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Teachers Share About Distance Learning Experiences

Posted by Hannah Buchholz on Oct 14, 2020 9:30:00 AM

We have been back at it in a unique way at Lutheran High. In person classes are going well and we are excited to witness the success of distance learning in each classroom via Zoom. We know this has presented challenges for students and their families — their adaptability has been inspiring! We wanted to find out how our teachers were experiencing the changes in their own classrooms, so we sat down with Alicia Kidston (Dean of Women, English Teacher), Hannah Swafford (Social Studies Teacher), and David Black (Teacher, Director of Lights Academy). Each gave us a glimpse into the changes they’ve made to contribute to the success of their students.

The Impact of Distance Learning on Teachers

Have you ever heard the saying, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone?” A similar sentiment can be expressed regarding online or in person classes. Alicia Kidston said “When we were solely online, I realized how much I truly enjoy the relationships with students and daily interactions outside the classroom. I missed the aspects of school life that take place between classes, during lunches, or in chapel.” Having that interpersonal element restored with many students, she now treasures those moments outside the classroom.IMG_20200819_145603

Changes in Daily Job Functions

As one would imagine, the shift to making their classrooms accessible remotely has presented some challenges. More preparation and organization has been critical to their effectiveness and as Kidston mentioned, “just like with anything, the more you practice/perform, the easier it gets.” Swafford says that her focus has been on ensuring that her Zoom students feel like they can participate every day. Even though it means that she spends more time on her computer, she uses time between classes to check emails and Canvas “to make sure that my students have access to what we are doing every day.” Her dedication to inclusion is important for everyone’s success.

Adjusting Curriculum, Lesson Planning, and Classroom Delivery

Sometimes, when we’re faced with challenges, we come up with solutions that improve the way things were before that challenge popped up. For instance, David Black tells us that he is now “recording more short presentations in Zoom, posting them on Canvas, and allowing students to view those before entering class rather than taking the class time for the presentation. That frees us for additional class time to explore activities together. So I probably would not have started that pattern if it weren't for being online and learning Zoom.” Teachers have had to get creative with their approach to engage and illustrate lessons to their Zoom students.

The Impact of Distance Learning on Their Students

While facing the addition of distance learning and a hybrid return to the classroom this year, teachers have gotten to know their students a little better. Kidston told us that she has “...seen the toll it has taken on students socially and emotionally. It has been difficult for them, and while they were grateful to ‘see’ others via Zoom it would not be their first choice."

In conversations with students this year, it is evident that so much of high school is not just curriculum and homework.” Swafford worries a bit about her Zoom students and missing out on the benefits of group work, but says, “I know that there can be a flip side of that for students who may stress or have anxiety about working in groups and those students might learn better in an environment that they are already comfortable in.”

Furthermore, Black points out that teachers must “be more intentional about students making connections since that does not come as naturally as when we are in the classroom together.” He also points out that high school students are very creative when finding ways to connect with one another, so he doesn’t worry about their social development like he may with younger children.

Learning as We Go

Patience and grace is of great importance as we’re each learning to be successful and effective in our roles amid a changing landscape in education. The teachers at LuHi have been flexible and ingenuitive in meeting these challenges. Black says that “the pacing of the curriculum and the volume of curriculum that could be accomplished had to be adjusted when going online. I am experimenting once more with what that looks like being in the classroom again after being online for a while."

"I am focusing more than ever on formative assessment and less on summative assessment.” Kidston has found that grading online has worked for her. “I've continued it that way so far this year. It still enables you to give quality feedback and the added perk that you don't have stacks of papers to bring home.”

How Has Faith Been Impacted?

It hasn’t been only distance learning that has thrown us for a loop. A multitude of current events have cropped up over the past several months that have left many people feeling distraught, anxious, and simply lost. As Kidston puts it, “the prayer is that the current events draw us closer to God and bring Him glory. While there have been a lot of questions and doubts from students (and everyone), I've also heard stories of their growing relationship with Him and knowing while everything seems out of control, He is still in control.”

“A student is often the one to say something that points myself and others back to Jesus.” Black sees positivity as well, saying that “students are leaning into their faith more because of the varied societal changes we are facing right now, and we as teachers have incredible opportunities to model for students how to do this in a faith-filled way.” What a beautiful way to confront a challenging time in our world.

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