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Experts in Action: The Creativity and Hearts of Teachers

By Katie Schrodt and Erin FitzPatrick
 | Jul 10, 2020

Teacher with iPadIn March, teachers waved goodbye to students heading into spring break. Soon after, state and local authorities mandated stay-at-home orders in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Spring break was extended by a week, then two, until finally students were instructed to stay home for the remainder of the school year, and teachers were asked to do the impossible—and they did.

As professors of education at large universities in the United States, we train and support preservice and inservice teachers. In awe of how these teachers have responded to this unprecedented situation, we felt inspired to share their stories. Through a widely distributed survey, we gathered stories from educators about how they navigated the immediate and unexpected need for remote learning and how they stayed creative and connected with their students.

Teachers adapt

“None of my colleagues have done anything like this, but you would never know it because of the willingness of everyone to jump in headfirst to things that were uncomfortable from the start.”

Every day, teachers make hundreds of in-the-moment decisions in order to adapt to the needs of their students. Perhaps that is why, when faced with moving their classrooms online, these educators rose so effectively to the challenge.

For some there were concerns over access and special education needs. One teacher said, “I created three weeks of instruction for eight students’ specific IEP goals in two days. I wasn’t going to let them fall through the cracks.” Another said, “We got every student school supplies and had them packed and ready to pick up within two days.”

Teachers not only learned the ins and outs of online meeting platforms but also made instructional videos for parents, such as “How to Use Zoom” and “How to Download and Use the Libby App.” One school hosted online roundtables for families and teachers to learn from each other about how to make the most of online classrooms.

Using feedback from parents and students, many teachers altered their approaches to make the learning more accessible. They even made “choice boards,” allowing families to choose the week’s instructional preferences.

One school simplified the deluge of learning materials by standardizing lesson plans across grade levels and narrowing online resources to the top three per grade level, which helped ease parents’ confusion and stress.

Teachers give

“Two of my families told me they needed food. I boxed up what I had, threw on a mask, and went to the store to grab milk and eggs. I left the boxes on their doorsteps.”

Ninety-four percent of teachers in the U.S. spend their own money on school supplies. When the pandemic hit, teachers extended the same generosity they display every day in the classroom.

After discovering a student was home alone without a device and unable to participate in online learning—the student’s parents are essential workers—one teacher donated her personal iPad. The teacher delivered and set up the device and proceeded to connect with the student daily.

Concerned about lack of access to books at home, another teacher purchased, gathered, and delivered mini libraries for each student in her class.

Teachers create

“I implemented a program called ‘Cooking in Kinder’ every Friday. We sent out a simple ingredient list to our parents on Monday, and on Friday at 11:00 we would go live and cook with our kids. During this time, we’re incorporating ELA lessons, math, and science as we’re reading recipes, measuring things out, and looking at changes in matter. It has been fantastic!”

Teachers organized car parades, virtual spirit weeks, and socially distanced graduation celebrations. A principal continued the school’s daily morning announcements to provide a sense of normalcy for the students.

Teachers at one school led art projects on Thursdays that encouraged students to create artwork using everyday household items. One “ARTragious” Thursday featured making robots from items like popsicle sticks, aluminum foil, and paper scraps.

Teachers connect

“I [connected remotely with] a child at the parents’ request when he was having a meltdown about not being able to go to school. I sat on the phone with him for a very long time, feeling his pain with him and waited until he was calm.”

For many students, school is a safe haven, the only place they receive the social interaction they crave. Teachers, when forced to teach from distance, continued finding ways to support these students.

Many teachers hosted livestreamed story times. One read picture books to her middle schoolers every night. Because so many of her students participated, this teacher is now considering continuing the story time through summer.

Teachers made extra time for one-on-one connections. “I have a student who is very quiet and struggles with anxiety,” one teacher said. “I have connected with her through email every day. I do not know if this deep of a connection could have happened in class.” Another teacher created a sign-up schedule for her students, offering 15-minute time slots for one-on-one phone calls or virtual meetings.

Teachers are heroes

Every day, educators adapt, give, create, and connect. In the midst of a pandemic and the chaotic transition to virtual classrooms, teachers showed incredible courage and strength. As poet Maya Angelou said, “A hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” Teachers are true heroes. We celebrate them and hope you will too.

Katie Schrodt (, an ILA member since 2012, is an assistant professor for the Department of Elementary and Special Education at Middle Tennessee State University.

Erin FitzPatrick (, an ILA member since 2017, is an assistant professor for the Department of Special Education and Child Development at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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