The teaching profession changed forever in a little over 6 months. From an emergency transition to remote learning, to a summer preparing for an uncertain fall, and then school reopenings in various forms, teachers now are writing a unique chapter in the history of education.

To do our small part to record the special insights emerging from these experiences, BloomBoard is interviewing educators across the nation to share their stories with you. Today we’re pleased to bring you the thoughts and learnings from Deeana Ray, Principal, and Carrie Franklin, first grade teacher and lead teacher, of Glenwood Elementary in McDowell County School District, North Carolina.

When Everything Changed

Attending school and how teachers and school leaders think about instruction were flipped upside down, for many overnight. Teaching had always come with its assortment of challenges, but rapidly changing circumstances brought to the forefront a whole new set of problems to think through.

Carrie – “One of the biggest challenges was access to the internet. I felt good about my ability to use the technology tools I had, but between issues with wifi and students not able to use the internet at home either, I had to get creative to deliver learning materials, even sometimes heading to the school parking lot to pick up reliable internet there.”

Deeana – “Relationships were very hard. It wasn’t just a huge challenge to keep the relationships, but not seeing each other presented a big challenge for educators emotionally, not having the joy of connecting with the children everyday. As a district, we wanted to be as equitable as possible and knew we couldn’t go strictly online. Families needed physical resources, and keeping the quality of the packets sent home and involving parents were both huge challenges. One of the biggest ways we found to connect with parents was with lunch service. We also found that technology tools were a big help reinforcing connection and communication.”

Lessons From the New Normal

Teachers adapt, and though times have been difficult, educators came away from the last school year with new skills and perspective.

Carrie – “I’m fortunate enough to be with the same kids for three years, and so we get to know each other very well. Weekly meetings really helped once we couldn’t see each other every day, but it was important to be available by phone or Facetime whenever my students felt like they needed connection. I appreciated having the support of a principal like Deeana, and she really helped the teachers carry everything out that we were doing and helped us understand that it’s ok to not get it perfect. That’s the same grace and patience we’ve tried to show to these parents and their kids. The kids miss out on so much socially and in terms of activities they enjoy, you had to individualize what you were doing to every kid.”

Deeana – “Our superintendent said the words for this school year are ‘grace and flexibility.’ Grace applies to ourselves too. Teachers were so hard on themselves. They wanted to do so much and do so well because students deserve it. One of the hardest lessons for the teachers is recognizing that this won’t be like any other year and they can’t expect to teach the same. This is the biggest mindset shift – I have to teach completely differently, and the guidelines are limited and evolving.”

Embracing Blended Learning 

In preparation for the upcoming school year’s hybrid schedule, McDowell County School District adopted a fall readiness program that included:

  • A micro-endorsement in Foundations for Blended Learning
  • The assistance of an external Blended Learning Coach
  • Facilitated PLCs
  • Synchronous online professional learning sessions for all teachers that correspond to each of the competencies represented by the micro-credentials in the Foundations for Blended Learning micro-endorsement

Teachers selected to earn the micro-endorsement become “Blended Ambassadors” within the district. Carrie is one of the McDowell educators on the path to becoming a Blended Ambassador.

Carrie – “The feedback I’ve been getting in the program has been extremely valuable. I love my blended learning coach. Working through the micro-credentials, they’re a form of competency-based learning, and being able to share the artifacts and evidence of my work and have a discussion about it is transforming my teaching.

In many cases, I already felt like I was doing a lot of the things recommended in the micro-credentials, but now I’m so much more intentional about it, and that’s had a big impact on the relationship I have with students. For me as a teacher, the chance to reflect on my own learning can be uncomfortable, because really, it’s hard watching videos of yourself, but it becomes so instructive to learning how to improve.

It doesn’t feel like something extra. The things I’m learning are what I need to be better and get through these crazy times. What I’m doing with BloomBoard has been really beneficial to my work as a teacher. 

It all makes such an impact. For example, creating student learner profiles (one of the exercises teachers learn about in the micro-credential Building Relationships with Individual Students in a Blended Environment) has had a huge impact for the students. The kids love coming to their 1:1s and showing the work they’ve done to prepare their profiles, and have a conversation about how they learn best. The students are excited, the teachers are excited. It’s become a way of life, and the support of the other Blended Ambassadors at other buildings in the district is key. The excitement is contagious and goes throughout the district, and strengthens everyone’s connection as educators. I also feel like the people I’ve met at BloomBoard through this process are my friends, and the connections we’re making are real too.”

Deeana – “The enthusiasm Carrie mentioned really is contagious, and she was a great pick to be included as a Blended Ambassador because this is a place where she leads; Carrie’s enthusiasm spreads to others, it’s very natural. Each of the teachers becoming Blended Ambassadors were leaders before, but this really solidifies it for them. Their leadership is so clear when they’re able to speak to other teachers in the building and share what they’re learning. The Blended Ambassadors have been really helpful brainstorming ideas and practices that all teachers can use to be effective, even for things that are tricky right now like small group instruction. That sort of sharing has really fostered a sense of collective efficacy. As a principal, it’s exactly what you hope to see.”