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July 26, 2021

Preparing for the New School Year: What Remote Teaching Taught Me

Sari Beth Rosenberg shares her five biggest takeaways about what remote teaching taught her as she prepares for the 2021-22 school year.


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By Sari Beth Rosenberg

Even though I’ve been teaching for nearly 20 years, the past year felt like my first foray into the profession. After more than a year of remote instruction, I cannot wait to return to my classroom. My biggest takeaway from teaching during a global pandemic is that nothing replaces the power of in-person human interaction, unencumbered by devices and screens.

Reflecting on the past 15 months online has allowed me to determine what new methods I want to integrate into my in-person classroom.

Here are my five biggest takeaways about what remote teaching taught me as I prepare for the 2021-22 school year:

1.  Make More Connections to Current Events

I’m determined to get as many students as possible interested in and aware of what is going on in America today. Understanding the news is crucial for civic engagement, and students are interested in learning about current events more than ever. To meet my students’ interests, I leaned in more when it came to making connections between the history I was teaching and what’s happening today. Last September, one of the first online assignments for my U.S. history classes was to read John Lewis’ New York Times op-ed “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of America.” His final message to America serves as a powerful blueprint for young people to get civically engaged. Even during online learning when it was a struggle to generate robust discussions, my students were engaged in the lesson discussing the article. I plan on starting the school year in September with the same reading, and I can’t wait to have a discussion about it with my students in an “IRL” (in real life) classroom.

2. Tap into the Power of Vulnerability

Reaching out and forging connections with students in the remote learning format was challenging. You are unable to convey emotion through body language, especially if they are not turning on their cameras during the Google Meet classes. Therefore, I realized that I had to more clearly verbalize my own vulnerability with the current situation to better connect with struggling students. (To take a deep dive into vulnerability studies, Brené Brown is the expert. I highly recommend her TED Talk about “The Power of Vulnerability.” More than ever, it is important that all educators make an extra effort to model our humanity to our students. You do not need to overshare, you can simply say: “This is hard for me, too.” Those simple words go a long way right now.

Whether you are online or IRL, it all comes from the same place of empathy, courage, love and a dedication to our students. When we reveal to our students that we care, it gives them the strength and confidence to push through this challenging experience. I plan on doubling down on this method when I return to the classroom. Students are going to need additional support and care after the past turbulent year.

3. Bring the Outside World into the Classroom

Thanks to online technology, I was able to bring in amazing guests to speak to my students, including Dr. Yohuru Williams, Frederick Joseph, Eliza Orlins, and Tara Strong. I’ve also left messages for my students on Instagram. Now that I’ve mastered the Zoom/Google Meet technology, it is possible to bring in guests from around the world. This is something I did not even consider before remote teaching.

4. Include Students in the Learning Process

We always include student feedback in our lesson planning. However, during online learning, I engaged with my class even more to get their comments about my lessons and strategies. It was crucial because most of them did not turn on cameras, so I had to find other ways aside from facial expressions and walking around a classroom to see if students were learning or if they were overwhelmed with the workload. For example, when students shared that having classwork and homework every day felt redundant, I listened to them. The following week, I was more thoughtful about the daily assignments, so it would not feel like busy work and actually help them learn and analyze the content. In one Google Meet, several students said they really appreciated that I was including them in “my process” in setting up the lessons and curriculum. That felt satisfying, and I plan on continuing this when I’m back in the classroom. In fact, we should also consider including kids in professional development for teachers. We need more student feedback when designing curriculum in general.

5. Work Harder to Encourage the ‘Shy’ Kid

Many teachers often assume that the quiet students are just not interested in participating. With online learning, I realized that some students prefer to write down their thoughts and might be too shy or uncomfortable to say them out loud in class. Back in the classroom, I plan to use a Post-it method where I will tell students to chime in on a note. I will have another student read their comments, so more voices can be included in the conversation. I will also have a Google Doc opened on my smartboard so students can share their thoughts if they do not want to speak out loud.

  •  Find more resources for the upcoming academic year here.
  • Join Share My Lesson's Reopening Community here.

Sari Beth Rosenberg

Sari Beth Rosenberg has been teaching U.S. History and AP U.S. History at a New York City public high school, the High School for Environmental Studies, for the past 20 years and she currently hosts the PBS NewsHour Classroom Educator Zoom Series.

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