Reinventing Classes that Serve ALL: Teachers weigh in on Anti-Racism and Remote Learning 101

As we prepare for this school year in the context of a pandemic-impacted world, with a renewed rallying cry to end anti-Black racism, Collegiate teachers have put forth tremendous effort into re-thinking school. A partnership between our Teacher Steering Committee, Parent Steering Committee, and our academic team, has resulted in revamped lessons and adapted virtual classroom approaches to better serve all students this year. Through teacher interviews, we offer our broader community some insight into being an educator in this historic moment: an honest look at the obstacles and opportunities of the coming school year. Click the link below to read what some of our teachers had to say.

 

 

Anna Bauman-Smith - G. W. Carver High School - Seminar in Social Justice - 12th Grade

 

On virtual learning…

Right now, I’m feeling pretty confident on our approach to presenting new content to kids, but we’re still problem solving around teaching study skills...Course Leaders have a lot of freedom in how they want to set up their class. The way we’re going to do ours is kids will have reading, video, and content they are ingesting first before we do the in-person class. Then our in-person class will be discussion based. We’ll probably start with small group discussions in Zoom break-out rooms and then bring it to a whole-group discussion...I anticipate that running the discussions is going to be one of the most challenging parts and getting kids to engage. We’re planning on using a discussion rubric and giving kids a grade for that...Being creative around how [students are] developing skills along with content knowledge I think is going to be really challenging.

 

On college readiness…

I’ve teamed up with Toomi Al-Dhahi at Sci and it’s been nice to have another person to bounce ideas off of and work through Canvas as a new technology...Our thought process on planning the class, since they’re seniors, is guided by ‘what’s the most applicable to what they’re going to be doing in college?’...We are leaning heavily on the book “College Knowledge.” One of the things it calls for is a level of academic independence when it comes to skills [e.g. computer literacy, time management, study techniques, etc.]...In many ways this just presents us with a new opportunity to push scholar independence.

 

On school closures...

The lessons that we learned from the spring semester will not necessarily transfer into this fall semester because we were working with individual kids and not teaching full class loads. Kids were doing much more independent work...I’m excited and nervous to see how this semester goes….I feel like Collegiate is doing their best to listen to parents, listen to teachers, and then advocate for teachers and students. I’ve been happy about that. I wish the state would take a stronger stand. It’s frustrating to be told this plan is only until the beginning of September when we know the pandemic is going to go much longer than September. It would be easier for people to plan if the recommendation was for longer, and not just for a couple of more weeks.


On teaching social justice in this moment in history...

Our first unit is just going to be titled, ‘We are Here,” and we’re going to be looking at the national uprisings around black lives and trying to contextualize that for kids. We’re aiming to give kids an opportunity to grapple with it, look at the goals, evaluate the goals themselves and make some recommendations of where they think the movement needs to go next. My hope is that other teachers in other schools don’t shy away from letting kids think about this moment that we’re in right now because it’s just a really important historical moment. Kids deserve to think about it, talk about it, and be a part of it, if they decide that they want to be.


On mental health...

I’m nervous about building relationships with kids online who I haven’t met yet. So much of relationship building comes from moments in the cafeteria, or joking in the hallways, or just having one-offs when you’re circulating around the room looking at their work...I anticipate that teachers and kids are going to struggle with isolation, potentially depression or other mental health issues. I’m worried about our kids who depend on the school as being an actual, physical safe space. I think it is the safer choice to have people not in the school building but there are going to be kids who will be missing out on that feeling of safety and belonging at school.

 

Chrissy Ragin - G. W. Carver High School - REACH - 9th-12th Grade

 

On reinventing school during COVID-19...

Over the course of the summer, I’ve been teaching ESY [Extended School Year] for students in REACH across the network. I’ve been planning resources for that. I also put together the remote learning resources for REACH across the network this spring. Now, I’m working on building the concrete lessons for this upcoming school year that will be taught in REACH programs across [Collegiate] campuses. I’ve been balancing this while also being a part of the Teacher Steering committee at Collegiate and the NOLA Public Schools Steering Committee...It’s been very eye-opening. It allows me to see more of what is going on behind the scenes. It also gives me a very clear understanding of what leadership looks like and what it looks like in a time of crisis. This has been really weird uncharted territory, but [the network] is rolling out resources as fast as they can to ensure we have what we need to produce lessons that will be best for kids.

 

On lessons learned...

I think the school's communication with families and staff has been spot on. Anti it continues to be throughout this time. They've been very diligent in making sure parents are getting the most up-to-date information through the website and robo-texts...I think, it would have been wise to potentially pull a couple of teachers aside ahead of time and say ‘hey, this is what we’re looking at [closing]. We just want to have a safety valve in place. Let’s get some materials ready so we’re not doing this last minute while kids are at home for a couple of weeks.’ That would have made it a smoother transition.

 

On technology and accessibility...

I’m kind of worried about figuring out how to make things user friendly and super accessible....Staff and families are trying to learn these new systems in such a short amount of time. It’s definitely fun. It’s something we’ve never done before. But it is uniquely challenging, especially from a Special Programs point of view when you need to make everything as accessible as possible and add all of the accommodations that are needed for all of my kids… I am really worried about kids coming online for synchronous classes. This summer during ESY, we had so many tech issues that felt just impossible to resolve from afar...We’re also thinking about ‘how are we going to make sure that parents are bought-in so their kids are bought in too?’ This is why we launched the parent steering committee.

 

On mental health...

Kids are starving for social interaction. I get emails from kids almost daily. It’s usually just one-liners; clearly they’re craving some interaction...when I coordinated Zoom hangouts for ESY students to just socially interact, kids liked and appreciated that. I think it takes away some of the feeling that they’re so isolated when they get to see other students in their homes doing the same thing...It is very fair to say that mental health is a challenge for students and teachers alike during this time. I think we’ve talked a lot about the resources that are available for students and I know they are expanding those. But I also think that teachers need a lot of help right now. Without mental health resources, distance learning is not going to be as effective as possible. We don’t want teachers burning out...Making sure that teachers are mentally and physically safe is so important...Likewise, finding ways to build connections between kids is just as important because this situation is not ideal for their childhood.