When we started planning the United We Teach Summit, we knew we wanted to build on the connections and camaraderie that had been growing in the United We Teach Community of Practice. We were blown away by the interest in the Summit, the first virtual conference Participate Learning has hosted. Thank you to the presenters and attendees who made this event possible! We are incredibly excited and hopeful for the future, and it’s in large part due to your ideas and enthusiasm for your students and your educational practices. Like you, we will be reflecting on the Summit for a long time to come! Here are seven takeaways from the United We Teach Summit:
1. Using tech tools requires a learning curve, but it is worth the effort.
Many of our presenters showcased the exciting tools they use in their virtual classrooms, gave tutorials, and explained how they use them to engage students. It seems like there are endless tech tools at our fingertips, and it can be difficult to get started. It’s just as intimidating to learn how to use these tools effectively for student learning in a way that feels like it’s constructive, and not a distraction. Start with one or two digital tools to implement for the beginning of the new school year, and be consistent with them. Practice and practice more, see how your students respond, and take it one step at a time.
2. Global educators do whatever it takes to bring the world to their students.
It’s one thing, as a global educator, to make your physical classroom a gateway to the world. It’s quite another task to bring the world to your students virtually, through a screen, and into their homes. We heard about doing global Zoom field trips from Rebeca Pacheco, whose students have continued to visit the world through themed lessons that pair with literacy assignments. Yanela Ferrer explained how she uses Google Earth to teach perspective and encourage spatial thinking to show her students the world. Maggie Murphy and her colleagues created a bookmobile, hand-delivering diverse global-themed books to students at home who lacked access to library books, once schools closed in the spring. As educators, we must continue pushing the boundaries of typical lessons and methods in our commitment to global learning.
3. Relationship-building is critical to your teacher-student dynamic.
We heard this repeatedly last week, and it bears repeating again. Making positive connections and building relationships with your students is essential to teaching them effectively. In Lorena Rivaldo’s session, she emphasized that building a community and establishing effective communication must be accomplished before teaching content. In order to reach your students, you have to prove to them that you care about them, and about their growth, as individuals. Ask the personal questions and provide a tailored and individualized learning experience. When you make mistakes, don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
4. Culturally responsive teaching begins with the teacher.
Even at an early age students are aware of the implicit biases of their peers and of the teachers who guide them. We have a responsibility to establish a classroom culture that is inclusive of all learning styles. Understanding our implicit bias, the attitudes and stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner, will help us contextualize our actions and decisions in the classroom with our students. Being a culturally responsive teacher is not solely embracing diversity; it is incorporating students’ cultures and backgrounds into lessons. As Jermaine Howell emphasized in his session, it isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have element of our teaching practice.
5. Create a community within your classroom (virtually or in person).
In the midst of teaching in a pandemic, it can feel almost impossible to replicate the feelings of community and connection you normally have within the four walls of your classroom. There are still several techniques you can use to keep your students engaged and entertained from the other side of a Zoom call. Playing Simon Says with the gallery view on, or having a Friday dance party to end the call, are fun ways to get students moving at home. Take time to address each of your students by name to involve them and provide a sense of connection. If you wouldn’t go an entire day in the classroom without saying a student’s name, you shouldn’t do it in a virtual classroom lesson, either! Make space for emotions by having a feelings check-in or schedule Zoom calls with parents to touch base. It’s important to understand your students and how they are coping from home, so you can reach them more effectively.
6. Teach successfully online by working smarter, not harder.
Our time is always limited, but there are some easy ways that we can set ourselves up for success in the digital classroom. We gained so much confidence listening to Lorena Rivaldo as she talked about how she engages dual language students in the virtual classroom. In addition to building relationships and creative ways to utilize tech tools, she emphasizes establishing simple routines to guide students and your expectations during each class. Keep them simple, like “mute yourself, be respectful, and come prepared.” Use visual support or videos to increase understanding for all your students, and again, stay consistent and keep practicing them to maximize your success and keep your virtual classroom running smoothly.
7. Be flexible, intentional, and brave.
Kimberly Geiger left us this advice in reference to teaching the Sustainable Development Goals; but really, it applies to all of us as we survive and continue teaching during times of uncertainty and upheaval. Be flexible with your lessons and with your students as you encounter challenges and setbacks. Be intentional with your time, and stay focused on what matters most to you. And finally, be brave, so that your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears for the school year to come.
Interested in connecting with other global educators to improve your practice? Join our United We Teach Community of Practice for weekly Live Chats, discussion posts, and resources.