Letter from the Dean
March 10, 2021
Walk dog. Zoom. Walk dog. Zoom, Dog walks me. Zoom. Is this familiar in your work-life routine? For those of you with school-age children, merely substitute “walk the dog” with an all-too familiar prompt to your children: “What time do you need to be online to meet with your teacher?”
One year into the pandemic, many of us have settled into somewhat humdrum routines. Despite this, I hope you experience pleasant surprises and new appreciation for spontaneous moments that break up the monotony in your days.
I recently experienced a joyful happenstance when I observed my eight-year-old grandson’s online drama class with his third-grade peers. A talented drama teacher turned what might have been a routine zoom-session into a multi-squared sea of synchronized motion and energy. I witnessed from afar students dramatize the phases of a sunflower’s growth. They started with an explosive emergence from the ground, jumping up off their yoga mats with their hands held high above their heads. Then they slowly lowered their hands into a Y-position to enact the opening motion of flower petals in bloom. Finally, they swayed in the breeze when their teacher instructed them to move with the background music.
The marvels of youth and adults finding meaningful connection in a virtual classroom may be complex and, possibly, fleeting. However, when it does happen, the magic can overwhelm you like a spring flower.
Engage your imagination and remember the positive energy of teaching and learning in unexpected circumstances. For this newsletter, we are dedicating this space to stories of hope, resilience, and optimism for the future.
Learning to teach in the time of COVID
By Kristen Labrecque, Academic Advisor for Elementary Education and Marissa Heringer, Director for Academic Services
Teaching is an ambitious endeavor in normal times, whether you are educating K12 students or undergraduate teacher candidates. This year has challenged teachers to adapt in unimaginable ways. As we look back at a year of remote learning, Kristen Labrecque and Marissa Heringer asked professors and student teacher candidates to reflect on what they have learned and what they will take from these experiences. We hope you find some inspiration in reading about how others are learning to teach in the time of COVID.
The importance of grace, improvisation, and realistic expectations
Jenny Christen (El Ed ’21): In the beginning of the school year, we heard many people tell student teachers to “have grace with yourself”. I didn’t quite understand why that would be important to practice during this time. Then, it really sank in how challenging teaching through a pandemic can be! Having grace means so much more than being patient and understanding. It means that we must recognize that we are humans that are trying to learn and navigate hard times.
Noelle Hsia (El Ed ’21): I've learned to let go of unrealistic ideas of perfection, especially in a virtual learning setting. Teaching in a virtual setting is incredibly difficult—there is always bound to be some technical or connection issue that will pop up during your lesson. I've learned to accept that these issues are just small bumps in the road. They help me to practice my improvisation skills and ability to just go with the flow.
Dr. Wayne Au: I think that most of us are dealing with mental health issues from the pandemic on some level or another—even if we don’t know or admit it. So, I think that we can’t and shouldn’t have the same expectation for ourselves, particularly surrounding productivity. This includes our expectations of student work as well. Everyone is dealing with such immense emotional weight right now, we just need to be as flexible and understanding as humanly possible.
Dr. Carrie Tzou: Working from home is hard! It means that you’re never REALLY removed from work and have to be more intentional about mentally and physically creating boundaries between work and non-work life.
Having a space to teach, a morning routine, and a planner
Noelle Hsia (El Ed ’21): It's hard to find a quiet spot in the house to teach, especially when your entire family is stuck at home with you! So I made a rule to myself that whenever I'm student teaching, I'm sitting in my "teaching area". This helps me get into a teaching mindset to mentally prepare myself. Once I'm done teaching for the day, I try and move around the house as much as possible to create a sense of separation and balance within my home.
Dr. Yue Bian: I like to make my workspace clean and organized. According to Feng shui (I know...), if my workspace is too messy with too much stuff, I am more likely to be involved in issues that take time and energy to tackle. So the first thing I do every day is cleaning my table!
Adriana Verduzco (El Ed ’21): I created boundaries for myself… by showing up to my workspace in attire that I would have considered wearing to the classroom in person. This might look like a nice cardigan or a turtleneck sweater. I look forward to wearing my fashionable attire everyday... it motivates me to be productive while I am in the comfort of my own space.
