Teachers have always been masters of the “pivot,” making hundreds of decisions daily and living in perpetual flexibility. So, it is no surprise that teachers have risen to the occasion, yet again. In this article we want you to meet two heroes of the profession -- one seasoned teacher in her 6th year teaching 6th grade at a Title One school in the mid-south, and one brand new teacher in her very first year teaching 2nd grade in the rural mid-south.

 

 
 

We want to share the stories of these teachers and how they are thriving and surviving in their first weeks of teaching in the midst of a global pandemic and how others might follow their lead. In true 2020 fashion, we joined a Zoom call for a long conversation. Ms. Bell and Ms. Smith shared their experiences with showing up for their kids, with three themes in particular leading the discussion. Within each theme is a tip for remote instruction used by these incredible teachers.

 

Showing Up with a Genuine Desire for Connection

Creating connections has been a challenge. Ms. Smith told us about the difficulty connecting and communicating with parents in the midst of ever-changing information and COVID related rules that block visitors from entering the schools. But as we were chatting on Zoom on a Saturday evening, Ms. Smith had just finished one on one Zoom calls with every student in her class. She told them stories about herself and listened as the students showed off their favorite toys and pets. They even laughed together when Ms. Smith’s camera was unintentionally pointed to the ceiling rather than her face.

  • Remote Strategy Tip: Create connections through virtual community building. Place a mystery item in a bag and give the class clues as to what it might be. Students can use their inferencing skills to guess the contents of the bag. Allow students to take a turn doing the same! For older kids, use the Zoom whiteboard feature to play a game of Pictionary.

Showing Up with a Growth Mindset

Ms. Bell began our conversation with a story of a brand-new student who could not get her sound to work on her Zoom call. The student felt frustrated and ultimately, unheard. Ms. Bell felt powerless as she could not “I.T.” her way out of this one. After getting off of the call, Ms. Bell said to herself, “I showed up. I was there. I will be there tomorrow and the next day and any time in between.” She took a deep breath. Trying was a win. She would try again tomorrow. She communicated this to the mother and girl in her class. This growth mindset is crucial for both students and teachers to adopt in 2020. Through our effort, consistency, and belief that we can grow and change, students and teachers will make it through!

  • Remote Strategy Tip: Cultivate a growth mindset through interactive read alouds of picture books. Reading aloud books like, The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do by Ashley Spires can help students and teachers alike adopt growth mindset mantras such as “I can’t do it…YET.”

Showing Up for Yourself

Both Ms. Bell and Ms. Smith stressed the importance of self-care during this time, but also expressed the difficulty of making it happen. The mantra for this year has been one of flexible acceptance. Both Ms. Bell and Ms. Smith said that at times they have given in to the limitation of teaching both remotely and in person, accepting the realities of this year and making the best of the situation. “It is what it is. I am still a good teacher. And I will keep showing up,” said Ms. Bell. This mindful acceptance has allowed for some semblance of inner peace for these teachers. They are encouraging their colleagues to take a moment for yourself, don’t feel pressure to respond to that email right away, and lean on teammates for support and encouragement.

 

  • Remote Strategy Tip: Hand-star deep breathing- Hold your hand with all five fingers stretched into a “Star.” With your other hand, use the index finger to slowly trace the star-hand, moving up and down your fingers. Take a deep breath as you trace up the side of your fingers, and breath out as you trace down in between the fingers. Repeat until you have breathed and traced your whole star-hand. Do this alone or together with the class.
  • Remote Strategy Tip: Identify a teaching partner as yourtap in / tap out.” When you are overwhelmed and need a minute, text this partner to help you “tap out” for a deep breath or small moment.

Whether you are in your first year as a teacher or your 20th year, this year is unprecedented and HARD. Ms. Smith said it perfectly when she said that the teaching community is a team- a band of brothers - sharing in an experience that really only another teacher can understand. We salute you, teachers. Your work is heroic.