When Lauren Nocco thinks about her successful transition to teaching kindergarten online, one thing is crystal clear: “Networking is everything,” said Nocco, who teaches at PS 66 in Canarsie, Brooklyn.
That’s what New York City public school educators have discovered as they struggle to deliver remote instruction to students in the midst of a global pandemic that has shut down schools. With only three days to prepare, teachers reached out to one another to share information and resources as they launched remote classrooms — and they continue to do so.
“It’s amazing what teachers are doing to help each other,” Nocco said.
Educators have used various software platforms to stay in touch with students and their families and to conduct school business. But in this constantly evolving environment, sometimes just when they learn one platform, they have to switch to another.
Teachers and related service providers had just mastered video conferences on Zoom, for example, when the Department of Education on April 5 declared Zoom unacceptable because of security concerns, challenging them to migrate to safer platforms, such as Google Hangout Meets and Microsoft Teams.
Through it all, tech savvy educators have been on call to assist less technologically inclined colleagues.
“Everyone has to help someone else,” said Faiza Khalid, a technology teacher at PS 36 in Harlem. Her pre-K teachers had no experience with Google Classroom, so Khalid trained them in the basics just days before remote learning began. “We logged in and set up a classroom together,” Khalid said. She also created a Google form for tech support and checks it a few times a day to see if anyone needs help.
While preparing for remote teaching in mid-March, Nocco reached out to Ellen Goodman, the technology teacher at PS 236 in Mill Basin in District 22, where Nocco was a paraprofessional six years ago. With Goodman’s help, Nocco was able to create an attendance tutorial that her principal adopted and shared with other schools in District 18, where PS 66 is located. Just as the online attendance process was being shared and adopted, the DOE rolled out a Microsoft attendance form for use citywide, another example of how educators have had to adapt.
For her part, Goodman organized training sessions for teachers and paraprofessionals at her school. Her chapter leader, STEM teacher Lillian Espinal, was a quick study and pitched in to assist. “She was right there next to me during training,” said Goodman.
Espinal shared what she was learning with schools throughout District 22. “We’re texting and messaging to help each other,” she said.
Chris Greene, the chapter leader at PS 73 in the Highbridge section of the Bronx, praised his school’s support system. “We’ve presented training in small groups through teleconferencing,” Greene said. Using Adobe Spark, the school created a resource guide with clickable links. In addition, chapter leaders throughout District 9, where PS 73 is located, have access to a Facebook page created in early April to keep lines of communication open.
At Port Richmond HS on Staten Island, English teacher Dan DeFazio shares his lessons with colleagues by providing access to his Google Classroom and YouTube channel.
“We text articles and information back and forth,” said DeFazio. “We have a tremendous web of support, and I have colleagues reaching out to me at 8 at night, just constantly sharing lessons.”
Kaitlin Lindh is a writing teacher at the Collaborative Middle School in Springfield Gardens, Queens, where training was split up so teachers more advanced in remote learning could explore new apps while others had what Lindh called “Google Classroom 101.” Lindh, who is also an instructional coach at the UFT Teacher Center, says breaking things down in steps is important for tech novices. “We’re also figuring out how not to overwhelm students and families,” she said.
At the Brooklyn HS of the Arts in Boerum Hill, “it’s truly been a community effort,” said social studies teacher Tim Evans. Every department had at least one person proficient in technology who was designated to assist in the transition to remote learning “so not one person was overwhelmed,” he said.
Brooklyn HS of the Arts music teacher Steve Hands says his initial reaction was, “What do I do now?” He has two band classes and three music series classes. “We play together every day, so it’s a bit of a challenge,” he said. Evans and others helped him launch his Google Classroom, and now students send videos of their assigned instrument practice and he has video chats with his “band kids.”
“It’s teachers helping each other out,” said Hands. “My advice is don’t be discouraged. We’re all learning this new way of teaching.”