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The Online Shift: A Teacher’s Perspective

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Monique Lake, science teacher at Harper Woods High School.

Embracing the shift

Traditionally, “going to school” has been the place where students and teachers meet each day for the purposes of instilling knowledge and wonder, but the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic shifted that, and sent teachers and students scrambling to figure out their new virtual reality.  “Eliminating obstacles and getting students involved with their education is not easy, especially now,” said Monique Lake, science teacher at Harper Woods High School. Holding her students accountable is key, but she is committed to making the transition to online learning a positive experience. “What makes great teaching in the classroom will transfer to a virtual environment, it just takes a moment.” She has made many adjustments to her teaching curriculum and slowed the pace. “The content is still rich, but the volume of work is less.”

Ms. Lake believes science disciplines are more difficult to instruct through the internet. It requires purposeful instruction to develop their conceptual understanding by discussing their ideas and sharing their work. Group work is also a core element to her science classes, she uses videos and worksheets to prompt discussions, and one-on-one chats for certain projects. Developing clear expectations and predictable routines has helped her students become more comfortable with distance learning. The transition has not been without hiccups, from dropped connections to cramped teaching space. But it has also sparked creative adaptations to her lessons, and next year, Ms. Lake will be incorporating electronic labs, and hands on investigations using household items to demonstrate experiments.

Winning Futures virtual program from a teacher’s perspective

High school students need mentoring and life skills development now more than ever, and our shift to a virtual program has been well-received by Ms. Lake. “It’s just awesome! It was one of my first concerns when we shifted to distance learning. Each day can challenge their ability to adapt in a distance learning environment all while coping with the loss of daily connections with friends and teachers. Students have fewer outlets outside of school now, and having a Winning Futures mentor simply validate their concerns or disappointments can go along way with helping them cope.”

Our virtual mentoring program will continue to be critical in helping students navigate the impact they face due to this pandemic, and Ms. Lake appreciates the weekly connections with students the program offers.

“I always encourage them to participate because you don’t know what it could lead to, maybe they’ll see something in you that you don’t see in yourself.”

Building a virtual community

Our program is rooted in face-to-face communication and high touch experiences all within a classroom setting. With government officials continuing to debate the risks of students returning to school, it was clear that virtual classrooms were here to stay and that we needed to reimagine the structure of our program. We had to think creatively on how to execute our program in a virtual environment that continued to impact our students in a meaningful way.   It was a transformative moment. We needed to pivot.

Our leadership, dedicated staff, and teacher partners identified opportunities to adapt and reshape our existing programs. Since March, we successfully launched four new virtual program models, all grounded with the same fundamentals of transforming students into self-reliant, employable, and productive adults. While each program serves a student at varying stages in their high school experience, they all now incorporate virtual classroom education, individual zoom meetings, tutorials, surveys, texts, phone calls and even home visits for awards and recognition.  We also launched an evolved mentoring program, College Success Coaching, where graduates from our program and Detroit Promise, who are currently enrolled in college or a vocational school, are paired with a staff member for a monthly video call. This one-on-one topic-based approach helps students stay in school and develop skills to help them on their career path, and supports their emotional needs.

While it is harder to do active, mentor-based coaching online, we’re realizing it’s not impossible. “Perhaps,” Bryan Howard, director of programs mused, “the virtual world is a really good way to engage with our students and some of what we’ve developed will remain even when we are back in the classroom.”

Plan, Pivot and Repeat

As 2020 comes to an end, we are happy to welcome a new year, but proud of our collective efforts over the last nine months. We planned. We celebrated victories. We adjusted and readjusted our plans. We were mindful of our vision and purpose, which guided us to push back against the repercussions of Covid-19 and find new ways to make connections in a virtual environment.  We helped each other and our students find their way and learn to build a new “normal” from home.

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