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The Spark - May 2020
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If there is one, teeny-tiny silver lining to this global pandemic, it’s that more parents and community members have come to understand and appreciate the magnitude of what our teachers do to support students every day.
With schools closed to normal, in-person learning, I’m seeing an outpouring of support on Twitter and Facebook for the work teachers do, and I think it’s especially fitting that this week is national Teacher Appreciation Week.
My favorite tweet might be this one: “Move your foot away from your brother’s cereal bowl or I will find a school in this country that is open and drive us there today.” And that was during one of our very first stay-at home weeks!
Teachers provide students with so much more than academic instruction. You help teach our kids responsibility, teamwork, kindness, respect and problem solving. You support students through the rough times, and work hard to keep them engaged and excited about learning.
And during the pandemic, teachers have shown their agility to turn on a dime. You learned new technologies and evolved your lessons for remote learning with just a few days’ notice. You solved problems, you were creative and made things happen -- and through it all, you are supporting each other and supporting your students.
I had a chance to talk with my Teacher’s Cabinet in April, and I spent a large part of the meeting holding back tears as they shared their challenges, their heartbreaks and their successes. While they are worried sick about students who aren’t engaging, they’re also elated when students who have struggled at normal school never miss an online lesson.
Many of their stories were quantified through a needs analysis we did with help from the Colorado Education Initiative, which showed that supporting students who are under extreme stress is the No. 1 need of our schools. Please know that the information we gathered from that survey will help us target government and philanthropic resources to help you do your job and support our most vulnerable students.
Cabinet members also shared their districts’ plans for graduation, and I was inspired by the creative ideas from across the state. I know the cancellation of traditional graduation ceremonies is incredibly disappointing to our seniors, their families and to you, their educators who have supported them and watched them grow for 13 years!
But once again educators have displayed their ingenuity and problem-solving skills as they are coming up with ways to celebrate our graduates. In Dolores, for example, graduation will happen on the football field, with each graduate allowed one car on the field! In Englewood there will be parades. I love seeing what you all are doing to honor our graduates!
I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for you -- for all educators. Your dedication and your leadership are helping our students, families and our communities make it through this unreal experience. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
We asked members of the Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet how they are handling the changes brought upon by the cancellation of in-person instruction this school year – how it has impacted their lives, what they’ve learned from the experience and any advice they could offer their peers across the state.
Scotty Hicks, a sixth-grade social studies teacher from East Grant Middle School, was amazed by how everyone worked together in the early days to get remote learning in place.
“We had technology distributed, food delivered, and lessons digitized,” he said. “We put in place checks to keep track of student contact, focusing on the emotional toll of the situation on students and families. We really found ways to make the best of this situation and have looked to tackle this with a very solution-focused approach.”
Samantha DuVall, a middle school math teacher at Union Colony Prep School in Greeley-Evans District 6, said she is lonely without her students.
“I have realized I am not meant to sit at a desk and stare at a computer all day,” DuVall said. “If I wanted a job that required that, I would have explored other career choices.”
However, DuVall said the experience has given her the opportunity to explore different ways of sharing information with students.
“I am constantly seeking feedback from my students, who definitely aren't afraid to tell me if something isn't working or was ‘kinda dumb’” she said. “This allows me to reflect and refine my craft, which is something I realize now I had fallen away from a bit prior to this experience.”
For the most part, the teachers said they are handling the change to remote instruction well. Though, to a person, they all said they missed their classrooms.
“It has taught that face-to-face interaction is at the heart of education,” said Ken Benson, social studies teacher at Niwot High School in the St. Vrain Valley School District. “While online education has a role to play in many situations, nothing beats the discussions and relationships with the students in a brick and mortar school. I really miss the kids!”
Hilary Wimmer, a business teacher at Mountain Range High School in Adams 12 and current Colorado Teacher of the Year, said the home routine has been jarring.
“One thing I have always loved about teaching is walking around and interacting with the students,” she said. “Now, I find that I feel very confined to a chair, and I have to take time to schedule mini-walking breaks just to get out of my chair. At first, I thought that e-learning would shorten my school day. However, I have discovered that I am working longer hours because I am trying to actively plan student engagement sessions and virtual internship experiences.”
Emily Muellenberg, a high school social studies teacher from Douglas County, urged teachers to give themselves some grace during this difficult time.
“The kids can tell that we are working hard, and they can tell we are doing our best, and mostly, they can tell that we care and that we miss them, and as long as that is shining through, we are likely still pretty dang amazing!!”
Lacey Mueller-Taschdjian, a middle school teacher in Adams 14, has struggled to find the balance between her home responsibilities with her own first- and third-grade children at home while teaching her middle school students.
