Minimal contact with students and colleagues, both local and far flung, has taken a toll on all of us. We have lost so many to retirements or just plain career changes because teaching is no longer as fulfilling a job. For me, however, The POGIL Project community has kept me sane, kept me hopeful, and kept me in this career.
Every school dealt with COVID protocols in slightly different ways. In my particular case, teachers were no longer welcome in the school after 3:30 because maintenance was decontaminating our rooms. Impromptu conversations or collaborations with colleagues were much more difficult to have. The dining hall was closed, and everyone ate in a classroom with their students. No longer could I look forward to a rousing lunch conversation with my colleagues about the latest episode of “crazy things kids say.” Our school traditions that gave us touchpoints with parents and each other throughout the year were cancelled or virtual. No all-school picnic, no Halloween festival, no parents’ night. Even when kids were in the classroom “for real,” we were limited in our interactions. The camera connecting me to virtual students kept me on a short leash when it came to walking away from the front of the room. During what limited labs we could do, I had to stay six feet away from students, trying to describe how to do something rather than just pointing to it, or directly demonstrating a technique. Even the dreaded faculty and department meetings felt disconnected as we all “Zoomed” in from home. It was very lonely.
The first survival tool that The POGIL Project provided was “just-in-time” professional development on dealing with a virtual classroom. I picked up numerous tips for managing POGIL teams in breakout rooms. I learned about apps and websites that could supplement my lesson plans. Most important, I didn’t feel alone. I felt we were all pitching in to help each other through a crisis and to keep our students learning.
Second, my working groups were a godsend. I looked forward to our Zoom meetings that always started with a bit of venting about what craziness was happening in each of our schools. Who was virtual? Who was hybrid? How many kids were quarantined? We all had different schedules and situations to deal with, but we were all trying to make POGIL work. This quick therapy session, empathizing with each other, and sharing laughs, was priceless. Again, we didn’t feel alone. We were part of a community, doing our best to get through a crisis.
Finally, my POGIL peeps were evidence that teaching was still happing during a pandemic. While many of my colleagues were throwing up their hands, complacent about the lack of learning happening in their classrooms, those in the POGIL community were still sharing a message of hope, of hard work, and good intentions. Did our students learn as much as they would have in a normal year? Maybe not, but they came close. We tried hard to keep the rigor and make our classrooms as “normal” as they could be. This positive influence from the POGIL community kept me trying new things, designing new breakout room activities, and looking for online or at-home labs.
I have deep love for all of the members of The POGIL community. They are “my people.”
- Laura Trout