Teaching through COVID-19: Voices from the Climate Resiliency Fellowship, I

We’ve asked teachers from our 2019-2020 Climate Resiliency Fellowship cohort to offer their thoughts on teaching about climate change – and teaching in general – through COVID-19. The Fellowship brings participants together over the course of a year for a series of learning retreats that combine inspiration, creativity and teamwork.  An outcome of this program is the design and implementation of an interdisciplinary climate action project. 

The Teachers:

Anna Kovaliv, Team Spark 7/8 Math and Science, Camels Hump Middle School, Richmond, VT

Anna Stern, Team Spark 7/8 ELA & SS, Camels Hump Middle School, Richmond, VT

Their Climate Action Project: “Project Be the Change” is a year-long project designed to connect students with their community through project-based service learning. We use the social justice standards and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help students make a positive impact on an issue they care about. 


How have you transitioned and adapted your climate change education work to a distance learning format? 
Unfortunately, we have had to put a complete pause on “Project Be the Change” during this period of distance learning. However, for continuity of learning, we built a Language Arts research unit, offering students the options of choosing to study climate change, plastics pollution, gender and sexuality, immigration, and many other topics that connect to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  

How has the COVID-19 crisis shifted your goals and expectations of your students?
It’s difficult to put into words how COVID-19 has changed our goals/expectations of our students, but essentially, the emphasis has shifted away from academic progress and achievement to health and well-being.  We still have the expectation that students do their best, but right now their best might mean going for a walk with a sibling or stepping away from their computer to read a really good book.  Like so much that’s happening right now, it’s complicated. 


What has been the biggest challenge for you as a teacher during this time and what have you needed to learn to meet this challenge?
The biggest challenge for us as educators has been to help students feel connected to us, to one another, and to the community as a whole through a screen. We have come up with some fun and creative ways to play games, talk, and work together on our computers, but it’s tougher to do that on video chats than it is in person.  We are lucky that we’ve already had these students for a year and a half, so we have the benefit of leaning on the rapport and community we’ve built since they came to us in August of 2018.  That said, we’ve needed to learn how to streamline communication and utilize new tech tools, such as Google Meet, Padlet, and Kahoot, to build connection and foster community. 

Emergence and Unexpected Gifts

What has surprise you about distance learning and teaching? What unexpected gifts have emerged for you and your students?
It has been amazing to witness the creativity that is coming out of this time.  Our students have created incredible things such as homemade bird cages, garden beds, rock climbing walls, model cars, poetry books, and more.  They’ve taken up hobbies and developed skills such as painting, learning to do backflips, dribbling soccer balls, baking, building/going off bike jumps, and many more.  It’s wonderful to watch them transform extra time into inspiring works of creativity. 


Has your view of the role of education in our society and world shifted? What shift do you hope to see in our educational system in the near future?
In some industries, there have been jokes circulating about how people will never go back to the office because of how much more efficient meetings and daily tasks have become during quarantine.  We do not believe this is the case with education; rather, we think and hope communities have come to more greatly appreciate what it means to go to school, and what school provides.  Education and curriculum are important, but even more so is the social-emotional well-being that is facilitated for all students during their time in school.  From meals and supplies to trusted adults and interactions with peers, students gain and learn far more than what the standards assess.  It is such a privilege for us to be able to interact with and learn alongside young people, and it is also a gift to watch them teach one another. Our hope is that the appreciation for the school day catalyzes large and small acts of kindness when we are able to be together again. 

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