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Care, concern, collaboration and relationships: pandemic positives

Lessons of the pandemic

Editor’s note: Despite the many obstacles of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have seen positives shine through in the form of lessons — and gifts — they’ve experienced as a result of being forced to try new things. This school year, School News Network is sharing those experiences from teachers throughout Kent ISD. We’d love to hear yours, too. Please email your thoughts to SNN@kentisd.org for possible inclusion in a future issue.  

Becky Bicksler

Becky Bicksler, English teacher, Comstock Park High School:

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

The pandemic has taught me how important it is to develop and focus on relationships with students. This was challenging when we weren’t seeing them on a regular basis, face-to-face in the classroom, and it had a trickle down effect on everything from the participation and buy-in you get from students to the quality of their work. The pandemic really laid bare how vital it is to establish a working relationship with one another first and foremost in order to get to the end goal. This is also a valuable skill they will take with them into whatever fields they seek out after graduating – you will always have to work and collaborate with others, and establishing positive working relationships with your colleagues will result in better products and productivity. 

One of the things that I was very proud of our students during the pandemic was their care and concern for ensuring that everyone in their community was doing well. Our National Honor Society board of students took it upon themselves to create care packages for our virtual students that included notes telling them they were missed, and some fun treats to motivate them to work hard and do well. They then delivered these to our students’ homes. This was an awesome initiative to help create cohesiveness with our student community. 

Have there been unexpected positives that have come from difficult circumstances, such as new ways of reaching students, connecting with parents and collaborating with fellow teachers? 

A positive of the pandemic is that it has exposed what is essential and critical in our curriculum, and what is not, and how to rethink pacing in a new way when you are not able to be there in the moment to help clarify and answer questions. It has forced me to slow down, to cull some of the filler, and to really focus in and narrow in on those activities that were going to solidify their skills. 

As an English teacher, the pandemic really showed me that the “essential” skills for ALL students are still writing and reading comprehension (particularly critical thinking skills), but the approach and focus of these I started to approach differently. For example, in having to communicate virtually and through email, I realized how essential basic writing skills are for our students, and that there are some significant gaps. Perhaps we should spend less time on writing literary analysis essays – which have their place of course – but more time on writing assessments that will be applicable and essential for all students to function in our global society. 

Jodi LaFeldt

Jodi LaFeldt, preschool and special education director, Comstock Park Public Schools:

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

We have learned to think outside of the box. Finding new and creative ways to support students’ academic, social, and emotional progress has resulted from collaborative problem-solving among diverse stakeholder groups. Additionally, the increased focus and resources allocated to the emotional wellness of our students, staff and families has been needed for a very long time. The pandemic has highlighted this need and has resulted in increased funding to implement these necessary supports. 

Have there been unexpected positives that have come from difficult circumstances, such as new ways of reaching students, connecting with parents and collaborating with fellow teachers? 

We have always known how important relationships are, but COVID has put a spotlight on this. I think we are now placing more of an emphasis on building strong relationships with families, students, and colleagues. We have been able to engage with families in new ways, offering flexibility and options for connecting. We have gotten better at eliminating barriers, such as transportation and child care. We can now meet with families in the comfort of their own home!

When we were forced to teach our students virtually, we found new ways to coach and support our families in facilitating learning at home. Building a strong school/home connection is critical and we have learned new ways of doing this.

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Karen Gentry
Karen Gentry covers Comstock Park. She is from Evansville, Indiana and St. Joseph, Mich. and a graduate of Lake Michigan Catholic High School and Central Michigan University. She moved to the Grand Rapids area in the mid-1980s and has been a resident of Comstock Park since 2002. She understands the complexity, rewards and challenges of the teaching profession as she has five years of experience as a high school teacher at River Valley High School in Three Oaks, Mich. and St. Stephen High School in Saginaw. As a reporter for the Advance Newspapers and Mlive she covered Sparta, Kent City and Northview schools. She is happy to be reunited with some of her journalism colleagues and writing about Comstock Park Public Schools for the School News Network. Read Karen's full bio

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