• Chandra Sledge Mathias

Educators Rock: Five CPS Teachers Who Are Rocking It Out In Extreme Conditions

“…We’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got; It doesn’t matter if we make it or not. We’ve got each other and that’s a lot…Woah, we’re halfway there; Woah, livin’ on a prayer; Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear, Woah, living on a prayer.”—Bon Jovi, “Living on A Prayer

We are entering Week 7 of the COVID-19 “stay in place” mandate, and we find ourselves in situations that we never imagined, like we were dropped in the middle of a post-apocalyptic movie. Yet, as educators, we have been called to serve students despite the very real challenges and the many unknown variables that the pandemic has presented. We muster up courage and commit to rocking it out. When speaking with several principals who are leading the charge through this crisis, they often speak of their teachers as if they were rockstars. These teachers are stepping up to support their students, families, colleagues, and administrators. They are organically displaying new talents that have been unearthed out of necessity, due to the demands of shifting to a remote teaching environment. They are owning instructional leadership alongside their principals. In essence, they are rocking it out by any means necessary for their students. Like Bon Jovi’s lyrics, they are reminding all of us that if we hold on and rely on each other, we’ll make it through this pandemic, hopefully stronger educators than we were before. I asked five Chicago Public Schools teachers to share their experiences teaching during COVID-19, how they are supporting instructional leadership, and how they are rocking it out for their school communities. Here’s what they had to say.

“My students are non-verbal autistic students. I’ve been focused on keeping them engaged through daily morning meetings. We use lots of props during the meetings to help students focus on the content and learning objectives. I’ve recently led a professional development with my colleague, Emily Callen, for cluster teachers in CPS. We modeled how we conduct our morning meetings. I’m also working with our leadership to explore resources and select curriculum for next school year. I’m grateful for collaboration with other teachers as well as the parents. We are all learning as we go. I’ve asked the parents for patience and understanding and I’m being honest with them about my own learning curve during this time. As I’m planning, I’m also considering the parents schedules and learning curve. ” – Sylwia Biedron, Diverse Learners Teacher, Oscar DePriest Elementary School

“My biggest concern is making sure my students are ok mentally and that they are safe. I’m focused on connecting with students who I haven’t been able to make contact with. Hubbard is a safe space for some of our students and now they don’t have that physically, so I’m trying to check in with those students. I am also trying to have students think critically and analyze this pandemic situation. The pandemic really brought our teachers closer together. We need each other. We collaborate more in our grade level and course teams. I lead the ILT and we are focused on how we will close out this school year and prepare for next year. I’ve also been helping to distribute devices to students and monitor engagement. Students have been reaching out to me and that’s really exciting.” – Nicholas Cybulski, English Teacher, Gurdon S. Hubbard High School

“I am excited about the relationships with parents and colleagues that have been strengthened through this situation. Remote learning has provided an opportunity to really empower our parents in deeper ways than we did before. The parents are the REAL rockstars of the moment! We are working together in true partnership to figure out how each child can access the learning. My teammate and I have rocked it out by maintaining a growth mindset. We are constantly pushing ourselves to think about how we can make our morning meetings with students and our lessons stronger. I’ve been a resource to general education teachers and providing them with ideas on how to allow all of their students to access the lessons in different ways depending on their needs and circumstances. Everyone is doing their best right now. It’s important that we remember that in times of frustration and sadness. We have to give each other and ourselves grace.” – Emily Callen, Diverse Learners Teacher, Oscar DePriest Elementary School

“There has been a lot of adapting and reworking of schedules and structures during this time. I’ve been making myself available to my fellow teachers, trying to support teachers, and also reaching out to families and parents. Our parents were concerned and had lots of questions about what remote learning would look like, but now they are motivated and are partnering to make sure students are logging into classes and engaging in assignments. I’ve continued to provide professional development to some teachers. I’m coaching the K-2 team on guided reading and providing them with resources, co-planning virtual lessons for remote learning, and assisting with interviewing teaching candidates for next year. We are trying our best to maintain a sense of normalcy and supporting each other as we figure out ways to best support our students.” – Danielle Petrizzo, Diverse Learners Teacher, Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy

“Remote learning has challenged me to be more creative and more intentional than before. When we first had to “stay at home” I had a transitional mindset; now I have a sustainable mindset. I’m thinking through how I can make my lessons flexible, accessible, meet kids where they are, and how I can support parents’ needs as well.” I literally make Rockstar moves every day! I record myself singing and dancing to children’s songs in my basement: gross motor songs that we use in my classroom. I regularly shake out my sillies, do the dinosaur dance, robot rock, the twist, take shake breaks, and the cha cha slide! Families have given me feedback that the first thing they do in the morning is tune in to my videos! I shared what I’m doing with my colleagues. I have a very particular vision about what learning looks like through this environment: multi-dimensional, accessible, using tools like YouTube, classroom dojo, phone calls, live sessions, whatever works. I share resources with other teachers and my administration as well, so that everyone has access to the tools and strategies to use in their classes. Remote learning has really distilled the essence of what I think it means to learn. I constantly think about how we communicate the idea of learning and maintaining relationships, while being flexible, and still getting students excited and engaged. We can’t ignore what is happening in our world right now, but learning can be a means of empowering students with some sense of control in the middle of a really challenging situation.” – Zachary Trail, Pre-K Teacher, Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy

To these five Rockstar teachers, teachers in Chicago Public Schools, and the millions of teachers in the United States and around the world, thank you for your courage, grace, commitment, care, determination, and fortitude. Educators truly rock.

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