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"Teachers Of The Year" Offer Teaching From Home Tips
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Lori Walsh: Thousands of South Dakota parents and caregivers are working with classroom teachers on at home learning. And many of those caregivers now honor teachers more than ever before and have felt that they are woefully ill prepared to help their students make this transition. So, for a little assistance, we have contacted some South Dakota teachers of the year to talk about how parents can be better teachers during a crisis and how some of their education challenges have been met over the years. So first with us, we have Erica Boomsma, she is a 2019 South Dakota Teacher of The Year and a fourth grade teacher from the Huron School District. Erica, welcome. Thanks for being here.

Erica Boomsma: Thank you for letting me be on, this is wonderful.

Lori Walsh: Amanda Harris is a 2020 South Dakota Teacher of The Year, also fourth grade teacher at Endeavor Elementary in the Harrisburg School District. Amanda, thanks for being here.

Amanda Harris: Thanks for having me.

Lori Walsh: And Lori Wagner is the 2017 Daktronics Outstanding Math Teacher, a 2014 regional Teacher of Year and a member of the South Dakota Board of Education Standards. Lori, thanks for being here.

Lori Wagner: Good morning and thank you for having me.

Lori Walsh: Maybe I should've called you all Ms. Boomsma, Ms. Harris, and Ms. Wagner. So if your students are listening, they know who we're talking to. I don't know. So first of all, so many parents I think who had appreciation for teachers before now have even greater appreciation for teachers. This has been a tough time for students, for parents and caregivers and also for teachers. So Erica, let's start with you a little bit. And how has the adjustment been, what have some of the biggest challenges been just going into this sort of massive transition in your area, which is the Huron School District?

Erica Boomsma: Well, for us, that day that we found out that we were not going to be returning to class was really difficult. So we managed to get the kids right away out and into the buses with packets that would last a week. And then right away we all got together and knew as teachers we needed to contact every student. So we call our kids weekly. It can be a little difficult because there can be language barriers in Huron. I do have a lot of ELL students in my classroom, so needing to pull out Spanish that I have not used this much in a long time is something that I had to do, but then also making sure I could have apps that would translate from English into Korean. It became a whole new game where we were used to having our kids with us and being able to kind of console them physically.

Now we had to get to them in a different way and that was over phone calls and over video. So once that's happened then we started setting up as school's website for ourselves and for our kids because we wanted our kids to have a classroom home away from home.

And for us that was the website where they could feel like they were at home with the music we use in our room, with content that we use in our room, and with videos of me teaching lessons. So, that face to face while we couldn't be face to face became very, very important and it still is. So, those are some of the challenges. It's every day and every week as a brand new challenge to face. And I have fantastic parents and children who are walking side by side with me to do that. I'm very, very proud and impressed with the parents in South Dakota. They have risen to an occasion that no one had to rise to before. Not in this way. Yeah.

Lori Walsh: Amanda, same question. What are some of those big challenges of that adjustment and how have your families and the Harrisburg School District really risen to the occasion that you've seen alongside your colleagues who have done some pretty heroic feats of education here? That's a phrase, it's not often used in the same sentence, but ...

Amanda Harris: Yeah. I have to echo what Erica was talking about, just how proud I am of rising to this occasion and rising up together. In Harrisburg, we really focused on the physical and emotional needs. Those were placed in the forefront, especially during that first week. Our learning we knew would take place, but we put a pause on that and we really emphasized and rallied and provided resources for getting our kids fed, making sure that they were in safe places, that they had the resources that they need. There was a lot of discussion about equity and what our learning would look like once it started. I was thankful that our local internet providers were able to provide low cost internet to our families, on getting devices in kids' hands, but our focus was definitely the emotional, the physical needs and that still remains today. Our learning will come second. Emotional needs are always first.

Lori Walsh: Yeah. Lori Wagner. Some of the biggest challenges and how you've been meeting them?

Lori Wagner: Well, my situation is probably a little bit different in the sense that I teach through the learning center at Northern State University. And so we are basically set up for a distance education to begin with. And so, you think that that would be a pretty smooth transformation. However we have our issues as well. What we tried to do is just coordinate the best that we possibly could with our partner schools and do what best would accommodate their plans because with working with so many different schools across the state, everything was just a little bit different.

And so what we did is we just went with what they had and did the best we could for our students that way. And although we are a distance education, it's not all online. We have some face to face. And so that face to face that we do, we are missing as well. And we're trying to just replace that with some Zoom sessions. If a student needs help or telephone conversations or anything at all that we can do to connect with those students that are going through a lot of things right now and not just the change in education but a lot of things in their lives as well.

