Note: Distance learning, or virtual teaching, describes the last month or so of this school year and here is a first-person look at how local teachers are handling this unusual and unexpected situation.

By Sonya Covalt

When distance-learning became a very hard reality for Oklahoma teachers, we, albeit with much trepidation, jumped to attention, rallied the troops, and put our best collective foot forward.

Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hoffmeister presented very clear instructions. No assignments would be mandatory. Grades could only help a student’s average, not hurt it. Give only two grades per week. Do not introduce new material. Online teaching would be utilized where at all possible.

Admittedly, I am an old dog. When technology originally began to explode on the scene in schools in the form of iPads, classroom computers, Smartboards, and so on, I was categorically unprepared. Over the course of the last several years however, and with significant help from colleagues, I had reached the place where I could, with some measure of confidence, include and embed digital resources and tools into my daily instruction.

Until COVID 19.

The virus shot across the face of our nation and throughout the world, affecting every single aspect of our lives.

Due to a necessary change in the face of instruction during this time of closed buildings and social-distancing, teachers have been forced to up their technology game even higher. We have been thrust into learning programs that may be unfamiliar to us, such as Zoom, Google Hangout, Google Meet, etc. Many have been required to learn Google Classroom, Google Docs, and a plethora of other programs and add-ons in Google Suite, with lightspeed. We’ve adapted lessons normally taught live-and-in-person and presented them through a computer screen. Add to this the task of keeping students engaged when you are not even physically in the same room with them.

To say it’s been a challenge is like saying Volcanic lava is warmish.

But, can I just say….

Woodward teachers and support personnel have stepped up.

This is what I know. This is what I’ve seen. Our teachers have spent hours upon hours coming up with fresh, fun, exciting and creative ways to engage their students.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

Jan Davis, music teacher at Horace Mann elementary, videos herself reading story-in-a-song books for her students. Sue Brown has virtual show-and-tell with her first-graders. Lauren Stahlman hosts Thoughtful Thursdays for Horace Mann. Ashley Schmitz incorporates puppetry into her digital music lessons.

Our librarians have been sharing newsletters, and information regarding how to access online books for free! April Williamson taught her students how to make an egg-shaker instrument at home. Chelsea Cruse uses Screentastify and iCivics games with her high schoolers. Lori Zimmerman brings her A-game by wearing incredible and fabulous costumes in her live classes, and hosting online Escape Rooms.

Moriah Graff and Taylor Bates made Bingo games with vocab, using a link that generates an interactive, digital game board. Scavenger hunts have also been used in their Google Meets, as well as in Kari Custar’s computer classes. Kim Boeckman starts her student meetings with a “Would you rather…?” question. Lorie Baggett uses science memes, jokes, and plays Quizlet live with fun science topics. Abbie Wasson made a choice board which included an opportunity for her students to video themselves making a healthy snack. Susan Moyer also uses choice boards, and created a cool game using integers.

Kris Gore has student dress-up days. Katie Welty and Kate White use Rebus puzzles and brain teasers, enticing social studies students to use their critical thinking skills. This is just a tiny snapshot of the countless ways WPS teachers are working to reach our students.

But wait, there’s more!

School counselors have set up their own virtual classrooms where students can touch base with them throughout the remainder of the school year, and have also begun online enrollment for the fall. Our Project AWARE team, Amy Whitewater and Dalinda Hix, has launched a teletherapy program to keep students connected with those services they were receiving prior to the closing of doors.

To keep things “livened up,” Highland Park faculty have adopted themes for virtual staff meetings, and recently wore wigs to “Get Wiggy With It!” Elementary school principals are joining live classes with students to check on them and some are also sharing morning announcements virtually. At the middle school, Chanda Peters set-up an individual Google Meet with each 7th and 8th grade teacher to offer support.

And, as of Friday, April 14, many of our cafeteria workers, bus drivers, paras and volunteer teachers have helped serve 23,888 meals to WPS students, just since spring break. Kim Williams, WPS social worker, has been able to continue our Backpack Program, and with the help of donations from school clubs and organizations, churches, and a few additional generous sources, is hopeful to keep the program running throughout the summer months. This is nothing short of amazing.

Let’s be real. I haven’t really enriched my instruction with much in the way of digital resources, online games, etc. My colleagues who are gifted in utilizing such wonderful educational tools with their students impress me daily. But, since that’s not really my jam, I am resigned to call upon a solid skill set which I have well-honed over the years, and used extensively in the classroom.

Being ridiculously goofy and having little self-pride.

Every day for my online class, I dress up. But….you couldn’t really call it “professional dress.”

I choose a costume and theme or slogan each night and surprise the kids with it during our live meetings each day. On Read-Aloud-Wednesdays, I read a short story for the students and my costume is based on a character, or something else related to the story. It’s been so much fun, and the kids’ reactions are comical.

My antics are nothing new to them, so they don’t even flinch when I dress as a tourist on safari, a member of Whoville, a Karate master, a pirate, or 1960s flower child. The majority wake up and attend class in their pajamas, so my zany, eccentric attire is the first thing that meets their eyes in the morning. Since they think I’m bonkers anyway, it’s just another day of class for them.

Like every other teacher in America right now, I just want to know my kids are safe and their needs are being met. This is our top priority. Whether or not they answer every question correctly, turn-in every assignment, or understand every nuance of the material is not our chief concern. Their well-being is paramount. Meeting together affords us the opportunity to touch base and continue building and maintaining relationships with them daily.

If dressing up in outlandish outfits keeps them coming back, I will continue to do so. They need the stability and security this continuation of school and contact with their friends and teachers can help provide. Many are living in unstable environments and need that connection to what is familiar and routine, normal and comfortable. As teachers, we need that connection too. Our students are part of our hearts.

And this is but a small snippet of what our Woodward Public School employees are doing for the children of Woodward.

What a blessing to be their colleague.

Editor's Note: Woodward's teachers will be featured in a segment of "Is This A Great State or What," on KFOR Channel 4 in Oklahoma City. The segment is scheduled for the 5 p.m. broadcast on Monday, May 4.

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