home), Heart
and Minds at Home (some students at home with other students at school), and in-school learners. We also wanted to help make the transition as seamless as possible if and when students moved from one learning environment to another.
We knew we would need to be flexible for whatever scenarios might occur, while also providing necessary structures and expectations for maximum student progress. In faculty meetings, we shared our respective struggles and triumphs, and we celebrated our growth as a learning community.
In many ways, teachers went back to the basics in order to launch our teaching expertise into the future. Teachers became students as we worked to redefine ourselves to meet the demands of the unusual upcoming year. We had always worked to include the 4 C’s of Education for the 21st Century into our curriculum: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.
However, before we could select the most valuable lessons to teach, we needed to evaluate how we, as teacher guides, could be more effective critical and creative thinkers. Coordinating our lessons across multiple classes in a single grade required us to become
more efficient, collaborative communicators. We also knew we should and could include several other important life skills in our lessons, including SEL (social and emotional learning) and especially for our older students, literacy skills. We recognized the importance of teaching skills and strategies for identifying trustworthy sources, locating reliable information, and separating these from the misinformation that floods the internet.
Our IT team helped us to disseminate literacy skills and utilize technology and online resources to reach and teach students. With training, we became experts at reaching students with Zoom and SwivL. Additionally, our counseling team helped us understand our
students’ and parents’ concerns during this unstable time. They offered specific lessons and ways to integrate social and emotional
learning into our daily work.
Many teachers created Google Slide presentations and shared their screens in a Zoom meeting. The lesson would follow as the teacher directed the students through an “I do,” “we do,” “you do” model. First, students observed the teacher as he or she demonstrated the assignment. Next, the class worked together to accomplish the task which could consist of a story, poem, interview, math word problem, hypothesis, etc. Finally, each student independently created a product on their own. Older students used Google Slides to communicate with each other. Students could answer a specific reading or math question on a dedicated slide and then read each other’s responses to make comments or ask further questions. We ultimately became better teachers as we offered interactive manipulatives and planned how to effectively conduct and monitor small-group meetings.
As another school year approaches, we continue to value reflective feedback and seek ways to improve upon the past year’s performance. We are hoping and assuming that the 2021-2022 school year will be different, back to what we knew in the past. But as a school, we will also continue to grow and strive to become even more effective mentors. Our goal is to meet students where they are while we both nurture and challenge them to do the best they can do and be the best they can be.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of The Delphian.