Lori Walsh: Yeah, and one of the challenging and really painful parts of this has been the emotional or the physical safety and care of individual students and that sense of home that Erica was talking about. Like when you go somewhere every day and your teacher is smiling, that there's a routine or a ritual at the door, you see your friends, all that was really thrown up in the air. But I do want to talk to, to kind of pick your brain and get your advice for parents who are at this point struggling to get through May. We've heard about some people who are just like, "Well, we're giving up. This was never going to work in the first place. It's summer vacation." Erica, let's start with you. How do you kind of get kids more deeply involved in learning? Because there is a real fear of what can be lost during this time that will be very difficult to recover.

Erica Boomsma: I understand. I'm a mom as well as a teacher. So I have a six year old daughter and a nine year old son and I think that exact same thing. Am I providing enough for them at grade levels that I don't teach? So, one thing that I always tell myself is that even when I'm at home, but when I'm in the classroom is that I try to remember that every moment is a teachable moment. So, even when it's breakfast time, I can turn to my son and say, "Go ahead and put a cup of Cheerios with a half a cup of milk." And that sounds so simple, but a lot of things are happening there where they're measuring and have a lot autonomy, fractions. And you can take it a step further, have them read the cereal box to you. Not everything has to be an entire curriculum.

Every moment is very powerful. Even turning to them and saying, "A fourth of a cup has 30 Cheerios. You put a whole cup in your bowl, how many Cheerios do you think are in your bowl?" It sounds simple, but it always works. I also have to remind myself, and I want other teachers and parents to know that when you do have to reteach, this is very normal. I think it's discouraging for parents when they feel like they can't serve their kids in a way where they're understanding right away. As teachers, reteaching for us is part of our daily life. So it's very normal. You're not doing anything wrong. Just come at it with a different vantage point. And to think deeply about material. I always try to consider the three parts of yourself and that first part is your head, and your hands, and your heart.

So, when you're teaching your kids at home, when you have a lesson, part of that is for their minds, the curriculum and the content. And you can go take that a step further, putting it into an action, into a plan or into a project that they can work on. But most importantly, giving them a moment to think about how will this affect change in the world and make the world a better place. Those three ideas while you teach as a parent will cause your child to think deeply. It does in my classroom. I know it does in my house and I know it will work for you too.

Lori Walsh: I love those. It sounds simple, but so does washing your hands and since we've kind of begun this everyone's like, "You've got to wash your hands." And at first people were like, "Is that all you've got?" And, yeah, the science of hand-washing is way more powerful than we ever realized. Here it is. Yeah. Amanda, your advice to parents and people trying to figure out how to teach and to be good teachers in a really difficult time because we also want some kind of mastery and we want some kind of positive feedback. It's one thing to lower your expectations and say, "Well, we have to deal with what's in front of us." It's another thing to feel like nothing is working and you're not really doing any learning and that can be discouraging. What's your advice, Amanda?

Amanda Harris: Yeah, I would say as I've said before and parents are their child's first and greatest teachers. And as teachers we spend weeks, months getting to know their kids, figuring out their learning styles, figuring out what works best for them, but parents already know this. And so, there is an opportunity there for parents to use their best judgment and to see what ... and make the best choice for their child. If they have a learning task in front of them that has been assigned by a teacher, I would advise a parent to ask yourself what is your comfort level with the material and use your best judgment if it's something that you can feasibly tackle and assist your student with or your child with, then absolutely continue on that path for progress. But on the other side of progress, we also have preservation and some students and families are just in that preservation mode and that is just fine.

As a teacher, as Erica echoed, we are going to be filling in gaps. We are going to be reteaching skills. That's what we do. That's our job and when fall comes and we are back in the classroom, we are ready and willing to take on those kids and fill in those gaps and meet them at their needs and no one's getting left behind.

And so whether you are attacking this as a parent focused on progress or focused on preservation, trust your judgment, you know your kids, you know what's in their hearts, but prepare their hearts and their minds. And just to feed off of Erica's idea about every moment is a learning moment, absolutely. This is an opportunity for students to learn more about themselves. Maybe even a deeper sense of self about themselves and their learning style. Maybe they have a passion project that they would like to pursue. Conducting independent investigation, collaborating with students and peers through Zoom calls or FaceTime or just taking on some projects that maybe they wouldn't have otherwise had an opportunity to do and dig deeper into those ideas.

Lori Walsh: Yeah, I love that. I want to be in both of your classrooms. Laurie Wagner, some advice.

