This article is part of a series where the Paper team connects with leaders in education to highlight different experiences and perspectives on the changing realities of education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Laura Lavery is a Spanish Language teacher at Franklin Special School District in Tennessee. She has always enjoyed implementing technology in her classroom to foster student engagement and interaction. On any given day, even before the current pandemic forced teachers everywhere into becoming virtual learning experts, you could find Laura hosting classroom games and competitions over Kahoot, Quizzalize, or Flipgrid.

When schools had to close, she knew that there would be a lot of teachers that would need help from her in implementing technology in a way that is effective. To do her part in spreading support and positivity in these uncertain times, Laura began sharing her classroom resources and ideas with other teachers on social media, as well as hosting virtual events with them to build community.

The Paper team interviewed Laura twice, first in March and then in June, to get a moving picture of how she has been helping fellow educators. In our conversations, Laura gave us the THEN and the NOW of distance learning.


On being ahead of the virtual curve

THEN — March 2020:

Obviously, since I've always been doing everything online I don't feel like my class had too much of a shift, because the kids are so familiar with the tools. So the lessons are still very much the same, but without me being there in-person to facilitate. Two years ago one of my big visions for my class was to go paperless. Our school had gone 1:1 with our kids. That just really solidified how I teach now. It's all just on the computer, so I'm not giving paper handouts or worksheets.

I am a tech-savvy teacher and I teach middle school, so I really wanted to invest in them since the world they’re growing up in is so connected by devices. Not everybody obviously has that educational philosophy about technology. I’ve only seen the results in my own classroom so I can only speak on what I get to see with my kids, and I’ve always seen a 100% engagement while using technology.

There are still things that students will have to adapt to with this learning because like you know they're not seeing you face-to-face anymore so we can’t host events with parents and community members or take field trips for real-world learning and volunteering. So now I’m just going to be doing events online, I’m sending out e-vites right now to have virtual Zoom parties with the kids, such as an online bring-your-pet-to-class day, just to make it all a bit more magical, so it's not the monotony of logging on to do the same things every day for the kids
I want to be keeping old traditions alive too. This year we had a virtual egg hunt. So every year we have an egg hunt on the front lawn with little plastic eggs with vocabulary in Spanish, and obviously that can’t happen this year so I just made a Google drawing, it’s not the best, but it has a bunch of eggs and has a bunch of vocabulary. And we logged onto Zoom as a class and played the game together. And I have some other ideas I’m thinking about.

NOW — JUNE 2020:

I relied heavily on technology resources such as Zoom and Google Classroom to stay connected to my students. I’ve used Flipgrid quite frequently to support students social-emotionally. For example, we created a Grid to leave messages of encouragement for each other. And for the 8th-grade celebration, our teachers created a WeVideo to say our final thoughts. I even had the Mayor of our town record a surprise Flipgrid message for my students!

It’s definitely a unique situation for all of us teachers but thanks to resources like Vocaroo, Screencastify, Flipgrid, and Anchor kids can practice speaking in Spanish. We also have been using Duolingo this year and continued with that during virtual learning. Duolingo is great because I can track student progress and acquire a lot of student data.
For the cultural aspect of teaching the language, we’ve used 360Cities, YouVisit, and Google Tour Builder to go on virtual trips to see famous Spanish landmarks. These trips provide awesome photographs and they are applicable to the real world.

I have definitely increased my own creativity during this time. For example, I hosted a Porch Poetry event for students by reading them poetry on my porch, created birthday Bubble greetings for them, sent them snail mail, made some sidewalk chalk art, and even got dressed up to take kids on virtual reality trips!

On helping fellow teachers online

THEN:

I think a lot of teachers are probably overwhelmed because the closures happened so abruptly. And now they're feeling isolated, and they don't feel as secure because they’re not with their network in a physical space, like a team meeting or a conference. And everyone was telling them “You gotta teach the kids!” So they're looking around at all these tech tools and they don’t know where to start, or whether their kids will get on, etc.

So a lot of people have been messaging me for help. They’re all really motivated, I just think they’re overwhelmed on where to start. They’ll ask “Well, I'm teaching this, and is this tool good for this,” or “I'm not comfortable with the webcam,’ so then I’ll direct them to tools where they can keep their camera off and just worry about their desktop screen. So I’ve told them they’ve just got to try. I try to inspire others with what I’m doing and I take inspiration from others too. You never know until you try. And also I think that a lot of the kids are just happy to see their teachers right now, even if it’s on the screen.

NOW:

I have definitely seen an increase in my following on Twitter and Instagram. I am very thankful for this and love to be able to help others. I created my Twitter account initially to equip teachers with educational technology resources, but have definitely been providing content to encourage teachers and boost their morale too. For example, I decided to host my own Twitter chat on Fridays, to generate ideas and support teachers around the world.

I also compiled some best strategies for new teachers. I feel like they are in a very unique situation and want to support them as much as I can from afar. Also, I jumped on the virtual Bitmoji classroom and have been using Bitmojis to help teachers with their students' social-emotional learning.

On the road ahead

THEN:

When the dust settles on this whole situation I think there are going to be a lot more people that are going to be on board with tech, because they will have seen that it’s a tool that works. And that it's not replacing the teacher. Tech could never replace empathy and friendships and nurturing but I think these resources help. They help! Especially when you’re not around your kids. I think (and hope) all this will change the way a lot of teachers operate their classrooms next year.

NOW:

During the summer, I am going to try to continue hosting my Friday 10:00 a.m. #chitchats on Twitter to support and encourage teachers with advice and tips to better our practice. Until I receive an official announcement from my district, I am not sure how to prepare for Fall. I am a little nervous about my community partnerships that I have built over the past years and what the future of field trips will look like. I believe the visitors in my classroom brought so much valuable insights and advice to my students. For example, the city mayor is a regular visitor, and many of my students' parents come in to talk about their culture. The same goes for field trips — we went to nursing homes, grocery stores, and Mexican restaurants with the class. It’s hard to replace these experiences!

Parting remarks

THEN:

I just want to encourage teachers to not give up. And if it doesn’t work today, then you’ve gotta try again tomorrow. My first Zoom session wasn’t great, but you can’t give up because everything’s not perfect. You’ve gotta give yourself a little grace too and reach out to people online. People are there to help, you’ve just gotta ask.

NOW:

I want to say thank you to all the amazing educators I have connected with online that I may never have connected with otherwise. These amazing individuals have provided inspiration and encouragement to me. Also, if you’re a teacher and you need help, just ask on Twitter — there are so many people who want to help!

More from Laura Lavery

To keep up with all of Laura’s teacher support resources and events, follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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