In Depth: How This Sycamore Teacher Found Success with Distance Learning

We caught up with Sycamore 3rd grade teacher Tiffany Stahl to ask her to talk about elements of teaching via distance learning, and how she changed parts of her daily interactions to better serve students and families.
(Tiffany has been selected to present at the upcoming Purdue University eLearning teacher training where she will talk to other teachers about how she has put together her program for Sycamore students.)

What did you in your distance learning teaching from mid-March to when you finished in late in May that helped you be a better Distance Learning teacher?
We surveyed the parents before spring break and had a lot of good feedback, but also some items for improvement. So, we adjusted accordingly based on best practices for gifted students and parent feedback. The two major changes: I switched to more Zoom sessions after spring break, and we provided third graders with student emails, which they typically don't receive these until 4th grade. I also provided parents with an ingredient list every weekend after spring break to do the optional chemistry experiments at home instead of watching me do them on a recorded video. The students really enjoyed experimenting at home, and I loved seeing the pictures and videos of them from their parents. 
What did you find were some keys having successful interactions with your students and class? 
On using Zoom:  I was able to see both the ah-ha moments, as well as the confusion at times, on student's faces. These interactions allowed me to gauge their understanding better than if they were just simply watching a video of me do a lesson. I really enjoyed still being able to teach through Zoom sessions. Seeing the students in those sessions kept me going, as well. I missed the daily interactions with them.
On schedules for the students: Students needed that consistent piece in an otherwise traumatic and changing time for some. I think one of the key items was to have a set schedule from the beginning of e-learning. I knew after spring break that math groups would still be differentiated (32 total students broken down into 5 small groups) and would meet every Monday and Wednesday. I wanted to keep instructional time differentiated and in smaller group sizes--exactly like the students are familiar with at school.

Part of the Sycamore way is making students feel loved or special - how did you try and do that during this odd time?
I always started Zoom sessions with a “how's it going?” conversation instead of (starting with) the lesson for the day. They always had fun things to share with me - new pets, a lost tooth, a bike ride with a family member...all the little things they used to tell me upon arriving at school. We also had a morning video for them, which always started with a "Bad Joke of the Day," which was simply a kid joke. They loved the bad joke of the day! I also sent bookmarks with an encouraging message at the beginning of May. Last, we tried to be supportive in the feedback that we provided on each assignment. The students were really trying their best, and we wanted them to know that we appreciated their hard work.

What will you remember most about teaching via Distance Learning? 
Teaching via distance learning is way harder than I ever thought possible, but I made it work. I wanted students to still experience everything they would at school, but that was difficult at times. I will remember the thoughtful emails and letters that I received during this time from both students and parents. The encouragement seemed to always come at the right time. Families were huge throughout this - they were supporting me every day. I cannot thank them enough for jumping on board with me.
In Tiffany’s upcoming presentation, she will talk to teachers about some of the bumps in the distance learning road and how she found the elements of success for her students and families. She will show attendees the top ten ways to implement a successful distance learning plan, including information on how to set up a daily lesson plan, how to keep families engaged, and how to keep all students learning at their own pace from afar.
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