Sharona Horton (El Ed ’21): I always valued my planner before this, but now more than ever it has become a lifesaver! If I have to go pick up any materials, I schedule it in the planner. I put my meal plan in the planner, and personal phone calls that need to be made. I schedule in times during the day to read for my coursework and do any assignments that are needed. It’s actually a relief to me knowing that it is all written down, because it takes the anxiety away of “oh my goodness, what am I forgetting?!”
Learning to be adaptive and resilient
Adriana Verduzco (El Ed ’21): When I first started to take more responsibilities in the remote classroom, I was provided a document camera from the school only to realize that my MacBook was not compatible with the USB attachment. I had to act fast and that is when I figured out that I was able to use my iPhone. So, I bought a tripod and now my phone acts as a mini document camera that I can use on Zoom! Though I was very unprepared to teach from home, I was reminded there are always creative ways to get around.
Sharona Horton (El Ed ’21): I feel like these times have really affirmed how important it is to build relationships with students right away. It was challenging at first to figure out how to achieve this in a virtual setting, but I do feel confident that we overcame that struggle! One of the most valuable moments I found for this was creating an ‘art class’ on Friday afternoon with my students. This time we spend with each other just putting together a project, but mostly just chatting. Having that unstructured conversation time with my young learners was very significant in building a strong relationship with them, and showing them that their voices were valued. I think that planning time for unstructured communication is definitely valuable in whatever setting we see moving forward
Appreciating silver linings in remote teaching
Dr. Allison Hintz: One thing I have really appreciated during remote teaching using Zoom is the chat feature! The chat, a running written dialogue space in the margin, allows anyone at any time to share their ideas, pose wonders, and engage with each other. I appreciate the expanded window into students’ thinking and it often spurs the discussion that is happening aloud. The chat also allows a broader range of voices to emerge in our discussions. It reminds me of kneeling beside students during in-person learning, hearing their ideas and bringing those ideas to the whole group. Yet, in chat, more dimensions emerge that afford more student voices in our discussions! I have begun wondering, post-COVID, what it might look like to have the chat feature in some way to continue to have more ways for students to participate and share their thinking. Hear hear for the chat!
Dr. Wayne Au: Personally it has enhanced my online teaching skills enough to be more comfortable with teaching online in the future – and it has even shown me some specific advantages over face-to-face courses. While I would never give up teaching face to face entirely, I would most definitely be comfortable teaching hybrid courses and taking advantage of some of the things the online environment affords me.
Jenny Christen (El Ed ’21): Teachers have been so adaptive and determined to hold onto their passion through one of the hardest years to teach. I am so grateful to witness the hard work of educators in this virtual setting. I look forward to the new wonderful methods and ideas for education others are bringing.
Well said Jenny, we couldn’t have agreed with you more!
Alumni Leading and Learning in a Pandemic: Lego Bricks and Letting Go
By Michele Graaff, Graduate Academic Advisor
Even in a normal year, UW Bothell Educational Leadership (LEDE) alumni are navigating the complexities of school leadership against myriad challenges: maintaining a focus on increased equity and student success, managing funding gaps, assessing policy changes, and enriching community partnerships. So, what happens when our school principals and administrators find themselves doing all of this against the backdrop of a global pandemic?
With schools closed, teachers and administrators were asked to make a near-instant pivot to fully online learning and leading. From kitchen tables, small offices, or a corner of a living room, educators have cued up laptops and smiled a far-away welcome to their students. Administrators have grappled with connecting, building and solving through innovative means. All of this, coupled with the natural, emotional impacts of a difficult and worrying time.
Yet, the LEDE program has consistently prepared educators to think forward, to think holistically about students and collegial relationships, while remaining agile to change. Perhaps that’s why, when asked how they were coping, it wasn’t surprising to find inspiration from two LEDE alumni.
Tamara Smith (M.Ed-Ed. Leadership ’19), serves as the Mathematics Coordinator for Olympic Educational Service District 114. In her shift to working from home, Lego and boundaries have been important. To manage the need for multiple screens, she created a phone stand from Legos. “I use [my phone] to monitor texts from other facilitators during Zoom trainings when I’m screen sharing, [when] it is difficult to use the Zoom chat feature.” A simple, colorful way to fix one small struggle.
Another easy way to shape her day has been with structure. Smith has taken to protecting pockets of time with routine, choosing to replace her now non-existent commute with a morning and afternoon walk. “Arriving home after the walk in the morning is the same as arriving in the office. The work day ends with an early evening walk.”
Similarly, LEDE alumni Patrick Gray (M.Ed. – Ed. