Two things define Phylicia Stone. First, she can’t sit still. “I don’t waste a minute,” says the third-year teacher at IS 364 in Starrett City, Brooklyn, who earned her master’s in May as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. “The moment I have free time, I’m doing something.”
Second, she is self-reliant. “If I don’t have to ask for help, I’m not going to ask,” says the mother of two, who also runs a fitness apparel business, coaches after-school track and leads online workouts for colleagues and parents. “If I want to do something, I sit down and figure it out.”
That attitude helped propel Stone to teaching and has made her instrumental in guiding her school through remote learning. Stone, who came to the United States from Grenada at age 5, realized after her first child was born that she was not cut out to be a stay-at-home mother. She worked at a day care center and then as a paraprofessional at IS 364 for four years.
“A lot of students told me, ‘I understand the work better when you do it,’” says Stone. As a child, if she didn’t under-stand something in class, she figured it out on her own, so as a paraprofessional “I was able to give them different techniques to try to learn independently.”
Her students suggested she become a teacher. After considering a laundry list of careers, it was the push Stone needed. “When this (job) came up, it just fit,” she says.
Social studies was a subject “a lot of kids didn’t get excited about,” so Stone set out to change that after attaining her certification in that area.
“We have a lot of students of color, and I felt what they were learning wasn’t of interest to them or a reflection of them,” she says. For Black History Month, she refused to study “famous names.” She bought a deck of cards featuring unfamiliar faces and had her 8th-graders research them. They learned, for example, that “Rosa Parks wasn’t the first to refuse to give up her bus seat for a white person” — that was civil rights activist Claudette Colvin, who now lives in the Bronx.
Remote learning — which happened midway through her second year as a teacher — was a challenge without live interaction, says Stone, who “didn’t want to just post lessons.” Synchronous teaching also had drawbacks: Some students didn’t show up; others didn’t have technology during class time.
Stone knew she had to engage her students in a different way. She recorded herself teaching and posted that recording with the assignment. “I would give them explicit instructions on Google Classroom, but they also had the guided video instruction,” she says. “And I would have other videos to supplement particular topics.”
Then she collected data to see what students understood. The spreadsheet in Google Forms allowed her to see questions and answers and figure out who was struggling and with what. “That helped me gauge the next lesson quickly,” she says, and students became more engaged.
With a coworker, Stone made a video to show parents how to check their children’s work and navigate Google Classroom. With parents more aware, children were more on task.
She also became the go-to per-son for colleagues who needed help. “I’d share my screen and walk them through it,” she says. “If I’m figuring it out, everybody’s going to figure it out.”
Stone collaborated with other teachers on an end-of-year social justice project in which students identified a problem and devised a solution. Then she tackled her own problem: how to use her computer’s iMovie feature to pull it all together. Once she’d figured that out, she used her new skills to create the school’s graduation video.
Stone cultivates boundless energy through her love of fitness. “Being out-doors and doing something physical has always been part of me,” she says.
Like not sitting still and relying only on herself.