Supporting and Lifting Up Teachers in the World of COVID-19
While this time of year always seems to involve a great deal of back-to-school talk, this year it is even more so with every conversation involving school plans, district or parent decisions, and imaging what school will be like this year. For teachers, these discussions and issues are at the forefront of their minds, as they prepare for a year like no other. Guests: Mariah Morris, 2019 Teacher of the Year Maureen Stover, 2020 Teacher of the Year Matt Smith, Principal of the Year Tamika Walker, NCAE President
Welcome to education matters presented by the Public School Forum of North Carolina. I'm your host, Maryanne Wolf. While this time of year always seems to involve a great deal of back to school talk, this year, it is even more so with every conversation involving school plans, destructor parent decisions and imagining what school will be like for teachers. Thes discussions and issues are at the forefront of their minds as they prepare for a year like no other. We're thrilled to be joined today by our 2019 and 2020 North Carolina teachers of the year. Mariah Morris is the 2019 Teacher of the year, and she wasa second grade teacher at West Pine Elementary in Moore County. She is currently the innovation and special projects coordinator there. Maureen Stover is the 2020 teacher of the year. She is a science teacher at Cumberland International Early College High School. Welcome to you both. Thank you. We'd love for you both to share with us the primary challenges or opportunities that you are thinking about in anticipation of this year. Mariah. Sure, I think that this year offers a mix of both challenges and opportunities like you just noted. Four teachers coming in and our students coming in, they're going to have to navigate this new world of blended education. We saw that somewhat in the spring, but I think we're really in survival mode in the spring, and this is now becoming a new normal and how we're going to do school this year. I think a challenge is going to be how to find balance between our in person learning and are blended learning for teachers at finding balance between their students to or in front of them. And then who are virtually connecting at home as well as finding a balance in their personal lives so that they know that they need to turn off the computer and turn off the remote learning so that they can focus on their own social emotional needs. So I think it's all about balance and understanding that everyone is doing the best they can, that there's really truly no good answers for a global pandemic and that we're navigating this to the best of our ability. Thank you, Maureen. Yeah, and like Mariah said, it's definitely gonna be a very unique year but I don't really see it necessarily as challenges. I don't see the challenges is a negative thing. I rather see those challenges as opportunities to make educational opportunities better for our students in North Carolina. So as we approach the blended learning in the remote learning models, there are going to be some different opportunities that we have to help our students learn. And I think it's really important that we as educators, approach that in a positive way. Our students, our families, our communities will be looking toward teachers and toward our educational educational leaders to see how we're handling the situation and when we show them that we're excited about it, that we see great opportunities and that we can't wait to educate our Children, then they're gonna follow suit and they're also going to see it in a positive way. So I think it's a real opportunity for teachers to demonstrate how much we care about students, how much we care about education and how much we care about our kids. And I think that our teachers are going to step forward and really show how diverse they are in the way that they're gonna handle the situation and also just demonstrate that they're ready to take on this challenge and to find great ways to continue educating our kids. It's such a great reminder of how important it is that we're actually modeling right every single day for teachers, families and community members. As we go through that, I wonder, Maureen, if you could share some specific examples about how the work that you're doing to meet the needs of students and others will dio is similar is before, but also perhaps some unique ways that you're working to meet the needs of your students. So I think one of the really important things that we need to address is the necessity to still meet those social emotional learning needs of our students. So that's something that teachers do every day when we have our students in class with us. A lot of times, it's easy to identify if a student is struggling with something or if a student needs some additional attention or need some help in that SCL Rome. When we're teaching remotely, that is definitely going to become more of a challenge because we're not going to be actually in person with our students, so we're not going to kind of get that feel from our students when they need something extra from us. So I think it's gonna be very important as we move into the 2020 21 school year that we are working with our counselors with our social workers, with our district leaders, with our administrators to ensure that we are still meeting those unique if social, emotional needs for each one of our students. So some of the things that I did in the spring to help make sure I was meeting those social emotional needs is that I set aside time and every one of my lessons for the kids just to talk. So they were able to share successes. They were able to share concerns. They were able to share worries. I could be there toe to congratulate them when they have something really awesome they did. I could also be there to kind of help them navigate some of those more difficult questions that came up like What does it mean when somebody in my apartment complex tested positive for Cove in 19 and um, I because the kids were scared when they heard that or what does it mean that I You know that we're not gonna come back to school in the fall? How is that gonna look? And teachers can be there to help their students navigate through those different questions. So I think it's