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

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:

Mallory Langkau & Patti Dugan-Henriksen
Groveton Middle School, Groveton, NH

Their Climate Action Project: The Groveton Middle School project focused on reducing plastic in waterways. The students analyzed the causes and impacts of plastic waste on the environment and proposed potential solutions. 

Adaptation

How have you transitioned and adapted your climate change education work to a distance learning format? How has the COVID-19 crisis shifted your goals and expectations of your students?

We have  needed to learn ways to adjust our curriculum to meet student needs through remote learning. This includes what content we are teaching, as well as how we are teaching it. We had completed a majority of our climate change education work prior to our school closure in March. We were unable to hold our culminating activity due to these circumstances. We hope to plan a summary activity from the project when we are able to return to school.

On a more general note, our entire school experienced a major change in our goals and expectations of students due to the COVID-19 crisis. For example, final grades were based on the first three quarters of the school year and the fourth quarter was graded on a Pass/Fail basis. Due to the socio-economic demographics of our community, there was a lack of equity in remote learning opportunities for all students. 

Challenges

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 teachers was the lack of training and experience in remote learning. It has been difficult to choose appropriate lessons and activities that would be effective. Relying on our individual and collective knowledge of and skills with technology has been crucial during remote learning. We have improved those skills over this experience and look forward to opportunities to improve our technology skills further and  fully utilize available digital resources. Students have also had to use and further develop their technology skills during remote learning. We hope they continue to do so in the future.

Maintaining communication with all students and parents has also been a great challenge. When there is not open communication between students and teachers, there’s no opportunity for learning. We are leaning on our strong relationships with our students and their families to continue our work. Additionally, our middle school team meets weekly to collaborate and communicate. This has allowed us to discuss students of concern and plan how to work through challenges. Our school community is small, which allows our team to know each student personally, as well as their strengths and needs. Thinking ahead, if remote learning continues into the next school year, we will need to learn how to teach students that we have never met before. We also hope the increased partnership between teachers and parents in educating students continues.

Emergence and Unexpected Gifts

Share a success you’ve experienced in teaching during COVID-19.

Patti: One example is a girl who normally is very quiet and shy in class.  Remote learning really fits her learning style; she is very successful. When offered the option of writing, rather than answering orally (as we do in the classroom), she has shared ideas and expressed her opinion much more freely.  When I asked her about it, she said she feels a lot more comfortable taking risks and “voicing her opinion” in  writing than when speaking. 

Mallory: Embarking on remote learning with only little notice has really forced me to appreciate how I was able to instruct and interact with students before the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, I have developed different relationships with students as our interactions changed so drastically. It has been great to work in new ways with students whom I did not click with as well before.

What has surprise you about distance learning and teaching? What unexpected gifts have emerged for you and your students?
We never expected to have to transform our jobs in such a drastic way! The greatest unexpected gift has been the development of our relationships with our students. We have not only addressed academic needs, but we have also been able to address social emotional learning. For example, we changed our April Vacation into a Spirit Week dedicated to social emotional learning for students. We also held a virtual Semi-Formal event. Students look forward to our annual Semi-Formal and were very disappointed to be missing out on the event. Our team came together and planned a successful night of dancing, games, and pizza using the Zoom platform. 

Another change we’ve noticed is that many students have shown an improved work ethic including working independently to solve problems instead of immediately asking for help.

Transformation

Has your view of the role of education in our society and world shifted? 
We have an increased awareness of the importance of schools in meeting students’ basic needs in addition to their academic needs. We have noticed this increased awareness in our community as well. We wonder how this will affect students developmentally moving forward. It will be important to acknowledge the gaps and missed opportunities students faced due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

This crisis has allowed some parts of society to be successful in working remotely. Education, however, cannot operate only from a digital platform. In-person schooling is necessary for impactful teaching and social emotional development. 

When you imagine returning to in-person schools in the future, what do you hope to hold onto from this time? 
This experience has shown us the importance of our relationships with students. We need to be able to hold onto those bonds.

What shift do you hope to see in our educational system?
We hope to see an increased appreciation for schools and the work they do.

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