Trial by Fire: Teachers Helping Teachers
This group of current and former tech-savvy educators is donating one-on-one advisory time to help their fellow teachers make it through the pivot to remote learning.
- By Dian Schaffhauser
until recently, Ready
was a company made up of educators who traveled around the world,
consulting on how to support immersive and emergent technology in
learning in education and the corporate space. By mid-March, however,
co-founders Micah Shippee, Christine Lion-Bailey and Jesse Lubinsky
recognized that a whole bunch of teachers were going to have to adopt
technology almost overnight to deliver remote instruction in the time
of pandemic and that some of them were going to need help fast making
three have educator chops. Shippee, a father of three, is both the
RL1 chief executive officer and an eighth-grade social studies
teacher in a Syracuse school. Lion-Bailey serves as RL1's chief
strategy officer and director of technology and innovation at a
district in the greater New York City area. And Lubinsky, also a
father of three, is RL1's chief learning officer; he previously spent
seven years in the classroom as a teacher and 11 years as a directory
of technology and innovation for a New York state district.
as they were making the shift to remote schooling with their own
children, the trio were seeing posts on social media from educators
around the world volunteering to help their fellow teachers on the
fly. So RL1 decided to systemize the process. The company created a
scheduling system that would allow people to book a block of time
where they could get free one-on-one support. Then it tapped its
extensive network of tech-savvy educators to volunteer. "Within
a day, we had our entire schedule filled for two weeks with educators
from around the world who were willing to donate an hour or two of
their time," Lubinsky said. Now, coverage is available 24/7.
about two-dozen people are volunteering their time. As educators sign
up for help, RL1 coordinates behind the scenes, making sure that
everyone has someone to talk to. "What we didn't want was
educators out there feeling that they were totally isolated and alone
with this burden of expectation, while their own kids are in the
other room and if they had a question or two, they didn’t know who
to go talk to. We said, we may not have all the answers, but we want
you to know you're not alone," said Lubinsky.
he added, it's giving those educators stuck at home who want to help
a way to do so. "They want to make a difference. They don’t
have medical training to help at the hospital. But in an hour or two
of time at the computer helping other educators support kids, that's
going to make a huge difference. We have educators coming together
and providing resources to each other with no expectation of anything
in return other than trying to help their peers."
approach is different from standard professional development, noted
Shippee. "I could go do an hour presentation on something I'm an
expert in. But that may not be what someone wants, because the needs
of every teacher are so different. So, we said, 'Sign up for one of
our timeslots and talk to one of our experts.' We don’t know if
we're going to have all the answers, but you're not going to be
alone, and if we don’t know the answer, we'll help you find someone
who does--or at least get you to the resources you might need to take
that next step."
they've seen teachers participate in sessions and then come back and
book another time with someone else, Shippee is fairly certain
"people are getting something out of the support."
Kinds of Questions Teachers Ask
the support requests are often unique, the essential needs have a few
lot of the questions have to do with the use of Google Classroom.
While many teachers were already familiar with the program, explained
Lubinsky, their use was limited to storing assignments and documents.
"Now, they're being asked to use this as the hub of all learning
they are doing in the classroom. Some of them are having difficulty
with that transition from using it as a supplementary tool to support
what they were doing in the classroom to doing everything there,
including posting Zoom or Google Hangouts."
the advent of "Zoom bombing," in which strangers hijack
Zoom sessions meant for learning, teachers began asking about the
"proper security settings" for video conferencing.
in New York City were facing a double quandary. Some of the districts
there were giving out Chromebooks to make sure students had
technology to take home. Teachers were not only being asked to
transition to the use of Google Classroom, but they may not have had
any training in it in the first place.
probably the most "technically complex request," a teacher
reached out wanting to figure out strategies to relay information to
families. In that case Lubinsky stepped in and routed the educator to
a third-party tool that would allow linking Google Classroom to the
district's student information system.
some cases, the volunteers are directing people to popup sources of
help, such as the Facebook group, "Educator
Temporary School Closure for Online Learning."
When Lubinsky joined, there were about 1,500 members. Now the private
group, created just a month ago and intended solely for educators,
has more than 124,000 members. (Separate groups have been set up for
administrators and parents.)
to help teachers navigate the flotsam-laden waters of ed tech, RL1
launched a blog
which the company has committed to running daily for at least three
weeks. Each post covers a different topic related to remote
learning--video creation tools, managing a workflow through Google
Classroom, running virtual field trips--and provides resources that
can help teachers pull off lessons.
lessons in half. Beyond
the technical help, teachers are struggling to figure out how to
convert their standard lessons into shorter ones. A colleague in
China who was a few weeks ahead of them in making the shift to online
schooling recommended "very early on," to go with a lesson
structure "that was half as long as usual," said Shippee.
"If it's a 40-minute lesson, make it 20 minutes." How is
that possible? Just consider all the time in the physical classroom
expended on "social breaks, transitions and conversations,"
that don't happen in the distance learning world, he pointed out. "To
think, 'Well, I teach 40 minutes, therefore I need my students to be
staring at my content on their devices for 40 minutes,' that's
irrational. It's bad pedagogy."
about innovative technology.
Teachers are looking for help with what they already have on hand
right now. "Yes, they may be familiar with Classroom. Yes, they
may be familiar with Hangouts. But they haven't had to run their full
instructional day through this type of tool while their kids are in
the background. Don't use this time to impose further stress on
teachers by recommending ed tech outside their immediate realm.
to modified flipped.
Consider recording mini-lessons and assigning those to be done by the
students on their own, then spending Zoom or Hangouts time "answering
questions and doing work with your students," Lubinsky
suggested. A recent lesson Shippee gave his eighth graders, for
example, incorporated a video about how the United States mobilized
for World War II and how businesses changed what they were producing
to match needs for the war effort. "Students watch a six-minute
video and then they go into their microblog in Google Classroom to
share how people doing that today," he explained. "I want
them to talk about garment factories making COVID-19 masks and people
at home making face shields with their 3D printers. I'm hoping they
make that connection." In total, that's about 10 or 20 minutes
teachers to leave perfection behind. Teachers
are "professionals," said Lubinsky. "They want things
to be perfect, pristine." Recently, he was helping a media
specialist figure out how to get a podcast going with fellow
teachers; but he found she was getting "into the weeds" on
using special effects and close editing. His advice: "Let go of
the perfection expectations you have for yourself, because that's
what's going to drive you crazy and bring you down. We just need to
be able to get content out there. How can we get that done?"
Right now, even as teachers are telling their parents, "Be easy
on yourself," he said, they too "need to reflect and modify
those expectations for themselves."
called the move to remote teaching and learning a "trial by
fire." But at the end of it, he said, he believes instructional
practices will be stronger than they've ever been for two reasons.
First, he said, "I spend a lot of time helping my students with
the workflow, and there's a sense of learned helplessness in the
classroom: 'I don’t get it, so Dr. Shippee is going to walk over
and show me what to click on.' They're figuring things out at home,
and I now know what they can do without me. That's going to increase
what I ask of them when I see them face to face." Second, now
that he and his colleagues are all using the same system as a
communication tool, "that's going to help my students stay
organized, it's going to help us [teachers] stay organized, and it's
going to increase collaboration."
you're a teacher who wants help from another educator, you can sign
this Calendly scheduler.
Timeslots currently officially run 15 minutes.