The past fifteen months of learning have been unprecedented and challenging. But pandemic teaching has provided small lessons to teachers in unexpected ways, from finding new methods to spark joy in the classroom to creating the boundaries necessary to stay present for our students. We may be ready to ditch the “Zoom Room” when we have students sitting in front of us, and we’re giddy with excitement to eliminate the six feet of distance at all times, but there are gifts the pandemic has given us. Here are the top five things teachers will keep doing in their classrooms after COVID:
Integrating Technology Into Our Lessons With Ease
Jam Board. Flipgrid. Nearpod. Loom. COVID teaching forced educators to pick up on new, integrated multimedia technology and incorporate it seamlessly into their classroom. While the learning curve felt impossible at times, these new technologies allowed teachers to experiment with engaging, multimedia experiences for their students. Increased technology use also enabled students to collaborate while apart: for example, Zoom breakout rooms allowed remote and hybrid students to work together with ease. Movies through Flipgrid allowed students and teachers to get to know each other better. And the chat box feature enabled teachers to communicate quickly, efficiently, and, if needed, discreetly.
Others are grateful that the pandemic forced them to make greater use of their school’s Learning Management System platforms. “I never utilized Google Classrooms very much before COVID,” shares Liz Pruitt, a middle school French teacher. “But the pandemic forced me to take the time to really figure out how to use our LMS, which helped me keep a better record for student feedback and easily keep track of their progress. Plus, it gave me a centralized location to put all of my documents. It was so much easier for me and my students.” Other teachers concurred: finally making use of online platforms allowed them to stay organized and in control of a year that felt anything but.
Being Flexible With Assignments
Gone are the days of rigid deadlines for assessments and homework assignments. This year, teachers experimented more than ever with take-home tests, fewer formal assignments, and not marking points off for late work. “Being flexible with deadlines was a game changer. I was much less stressed when I didn’t have to configure how many points to take off for days late, or try and justify which reasons for turning in late work were ‘valid.’ It was brilliant for my students, who also appreciated a bit of breathing space,” says Meg Gayton, a high school English teacher. Pruitt agrees. “I used to take points off if students turned in work late. Now, I recognize that we’re dealing with so much, and I’ve realized that a little compassion goes a long way with my students. While I keep track of when students turn in their work, I’ve found that the majority of my students feel less anxious since I’ve stopped penalizing late assignments. Overall, it’s been really positive for me and my students.”
Reflecting on Best Practices
The pandemic gave educators a chance to think more about the lessons they taught and the homework they assigned. Once it became apparent that past years couldn’t be easily replicated, teachers learned that they needed to be strategic as they figured out how to change course. “The pandemic made me better at ‘trimming the fat.’ I had to kick the superfluous details to the curb. It forced me to really prioritize what skills and knowledge I wanted my students to gain in my classroom. Instead of relying on lessons I had taught before COVID, I had to stop and think: ‘is this really what I want my students to learn?’” notes Jenny Salamone, a middle school social studies teacher. Several teachers concurred. “I had more time to reflect on and take notes on how my students were doing and where they were at academically and social-emotionally throughout the year,” says Janet Gelcich, a preschool teacher. “COVID forced me to think more about their individual learning more than ever before.” Teachers found ways to experiment, with many saying that they spent more time outdoors with their students. One principal found outdoor learning to be so successful that it will become a cornerstone of school programming this fall.
During the pandemic, it was all too easy to be on technology all the time. From teaching on Zoom or Google Meet, creating online synchronous and asynchronous lessons, grading straight to a LMS, and responding to countless emails, teachers logged Herculean hours to adjust to pandemic teaching. “I started to feel burnt out very quickly during COVID and found that I needed to have more structure in my schedule in terms of school time versus family time. I made a habit of putting my iPad away each night by 5:00pm and kept it out of sight during the weekends. This really helped me find balance this year, and I was able to be more focused and present for my students,” Gelcich shares. Other teachers felt similar sentiments: after working long hours during the week, it was more important than ever to set aside the weekends for family time or just the chance to unplug. Work emails, we learned, just had to wait until Monday mornings.
Having More Fun
None of us went into teaching to sit behind a screen all day: we became teachers to be with our students. While the pandemic created a physical separation, this school year became the year of creating intentional spaces to cultivate strong teacher/student relationships and have some fun in the process. “We started every single day with a small ice breaker. Each day, two or three kids participated. We went through a list of questions such as their dream job, irrational fears, guilty pleasures, and we always ended up starting class on a happy note. We laughed out loud and grew closer as a class community. I can’t think of a single reason why I wouldn’t continue it next year, ” shares Kristin Walton, a middle school and high school math teacher. Taking small, frequent breaks and creating space for different activities and fun conversations became a cornerstone of Gayton’s classroom. “On Mondays, we meditated at the beginning of every class, and on Wednesdays, we answered the ‘Question of the Week.’ The questions were simple and lighthearted, but it really helped us cultivate joy.” While we may not necessarily miss Zoom, an unconventional year may have helped us grow as educators in ways we never anticipated.