going to be very important that teachers kind of think ahead of time of ways that they can embed those different strategies that they can use to meet those social emotional learning needs of their students. Thank you. And Mariah, I know you've taken on a new role at the district level, and I'm also aware that district leaders and principles have spent so much time this summer preparing for the new school year. I wonder if you have advice for them. The district in school leaders who are trying to support educators so they can do all the things Marine was just talking about. Sure, that's a great question. Our district leaders are faced with making new decisions each and every day that they've never been prepped for and have no guidebook for how to navigate. And they're doing a phenomenal job of doing so. I know in Moore County schools, our district leaders are just doing an absolutely amazing job of taking all the different perspectives in and really thinking it through for how this will look for our students, our families and our teachers, and I think that is my number. One piece of advice is to make sure that as we design at the district level, we're designing with our students and with our teachers and with our parents and not for them. And that's a very, um, subtle linguistic shift. But it really moves mountains in your approach for how to navigate this new territory. Our teachers are ultimately the closest people to our Children and our students. And I always tell teachers that's a gift that nobody can take away from them, that they are the closest with our users, which are students who were designing for. So let's bring them into the conversation. And let's use our teacher perspectives and our students and our family perspectives, because remote learning and blended learning that there are now three experts on it and thats parents, teachers and our students. And if those three are not brought into the conversation, then will be missing the mark. Thank you. And I wonder Mariah, Um, you mentioned you know, that you've gathered with sit teams and others. Are you seeing a great deal of professional learning as we go into the new school year? Most definitely. I know here in Moore County schools, we are really building out robust support systems, three professional development. And that's just one example of the myriad of other districts that I've heard doing the same thing. I'm really taking on this challenge and seeing it as a growth opportunity and a learning opportunity so that we can build ourselves and become better educators in this new area that we have been pushed into and Marine, I know teachers look to you and Mariah as models, and but also we know that a lot of our teachers were feeling very nervous and unsure right now, for many different reasons. I wonder what advice you have for teachers across the state as we go into the next school year. So my first piece of advice would be to remain positive and to keep the needs of your kids in the forefront of your planning, because if you're meeting the needs of the students that you teach, you're doing a fantastic job, and you're doing exactly what your students need you to dio. I might also say to be not, be afraid to go talk to your administrator or to talk to your department head or to talk to your sit teen chair if there's something going on that you're concerned about, or if you have a really good idea that maybe would be a positive thing that would work well with your community or within your own school. I know right now we're transitioning to Maureen taking on the Teacher of the year duties, and I wonder in our last minute, if you have any advice for her Marines. Awesome. She's a rock star. I feel like she should be given me advice. But surely I think the only advice is what she just said was her advice to teachers. And that is a teacher. Everything here, I always told people I answer to the Children of North Carolina. That's ultimately the group that I felt like I answered to it just to keep that in mind for you and your team that you're gonna learn about education from all different perspectives and interest groups in the political side, and but at the end of the day, you know you're doing the right thing. If it sits well with answering the question, am I doing the right things for the students and Children? Fourth Carolina? Well, we're really blessed to have both of you here in North Carolina, and I thank you for all those advice and just thoughtfulness than remembering how important kids and teachers aren't for our state. After the break, we will hear from principal Matt Smith and newly elected and see a president, Tomiko Walker Kelly, to share more on supporting and lifting up our educators and tap Thank you. Education matters has brought to you each week in part by town bank serving, others enriching lives, building upon the advice from our teachers of the year. We're delighted to have Matt Smith, the North Carolina 2019 principal of the year from EJ come Early College High School, and Tomiko Walker Kelly, the newly elected president of the North Carolina Association of Educators here with us to share more about how to support our educators as they prepare for a year like no other. Matt and Tameka, what support do you think that educators that you're working with right now need as they begin the school year to me. God. Well, first thank you for having me here on the show and in my role as president of STE. And in my former role as an elementary music specialist. I hear a lot of concerns from educators all across the state, and so one of the things that I hear are really tangible things like our teachers need. Additional resource is in order to do the jobs really well, particularly as we are transitioning to the fall. But a lot of what I hear is very intangible, but very much important. Our educators need time. They need the time to dig in and have the professional development and get training on the re sources and tools that they will need to make virtual learning the success in the phone. And they need grace, and they need respect for their profession. We are educators, we have an expertise. We are professional educators and learners as well. And so that goes a long way in understanding and and, like I said, extending grace to our educators