By Susan Stoya, CASDA Educational Facilitator
I was just reading an article in Edutopia that listed examples of how teachers and administrators have learned so much throughout these pandemic times and that many positive changes will last long after COVID-19 is under control and school goes back to “normal.” As I read it, I was reflecting on how much I have learned over the past year and what I am doing differently as a staff developer, curriculum coach and mentor.
I have worked for several years with teachers and administrators on curriculum development. I would typically meet with groups of teachers in person at their schools and circulate around when teachers were working in small groups or individually, spending a short period of time in rooms on Superintendent’s Days or other days when subs were secured. In March 2020, this work, along with everything else, came to a screeching halt. In the fall, when the craziness of last spring settled down and administrators were ready to restart this curriculum work, it was clear I had to change the way I worked with schools. As an “old dog,” I needed to learn some “new tricks," specifically technology. I sought guidance from Tom McKee and commiserated with Nancy Andress, both fellow CASDA Educational Facilitators, and practiced using Google Meet with my long-time friend Robin and my son Brian. I learned how to present and share videos, documents, and slides and learned to adjust to not seeing the faces of those I was working with - not very comfortable! I did a lot of troubleshooting and adjusting. When I encountered problems, my 25-year-old son would say, “just Google it,” something many folks my age are not used to doing to figure things out. We want someone to show us (I was never someone who actually read instructions)!
So over time, I was doing more and more of my work remotely, in large groups, small groups and with individual teachers. Two weeks ago, after finishing a remote coaching session with a high school teacher, I realized that my curriculum coaching was actually much better doing it remotely than it was the way I used to do it! It was more effective, personal, targeted and efficient. Why?
First of all, working remotely enabled schools to schedule me flexibly and utilize small blocks of time since I didn’t have to drive to their schools. I could do one-hour sessions after school or during teachers’ planning periods. These small doses were efficient and powerful. Second, the administrators began scheduling me with departments, grade levels or even individuals. This allowed me to customize my work according to what each department or individual needed. I had focused time with them. Some teachers and departments even began asking if they could “hop on” to ask me a question or for feedback. Third, using Google Meet allowed me to pull up their curriculum documents and we could analyze and work on them together. We could type on them and make changes right then and there. It was much more powerful to demonstrate the process on their own maps, while we were working on them together. I could also pull up supporting documents like the Next Generation Standards and exemplars, as needed. With everything so close on each of our screens, the engagement seemed greater.
Somehow, the dedicated time online with departments and individuals seems more intimate and personal and therefore more powerful. Teachers can email me if they want to schedule a quick meet to talk about their curriculum work and it is really easy for me to look at their work in a shared drive to provide guidance. It is timely. It doesn’t require that I drive out to their school and spend a large chunk of time and money doing so. Teachers seem more likely to ask for assistance this way as well. I’ve worked with West Canada Valley, Hadley-Luzerne, Dolgeville and Lansingburgh School Districts, each with different needs and focus areas, but in each district, it worked well and seemed to be a more intimate and effective experience.
I spent all fall serving as an interim administrator at Wynantskill CSD and lived through all the challenges of opening a school during COVID. I experienced the stress and am sensitive to the struggles faced by all school staff. So I knew it was imperative that I figure out ways to make it easier to work on curriculum and provide professional development during these challenging times. So almost a year after schools closed and I sat at home unable to go out to schools, I’ve learned a new way of doing things and found it to be effective, efficient, focused, and even more powerful than what I was doing before! An unexpected gift!
Perhaps this pandemic has given you unexpected gifts, unintended benefits and big surprises. Plato said, “Necessity if the mother of invention.” Many educators, students, and parents have grown and reinvented themselves from the necessities faced due to COVID-19. We grew, even when we didn’t expect to or want to. Truly, a gift!