Remote Lessons Learned: An Extraordinary Educator Shares Distance Learning Tips

By: | 06/19/2020
Categories: Distance Learning, Instruction

On March 16, New York City officially closed its school buildings and moved to distance learning. Nélida “Nellie” Pagán, a second-grade teacher at the Walt Disney Magnet STEAM School in the Bronx, was just one of the NYC teachers who had to quickly move to teaching from a distance.  

In the spring, Nellie gave the presentation, “Remote Lessons Learned: Chronicles of a Second Grade Teacher,” as part of a series of Curriculum Associates’ distance learning webinars. During her presentation, Nellie shared insight she’d gained from her first four weeks of remote teaching and learning. Below, she shares insight that will still be helpful for educators who are teaching remotely in the 2020–2021 school year.  

Lesson 1: This is NOT Business as usual 

The picture above shows my classroom on the last day I was actually in my physical school building. My students’ seat back pockets are still stuffed with folders and assignments—waiting for them to return. 

When I left my classroom, I expected that my students and I would return at the end of April. Of course, that did not happen. When I said that “this is not business as usual,” I was speaking for educators around the country.  

Empty classroom at a school.
Nellie Pagan’s second grade classroom at the Walt Disney Magnet STEAM School 

Lesson 2: Be Flexible 

Hopefully, distance learning in fall 2020 will go more smoothly than it did this past spring. We’ve been able to learn from mistakes and prepare. That’s not to say that we won’t need to remain agile. As the saying goes, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” When it comes to remote teaching and learning, we’ll still need to expect the unexpected – connectivity issues, missing login information, trouble navigating websites and platforms, and a myriad of family interruptions. Because of this, it’s crucial to remember not to pile on the work. Be reasonable with your expectations—not only for yourself, but for your students and their families as well.

Above anything else, the lesson I learned, is that I need to be there more for [my students] … Letting them know they have access to me when they need me. That is the most vital thing. 

I adapted my spring 2020 schedule during the first four weeks of remote learning. 

Tip for Success: Make sure you include all the necessary activity information for parents and are as specific as possible. For example, provide login information to access various platforms for online activities and give detailed instructions on how and where students should submit their completed work.

Lesson 3: Connecting with Families Is Vital

Know that your students’ guardians, parents, grandparents, et al, are balancing many responsibilities and checking in with them is far more valuable than messaging them to ask why students are not actively online every day. Treat remote learning as an opportunity to foster positive connections with your students and families.  

 Another thing to keep in mind as you interact with families is that many of them will not be technology wizards. Many of the systems and apps they are being asked to use are foreign to them, so be patient and understanding.  

I suggest making as many video tutorials as possible for children’s guardian. The videos should show them simple things like how to login to a platform, how to submit assignments, and/or how to log their child’s attendance for the day. Anything you can do to help ease parents’ frustrations will benefit both families and students.  

Lesson 4: Be Intentional

Every activity counts when it comes to distance learning. It’s critical that you’re intentional about the activities you assign, the length of time you give students, and even the amount of screen time you are requiring each day.  

Keep your students’ learning environments in mind when creating assignments. Do they have a device? Do they have to share one device with siblings? Do they have WIFI? What about a printer at home? All these things should factor into the assignments you choose to give.  

Lesson 5: We Still Have a Long Way to Go

Nellie’s final lesson on remote teaching and learning is simple, yet powerful: Remember that everyone is learning and adapting to new challenges. Things will not be perfect right away. Reach out to colleagues for support when you need to, and give yourself the necessary time to rest and recharge.

Interested in watching Nellie’s presentation? 

Click below to view a recording of the summit online.

Teacher and students sitting on the floor.

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