because we're all in these new circumstances that we find ourselves, Thank you. And Matt, what do you see in your role is a principle? Well, Mary in Thank You. And it's just so grateful for the work that the Public school forum does and for education matters. Thank you so much for all that. I can't agree more with Tameka that that educators need grace. They need time. They need respect. Um, all of those things. I think I've always been important. So but as a role in my role as a principle, I think more than anything, I know that starting up a school year, I need to be just really crystal clear about, like what the expectations are for the school and our relationships with family with scholars. I think it's really important as a principle that I filter some of the noise all around us, said that teachers and the school can really like laser focus on what matters to us, which is the experience that Children have in our building. And so more than ever, it's important that as a principle I helped to kind of make sure that consistency is just a part of the way we do business and that I don't allow some of the just male strom and turbulence and chaos that is happening in the public sphere to translate into the experience that Children have in our building. Nothing first and foremost always. You know, I think all of us to me Go me everyone, you Marianne. We all went into this education business because relationships matter to us. I want to make sure that, you know, in my role is principle that if I need to get out of the way for those relationships toe happen, that I do that. But I need to also create space for relationships to be built because it is particularly in a remote learning environment. It's so important that we have really close relationships with every single child in every single teacher. So I think that's person for most, when I'm thinking about these days is expectations, consistency and then in your relationships. Thank you so much and you're right. That is what it's all about and so important right now. Tameka, you know, as you were equipped with teachers across the state, I wonder if you see different challenges based upon the geography or the district that teachers Aaron, you know, so one of things that's really interesting there in this time is we're all sort of facing the same similar situations, particularly more pronounced As we get closer to the start date of the school year. We see teachers that are very concerned about safety. We see teachers that are concerned about being able to deliver their constant will, particularly in our pre K in our special area teachers like music and other arts areas. But really, people want to be able to do that the careers and be in the profession that they love, and they want to keep our students in each other safe. And so those are the common things that I hear from all across the state, not just in the urban areas with the rule ones as well. And so our teachers are trying to navigate this challenging time by leaning on each other. They're talking to each other and collaborated with each other all across the state in order to make sure that as we are entering the school year in the fall, that we are absolutely and that we have every resource that we can possible. But it is challenging, and so those are some similar challenges we see from every area of the state. Those were great points, Matt. I wonder, too. You mentioned consistency and relationships is being so important when you're thinking about other school district or state leaders that are making decisions that obviously impact our teachers and students so much. Do you have any other advice for them? Based on your experience? You know, every district is different, but I do think there's something to be said for leaders who spend their time designing the start of school with their stakeholders instead of for their stakeholders. So as I have been thinking about the start of school and thinking about what does a remote learning schedule look like? What does our start of school processes and procedures look like? We're really designing those with families. So with our parents and with our students and with my staff, so I think it's important, transparent. As Tameka said earlier, we're learning through this we need grace. But if I went to truly build relationships than I need to build this remote learning platform and the ripped the start of school processes with the people that we're gonna be serving, it's so interesting. You say that because we also talked with our teachers of the year. Um, this, you know, earlier And they said the same thing, like designing with not for And I just think that's such an important point because a lot of people have experience now that can inform where we go and tell that we learned the spring has such an opportunity to do that. I do wonder, Aziz, you look forward. You know, what advice do you have for the over 100,000 teachers we have in our state knowing that a lot of them are scared? A lot of them are nervous and knowing that they want to do its best for kids. But you know, it's it's certainly different than what they're used. Teoh, I wonder what advice you both have. And Tameka, if you like to start, yes, yes. So I will just echo it massive earlier. The relationships are key in order to navigate this time that we currently find ourselves in. And so I encourage our educators to lean on each other to build relationships with each other, but also as integral parts of our school community to continue to build relationships with students. The families of those relationships are the key and the anchor. It's in this work, and they help us retain our focus on what is truly important. And that means that making sure that every child who comes to a public school has a high quality public school education. And so that is the advice that I'd be you are educators is that you know, we have the ability and we have the power in the expertise to change our current conditions and to build the public schools that are students deserve and that I wonder if I can put a little twist on your question. I wonder if you can also talk about advice for families as we round out as well as teachers, because I think our families are also trying to figure out how to support teachers while also trying to figure