Batman. Spider-Man. Batgirl. These Superheroes come to mind for wielding their superhuman strength to restore good to an evil world.
Last year, a different type of mask-wearing Superhero emerged.
Cambridge Dictionary defines superheroes as characters in a story who have special strength and use it to do good things and help other people.
We assert this appropriately describes ECS teachers.
ECS teachers are the characters in the strange story that was the 2020-2021 school year. They used their special strength from the Holy Spirit to help students grow in knowledge and character so that the next generation is prepared to be servant leaders for Christ.
After teaching remotely in the spring of 2020 due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ECS recognized that virtual education was not the way teaching and learning were intended to be. Teachers longed to be with their students, making the relational connection so integral in the student-teacher relationship for which ECS is known. The ECS COVID Task Force and administrative team worked throughout the summer to determine the best way to conduct the 2020-2021 school year in person for maximum learning and memorable experiences for our students while being safe for all.
This meant things looked different.
Desks were moved six feet apart. Walking lanes were created in hallways. Classrooms became cafeterias. Cafeterias, auditoriums, and tents became classrooms to allow for social distancing. Teachers became disinfectant-spraying custodians between classes. Remote students participated in classroom discussions with in-person students by Zoom. Elementary Art, Spanish, Bible, Music and STEM became mobile on carts brought to each classroom to reduce cross-contamination. Masks were worn by all.
All the while, teachers remained focused on carrying out the ECS mission by perfecting their academic craft and executing their discipleship calling.
Read about the heroic efforts of four of our many Superheroes who showed their superhuman strength, each doing their part to restore good to the world, starting at ECS.
Preparing 14 Junior Kindergartners for Senior Kindergarten while keeping them socially distanced and wearing masks all day certainly requires superhuman strength.
For this age, establishing a routine early on was critical. “We had to work hard in the beginning of the school year to establish routines,” Mrs. Farris recalled. “Early childhood students really thrive in routines."
“Our challenge was how to give them what they need while still following protocols,” Mrs. Farris reflected. “Social distancing was an extra special challenge. So much of our learning is hands-on and play-based. This meant extra cleaning because we use so many shared materials."
“The children were amazingly adaptable,” Mrs. Farris remembered with pride. “They have been very resilient. They have been so adaptable and so flexible.”
An Unforeseen Benefit
Mrs. Farris practiced flexibility as well. In previous years, a highlight for her students was when parents came to her classroom to read to the class. As new policies were enacted this year including no guests allowed on campus, Mrs. Farris had to reimagine this anticipated event. That’s when they started Zoom readers, allowing parents to participate by reading a book to the class through Zoom conference calls. This enabled parents who work, and even grandparents out of state, to join the class, and the students loved it. It was such a success that even post-COVID, Zoom readers will continue, a perfect example of how rethinking established traditions resulted in new practices that will work even better in the future.
3rd Grade Teacher
The Importance of Relationship in Teaching
As beloved third grade teacher Mrs. Ray reflected on the past year, conducting school in person was critical to the teacher-student relationship as well as peer-to-peer relationships and worth enduring the many COVID precautions.
“What I love about being in person is the relationships formed between students and teachers and the relationships that students form with each other,” Mrs. Ray reflected. “On the first day of school, they were so excited to see each other and thrilled because they missed that connection with each other."
In-person instruction enables teachers to better gauge students’ understanding of a topic. “When you know students so well, you can see in their faces if they need more help. When I am right there with them, I can come alongside and help them,” Mrs. Ray said.
During virtual learning, she did her best to teach her lessons on screen, but admitted that it is a struggle to see how the information was received. Conversely, she said, “With learning in-person, I can look a child in the eye and know that connection is being made.”
Teaching Moments for the Ages
Last school year provided excellent teaching moments to trust God daily as we all experienced an unprecedented time. Mrs. Ray remembered, “During the beginning of the school year, a lot of the students worried, ‘What if we need to go back to virtual?’ I would encourage them and point them to Christ and say, ‘We may not know what each day holds, but we can turn to God.’” What a valuable lifelong lesson to learn in third grade!
8th Grade English Language Arts Teacher & English Language Arts Chair
Middle School Pods
To reduce exposure, the Middle School grades on the Shelby Farms campus began the year in pods, in which each class of students remained together, and teachers rotated to various classrooms.
Challenges and Benefits
The pods brought their share of challenges for teachers and students. Teachers taught more classes each day because class sizes were limited to allow for recommended social distancing of student desks in the classrooms. Students were unable to enjoy changing classes and seeing all their friends throughout the day.
However, pods created some unexpected benefits. The extra workload required teachers to reevaluate their teaching in a healthy way. Eighth grade literature teacher and English Language Arts chair Andy Gross said, “It helped me understand what I needed to keep versus what I needed to cut from my instruction.” For students, the confined classroom and exposure to a limited number of classmates forged new friendships among individuals whose varied after-school interests previously kept them apart.
Balance is Key
Mr. Gross was confident in his students’ robust educational experience during a challenging year and boasted on his teaching team’s lofty academic goals coupled with their shared desire to minister to their students: “First and foremost, we saw the staff continue to love on students in terms of excellence outside of academics in Christian worldview. The kids here were loved in a world that was filled with anger and fear.”
Mr. Gross pointed out, “Most psychologists agree that adolescents have a great need for expectations. Holding kids accountable to your expectations is to their betterment. Yet during this year in which kids are stressed because of what they hear on TV about COVID, death, and unemployment risks to their families, it robs students of their ability to sleep, focus in class and manage time after school.” Mr. Gross, who admitted to usually being strict, reflected, “Finding a balance between the tension of accountability and understanding helped to grow me as a teacher this year.”
Economics, Accounting, Introduction to Business, Personal Finance & 7th Grade Math Teacher
Readjusting Lesson Plans
Because of the many courses and electives offered, the upper school changed classes with increased emphasis on mask wearing and social distancing protocols. As some students, teachers or family members were diagnosed with COVID-19, they, along with their close contacts, were quarantined creating the challenge of a constant fluctuation in school attendance throughout the week.
Business department teacher Jeff Payne explained, “This year the big difference was being okay with things not being in your control. I’m a type A personality, and I like having my lesson plans worked out. I had to be okay that everything could change at the drop of the hat.” He explained, “If you plan something out for 20 students, but actually have 14 students, then you have to completely change it.” He found that flexibility was essential.
Interestingly, the pandemic became the topic of study in upper school business classes. Students examined the effects that COVID had on domestic and world economies. Payne added, “When you bring it home and ask, ‘How is it affecting you and your family?’ … that’s real-time learning.”
Transparency => Understanding => Learning
In the classroom, Payne admitted, “Masks definitely created a barrier. I started off (the school year) more lecture-based. Then I wondered How can I engage my kids more? What helped to break down that barrier was being open and honest and admitting as a teacher that no one likes wearing a mask. When kids see that you’re honest, it allows them to be honest with each other.”
Payne cultivated an environment in which students were encouraged to have real conversations about their difficulties. In the pandemic, he noted, struggles became more normalized.
One of the topics that surfaced included Where is God in all of this? To that, Payne asked his students, “When we are out of control, Who is in control?” Questions like these provided “a continual reminder of how much we need Christ.”
By channeling special strength from the Holy Spirit, our Superheroes carried out the ECS mission in a challenging year by delivering excellence in the classroom and pointing their students to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only way to restore goodness to a broken world.
To go along with their masks, these teachers deserve capes for their Superhero costumes. Perhaps a crown in heaven may follow.