“Since my district is not 1-to-1 (with computers for every student), my students are sharing computers with siblings so they email questions and need help at all times of day, and night too for some,” she said. “It seems impossible to try to have a routine, when everything changes every day -- for myself, my kids, and my students.”
Mueller-Taschdjian worries about her students.
“The equity gap has grown to a devastating chasm during this time,” she said. “Without access to technology/internet, we have ‘lost’ many of our students with whom we need to connect with the most. We are afraid for their safety and well-being.”
Carina Raetz, an ESL teacher at Academy International Elementary School in Academy School District 20, advised teachers to be the “missing link” for their students and families.
“Help them problem solve and access school according to their means and understanding,” she said. “Meet them at the point where they are able to operate from. Show them that being human is more important than meeting academic expectations. Keep your communications with ESL families simple, clear, and visually supported. Give yourself and others permission to make mistakes, be frustrated, and to learn slowly.”
Andrew Guinn, an eighth-grade math teacher at Pagosa Springs Middle School, offered some sage advice to the state’s teachers.
“When we look back on this time, students are not going to remember the small details of our virtual lessons,” he said. “Nobody is going to ask them what grade they got in eighth grade math when COVID shut down the world. We will not be judged by how rigorous our online assignments were. What our students will remember is the grace, support, and love that we showed them in this time of crisis.
“Start with those three things -- grace, love, and support. For your students. And for yourself. Everything else will sort itself out like a half-finished lesson plan at 7:58 on a Monday morning.”
Kindergarten through third grade teachers in Colorado have a new training requirement to meet by the 2021-22 school year, but there are several options available.
Specifically, the teachers must complete an evidence-based training that:
- Consists of a minimum of 45 hours,
- Addresses specific content of the educator preparation literacy standards, and
- Includes an end of year assessment that teachers must pass.
K-3 teachers must complete this training only once by taking advantage of one of the following seven training options or qualifications:
- Have a Reading Teacher or Reading Specialist endorsement,
- Pass a state board-approved assessment of knowledge of teaching reading. In April, the State Board of Education passed a vote indicating that teachers who score 159 or above on the ETS Praxis Teaching Reading Elementary assessment demonstrate a fundamental understanding of evidence-based reading instruction,
- Submit evidence of successfully completing an undergraduate or graduate course in teaching reading for CDE to review to determine whether it meets the statutory requirement,
- Submit evidence of successfully completing a course in teaching reading appropriate for license renewal for CDE to review to determine whether it meets the statutory requirement,
- Complete CDE-provided training, which will be offered starting with an online course option this summer,
- Complete CDE-approved district- or BOCES-provided training, or
- Complete a training program from the CDE Advisory List of Professional Development.
CDE is developing processes for teachers to submit documentation which it will share with teachers in the fall. To learn more about the seven training options or qualifications that will be available for K-3 teachers, visit CDE’s READ Act website.
One important caveat, state law provides districts the ability to request a one-year extension from CDE to comply with this requirement. Depending upon the length of the impact of COVID-19, the department may consider a blanket one-year extension for all school districts.
The Colorado Legislature is expected to reconvene and resume its 2020 session on May 18, facing difficult and discouraging decisions about funding.
The state’s Joint Budget Committee staff provided the first recommendations of how to balance a 2020-21 state budget that has been impacted by economic losses due to the pandemic. This recommendation is just the beginning of much conversation that will take place over the coming weeks, but the bottom line is that the state cannot spend money it does not collect and unfortunately that will mean painful cuts throughout the budget.
Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes said CDE’s strategic plan and values will guide the department during the conversations with legislators and their staff over the coming weeks.
“The priority remains closing achievement gaps and preserving funding that supports our most vulnerable students – children living in poverty, our English learners, young students struggling to read, and students with special needs, among others,” she said. “I will also work to preserve the programs that help support schools in these unprecedented times while maintaining much of the current work on increasing literacy rates.”
As you consider the state budget situation, some positive news to keep in mind is that Colorado is receiving close to $121 million from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which will go to districts’ extraordinary efforts to support students during the pandemic.
We have heard from teachers asking about the process for child abuse reporting during remote learning. During the suspension of in-person instruction it is more important than ever for teachers to be aware of their status as mandatory reporters and how to identify possible abuse.
By law, the Colorado Children’s Code mandates the responsibilities of educators in protecting students regarding incidents of child abuse. Specifically, all district employees are required to report known or suspected child abuse incidents to the county department of human services (child protective services) or local law enforcement, including any behavior, physical appearance and/or comments that indicate whether a child’s physical and/or emotional health could be threatened. It is crucial that employees be perceptive and responsive to any suspected child abuse or neglect.
Clearly interacting with students looks different during remote learning. Teachers should pay attention to visual clues or other hints that something may be wrong in this new context. For example, teachers might grow concerned about a student’s safety due to lack of engagement. It is important for teachers to rely on what they already know about their students when trying to identify potential safety concerns.