Lori Wagner: Well, in the upper level classes in high school, I know a lot of parents have got angst about not understanding the material that their students are doing and a lot of that happens in the math classroom. And so, I would just like to say to parents, we do not expect you to be experts in the area of mathematics or in all areas. It's not possible. We understand that. What is the good part about that is your student needs to see that you are vulnerable to that as well and the learning is going to happen with assistance maybe from others or other sources. And so, having parents realize that students also feel vulnerable. This is a learning process for them to do together. Encourage your students to reach out for help, whether it be to their teacher or whether it be to going to Google or whether it's going ... in my situation, my lessons are all video lessons for students. And so encouraging them to go back and learn that piece off of the video lesson perhaps.

And I think the most important piece is probably just be open to what they have to say and encourage them to explain to you about what they're doing. Let them be able to verbalize the process and that helps build that and make that more substantial in their world as well. And it just is a great time for a conversation to have with your parents. Every moment is a learning lesson the way the other girls had said as well. In my situation, right now, shoot on the news, we've got all kinds of graphs and we've got exponential growth and we have all kinds of math terms that are being spoken. And so what a great time for parents to have a conversation with their students about those things that are in the news and what's actually happening right now now and how that affects their, their lives and their worlds as well.

Lori Walsh: It's an opportunity to really become a lifelong learner as you see those things and have questions about what they might mean. And Lori, I like what you said about you don't have to be an expert. And I just want to remind parents that you're an expert on something and it's also a good opportunity to tell your kid ... I know when my daughter did math homework, it was always, "Hey, I love how this is different. It's not how I learned math. I like the way you're learning math much better because I had to memorize a bunch of tables that I have since forgotten.

So, I learned math from my daughter when she was in fourth and fifth and sixth grade because the way they teach is way more open than when I was in school, but then she would come home with some kind of grammar worksheet or something and I'd be like, "Well I'm on, I can help explain how to diagram that sentence." So Lori, we've all mastered something as adults that we can also be excited about sharing our love of learning and then open and vulnerable about the things that we don't know. And we have to be open to new ways of learning, too. It all changes, right?

Lori Wagner: You're right. Exactly. And you know that you just brought up a really great way to get students to think deeper and that was by you letting your daughter teach you. That is when we see mastery grow in our students. So, you were an excellent teacher.

Lori Walsh: Well, hey, she's in college now.

Lori Wagner: Engaging them in any of that learning. Yes. Participation over perfection all the time and they're striving for involving students in your learning. So well said, Lori. Okay.

Lori Walsh: And before I let you guys go, and maybe we'll have you back because this has been a great conversation and I think we could have many more of these. I want to talk about reading because I remember way back when my daughter was in first grade going to one of those workshops where the teacher said, "Don't cover up the pictures and make them decipher the words because the pictures are really important for this reason." And those teachers did such a great job of helping us understand really how kids learn to read. So if you're at home and you're frustrated that your kid isn't reading and maybe can't or you think they've memorized the book and that's not good enough. Erica, can you talk a little bit about reading and this process of just what's a really great way to read to your kids, read with your kids and to have this be a time where you learn to love reading as a family instead of sort of demanding some sense of progress or perfection about books? I'm pretty passionate about this. I'm guessing you probably are too.

Erica Boomsma: I am. That is exactly what we wish would always happen is that we would create an environment in our homes. In our classrooms, it's easy for me to control that. When it's in our homes now it's really letting our parents be involved in this too and watching our children light up with the joy of reading. First and foremost, have all of you in one room reading together so you can be on different books, but having your student or your child see you read fosters the notion that they also should be a reader just like you.

When it comes time with my kindergartner who is a really good book memorizer she is just learning how to read but every once in a while I will read a little part and then I will ask her, "Can you read this list?" And then she'll send out the word and I like to mix that up with her so that she has to use that phonetic part of her reading life right now too, but reading the story, we snuggle up, we are under a blanket, we are all together and my nine year old is really close by and we read books together that they both enjoy.

For all of our kids, this is a great time to read books that are going to show them because literature is so much more than just about knowing how to read. You can find this safe place, you can find friends, because right now we're isolated. Characters can be good friends. You can go to places you never would be allowed to right now. This is our avenue to open up a child's mind to reading. So I would say the more the better all together and make it a moment that you will remember and enjoy and make it a family endeavor.

Lori Walsh: Yeah, I love that. All right, let's talk again I hope in the future. Erica Booomsma, Amanda Harris, and Lori Wagner, all teachers of the year, all really successful and innovative educators and we appreciate all of your time. Erica, thanks so much.

Erica Boomsma: Thank you.

Lori Walsh: Amanda, thanks for being here.

Amanda Harris:Thank you very much.

Lori Walsh: And thanks Lori.

Lori Wagner: Thank you very much.