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Teachers weigh in on lessons of the pandemic

‘We were forced to think outside the box’

Editor’s note: There’s no doubt that COVID-19 flipped education on its head, with educators facing many months of countless unanticipated challenges. Despite the many obstacles, teachers have seen some positives shine through in the form of lessons — or gifts — they’ve experienced as a result of being forced to try new things. School News Network will be sharing the experiences of teachers from throughout Kent ISD and we’d love to hear yours. Please email us your thoughts to SNN@kentisd.org and we will include them in a future issue.

We have to live in the ‘right now.’ We have to take a look at the strengths of the students and build their confidence. If we can do that, their test scores, their assessments, everything should get better because they believe in themselves.’

— Jacci Storey, Wyoming Intermediate School teacher

SNN: As an educator, what have you found to be lessons or gifts of the pandemic?

Laura Sluys

Laura Sluys, teacher of students who have mild cognitive impairments at Wyoming’s Oriole Park Elementary School

“One of the biggest gifts I got was a new perspective on the abilities of what my students could do on their own. I found that as I engaged with my students in new ways (virtual classroom, Zoom/Google Meets, etc), they engaged with the content in new ways. They gained independence and confidence in themselves. Many activities such as morning calendar, spelling sort practice and life skills changed from being teacher-led activities to student-driven activities. They started showing each other how to do things, where to find information and sometimes even taught me something new.”  

Lillian Cummings-Pulliams, Wyoming school psychologist and Early Childhood Center director

Lillian Cummings-Pulliams

“The pandemic has been horrific in so many ways — particularly with regard to the impact on the physical and mental health of our scholars and their families, in addition to the educational impact that some scholars have suffered. However, there have been many blessings that have resulted as well, particularly parent participation. 

“Each year, our buildings struggle with parent participation at after-school events. Because of the pandemic, we were forced to think outside the box, which resulted in offering virtual meetings and parent events. As a result, our parent participation increased greatly. For example, this past spring we partnered with the Grand Rapids Symphony Lollipops series and held a virtual showing of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit.’ We also sent home bags of popcorn for each family. Our family turnout was one of the best we’ve had, and it was so exciting to actually see our families, together, enjoying their popcorn and our scholars excitedly pointing at the screen as they watched.

“Another benefit occurred when we engaged our scholars in online learning. Typically when parents send their children to school, they don’t get to actually observe and participate in what is going on in the classroom. Yet, during our virtual lessons (during district closures and/or parent-chosen virtual platform), parents not only were given the opportunity to observe and participate in the classroom lessons, some of our scholars’ siblings did as well! As a result, parents were so much better equipped to help their children at home. 

We also experienced increased parent participation in meetings such as caregiver-teacher conferences and Individualized Education Program meetings. Given the convenience of virtual meetings, parents no longer had to take time off work to participate. The list just goes on and on. Even though we are all still experiencing the negative impact of COVID-19, we are still able to count our blessings.”

Jacci Storey

Jacci Storey, sixth-grade teacher at Wyoming Intermediate School

“I struggled for the longest time with staying in the present. So when March 2020 came — we are always looking for our next SRI (reading comprehension assessment data), to see that student growth — I never got to see it. All of it was taken from me. I never really knew if they grew, and that was very disturbing to me, like, did I even do my job? I base my self-worth on that.

“The gift of the pandemic was: we have to live in the right now. We have to take a look at the strengths of the students and build their confidence. If we can do that, their test scores, their assessments, everything should get better because they believe in themselves. What can I do today to make sure they feel good about themselves and that they feel worthy to be in the classroom? That is my goal now … to encourage them that they are worth something each and every day, more than just a test score.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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