Here are some questions to think through with the understanding that the answers don’t necessarily mean abuse is happening:
- Have you had communications with the parents/guardians regarding remote learning?
- Does the family have access and tools needed to engage with remote learning?
- Are the parents/guardians still working outside the home?
- Do you have a safety concern regarding anyone in the home?
- Have you had concerns about the family before this time?
- Have you connected with the student already on non-school related topics? This might help you determine whether this is a safety issue or a disengagement issue.
It’s important for teachers to know that they are not alone in this, and it is important to consult colleagues and/or administration when making the difficult decision to report a possible incident of abuse or neglect. Teachers should always use their professional judgment and trust their intuition.
If teachers are still concerned about a student’s wellbeing, they should report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-844-CO-4-Kids, an easy-to-remember toll-free number available 24 hours a day, every day. If there is an immediate threat, call 9-1-1- immediately. The hotline serves as a direct, immediate and efficient route to the counties, who are responsible for accepting and responding to child abuse and neglect inquiries and reports.
To access frequently asked questions and more information about child abuse and neglect mandatory reporting in Colorado, go to the state’s webpage on how to report child abuse.
We asked teachers earlier this year to take the Teaching and Learning Conditions in Colorado Survey, which documents perceptions of the teaching and learning conditions in schools. The results that were officially released this week are still informative and interesting even though our current world has changed.
- Nearly eight out of 10 educators who completed the survey agreed that overall their school is a good place to work and for students to learn, and seven out of 10 educators (73.3%) felt satisfied with the recognition they get for doing a good job. As we saw in 2018 when the TLCC survey was last administered, a large majority of educators continued to respond positively when asked about instructional practices and support.
- Nine of 10 (89.9%) school leaders (e.g. principals, assistant principals) believed their district leadership is committed to offering supports by taking steps to solve problems, compared with 86.8% from 2018.
- Support for students’ social, emotional and mental health, working with families and community, and teacher remediation/coaching are the top three areas where school leaders say they need additional support (prior to COVID-19).
- Time remains the biggest challenge for our Colorado educators. For example, only five out of 10 survey respondents agreed they have adequate time to support students with social and emotional learning.
- The effectiveness of professional development opportunities was also cited as a concern, and 43.5% of educators do not think professional development is assessed regularly enough.
- Social emotional learning for all students, teaching students with trauma and differentiating instruction are the top three areas that educators believe would be most beneficial to learn more about.
- Most teachers said they were not satisfied with how new teachers are supported and how student conduct is managed, but both of these areas increased slightly from 2018.
Thanks to everyone who filled out the anonymous TLCC survey. We obtained responses from over half of all school-based educators in the state.
The number of survey respondents grew by 5 percentage points this year from 2018 resulting in more than 35,000 educators participating (52% of all educators).
Districts and schools that met the participation requirements received their results the week of April 20, two weeks before the statewide public release of results on May 4.
This was the second distribution of the TLCC survey, which replaced the TELL Colorado survey in 2018. All results can be viewed by categories and compared by subgroups (e.g., grade level). Find complete information and resources on the TLCC website: http://www.cde.state.co.us/site/tlccsurvey/.
Do you know an exceptionally dedicated, knowledgeable and skilled K-12 teacher? Nominate one of your colleagues to apply for the 2021 Colorado Teacher of the Year award: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2021CTOYNominations!
Each year, the Colorado Teacher of the Year Program honors an exceptionally dedicated, knowledgeable, and skilled K-12 classroom teacher to represent the entire profession in the state. The selected teacher will automatically become Colorado's nominee for the National Teacher of the Year competition.
This special teacher also gets to attend the following events:
- The National Teacher of the Year Induction, an opportunity for the country’s teachers of the year to come together and understand their individual identities in their new roles.
- Washington Week, an opportunity to go to the nation's capital for recognition. Teachers will get to visit the White House and meet the president as well as attend the National Teacher of the Year gala.
- NASA Space Camp, where teachers participate in a version of astronaut training designed specifically for educators to take strategies and concepts back to their classrooms.
- College Football Playoff National Championship Game to participate in the College Football Playoff Foundation’s Extra Yard for Teachers event, which elevates the teaching profession by inspiring and empowering quality teachers.
All this can be possible for one exceptional Colorado teacher so tell the one you’re thinking of right now to apply. If you would like to apply for this opportunity, stay tuned. CDE will announce the release of the application process.
Resources for Learning at Home
CDE has compiled resources educators and families can use for learning at home.
- Fifth grade teacher uses green screen magic to spread joy during online learning, Fox 21 News, April 25, 2020.
- Douglas County got on the remote learning early, here's how teachers made it work, CPR News, April 22, 2020
- Students still remotely producing school announcements, CBS-4 Denver, April 20, 2020.