out what's best for their kids and how to navigate these waters, too. Yeah, sure. And I just have to say, you see what Tameka Kelly's in ce president? Because she has that voice of authenticity. She speaks to conditions on the ground. And so I'm grateful for that. Um, so you know my apparent myself. I have two Children in North Carolina. Public schools want to use a rising junior one who was in fifth grade, And I think it's important for parents to know and for teachers and educators to know that these Children have been witnessed over the last few months to all of the public discussions about how we reopen schools. They're aware that there are a lot of different perspectives on that. I know these Children want to come back to school, and another educators went to come back to school. But we have, you know, we have 100 20,000 teachers in North Carolina. We have 1.5 million schoolchildren, and those those Children are counting on us to see them as individuals to meet their individual needs, to inspire them, to lead them, to teach them. And I think my advice to parents would be very similar to test my advice to teachers that these kids don't need to be in the middle of that public discussion about how we reopen schools. They need to be in the middle of their own education, and I would ask parents and teachers just collectively toe to build a wall around these Children and to protect them going into the start of the school year because we want them now. We've got some catching up to do from from last year. But we also need to make sure that we keep these Children in a place of peace in a place of harmony, a place of safety. We put their relationships first, and I don't want anything outside of school or even outside the family to interfere with the quality of education of these Children. Get because they deserve it. Every single child in North Carolina, regardless of their zip code, regardless of their background, regardless of how much money their parents make, or regardless of their skin color, their ethnic backgrounds, their their religious dispositions. That yeah, every single child in North Carolina deserves a fresh start in a high quality education starting out the school year and said, That's how Aaron and schools work together. As we make sure that that happens and I love that. Let's make sure that for our students and teachers that they can focus on what they care so much about, which are the students and their own learning in terms of our students go, and we're just so grateful. And I know our education. Educators and families and community members air just so pleased to hear from you. And I just want to personally thank you both for all that you dio for our students every single day. So thank you so much for joining us. And after this break, one had this week. Final word. I don't know Anyone who goes into teaching who doesn't start out. Wanting to make a difference for kids while serving as a teacher always involves many different context, age groups and subjects. This year, most educators are likely feeling like they are first year teachers all over again. A states and districts are in the middle of making decisions about whether to offer in person learning. All remote learning or some hybrid. Of the two this fall are teachers air focused on what they must do to meet the needs of their students. In March, teachers pivoted to remote learning overnight and without warning, and many of express that they're eager to use the skills they quickly developed and adapted back then so that they can support their students academically, socially and emotionally during this new year. But in order for our educators and by extension, our students to be successful, there are several challenges we must address in order to lift up and support our educators at a time when they need us, perhaps more than ever before. First, we must develop and share with our educators and families the metrics by which we make decisions for transitioning from one school reopening plan to another. Teachers want transparency and how decisions were made, and we must continue to strive for this at the State district in school levels. Second, teachers have shared just how scared they are for their own health, the health of their families and the health of their students and colleagues. We must ensure that when teachers are required to be in school buildings, we have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, or PPE, as well as the cleaning supplies, staff and protocols necessary to keep our educators safe. Third, many of our teachers also have Children of their own. They're trying to navigate this strange new world is parents, like so many of us are while also teaching and meeting the needs of their students. We must develop community partnerships that meet their needs. His parents while they're teaching our Children fourth social and emotional learning applies to students and adults. As we move forward into the school year, we must check in with our teachers and understand where they are so that we can support their well being where possible. We need to provide professional learning and other opportunities to help them in designing lessons in new ways. We must also remember to check in with, um as people, not just his teachers. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not point out the obvious. All of the support for our educators, our schools and our students requires resource is Last week on our show, we highlighted the significant impact that unstable budgets could have on schools this upcoming year. Thanks to unexpected declines and enrollment, superintendents and school leaders across our state are seeking help from our lawmakers by asking them to hold school budgets harmless and preserve the funding and resource is that have already been appropriated for the 2021 school year. During a time of great instability are educators need stable funding so that they can continue to work toward delivering a sound basic education toe all of our Children this year, something we do not want to fall even further behind on achieving this during the pandemic, North Carolina must act to strengthen our public schools. Thank you for taking time with us. Tow, learn and think about education. That's all for today and we'll see you next week.