Written by Ashley Jordan, EdCo Member and 6th grade ELA teacher at McMurray Middle School
I’m Ashley Jordan and I teach 6th grade ELA at McMurray Middle School in Nashville, TN. All teachers know this, but, teaching during a pandemic has been one of the greatest challenges we have faced in the profession. Back in March when all of this started, I was in Chattanooga taking care of my very ill mother. During that time, she was hospitalized for 10 days before ultimately being discharged back home. It was the beginning of this pandemic and I was not allowed into the hospital to see her. Being isolated from her and my work community while trying to navigate distance learning got me thinking…how many other teachers feel alone right now?
I have had the pleasure of serving on my school’s Culture Team for 5 years both as a member and leader. The Culture team takes on a lot of responsibilities ranging from coordinating and implementing our annual Culture Festival, to supporting faculty and staff who are experiencing loss, and finding ways to engage our faculty and staff with each other. As I wrestled with my wondering of who else in my school community was feeling the social-emotional effects of the lockdown, I started thinking about how often we focus on the SEL needs of our students without much thought for the needs of our teachers. After that, an idea was born. For the past few years, our Culture Team has hosted “New Year, New Friend”. (Think Secret Santa in January) Participants in “New Year, New Friend” sign up, fill out a questionnaire about their favorite things, and are then matched with another faculty or staff member to exchange secret gifts for the month of January. At the end of January, we have a reveal party where you can hang out with your new friend. What if we made “New Year, New Friend” pandemic friendly?
I floated the idea of Pandemic Pals to my admin, who loved it and encouraged me to run with it. I developed a Google Form with questions about preferred methods of contact and anything they wanted their Pal to know about them. I sent a school-wide email advertising Pandemic Pals as a way to stay connected with each other while we were all isolated at home. We had 30 participants sign up!
Once we knew MNPS would remain virtual for the beginning of the 20-21 school year, I pushed for our Culture Team to start meeting as soon as possible. I knew that we had at least 30 people who needed connection back in March and April and that likely had only increased by August. I also knew from my own experience, and listening to my colleagues, that we were all confused and frustrated by virtual learning and all of the unknowns this school year would bring. As a team, we decided to start with a survey for the entire faculty and staff. We wanted to know the ways in which we could be supportive, as well as the number of our staff who did not feel connected to each other. The results of this survey led us to setting up Chat & Check-In groups – 7 small groups of 5-6 people whose sole goal is checking in with each other. The results of the survey also led us to put together a master list of mental health resources that were free or low cost for teachers, and distribute that to our entire faculty. Through this process, our team has learned that the needs of our staff continue to ebb and flow. Our Chat & Check-In groups started out strong, but also became one more TEAMS meeting to go to during the day. We’ve come to see that the best use of our time and energy, in regards to morale, is organizing a space once a month for virtual game nights. At our first Virtual Learning Bingo event, we had over 40 participants, most of whom stayed on the call after Bingo was over just to hang out. We’ve made it a priority for our team to stay away from toxic positivity and to never require anything of our faculty and staff in order to participate.
I am so proud of our little PLC and of our school community. Everyone, from our admin, our new teachers, and our veteran teachers have been so open and willing to participate in the process this year. It is that willingness and openness that has been a bright spot for me during this pandemic. I hope that in some way, we’ve been able to make a bright spot for someone else, too.
The Educators’ Cooperative is a non-profit organization that provides a professional learning community for K-12 teachers. Created for teachers by teachers in 2016, EdCo provides professional development and support for educators to collaborate across sectors, disciplines, and career stages. EdCo aims to revolutionize teacher development and leadership by focusing on the essential agency, autonomy, and common ground all teachers share. EdCo is based in Nashville, Tennessee with a reach far beyond that physical location and potential for replication in communities throughout the nation. When educators collaborate, the future of education is greater than the sum of its parts.
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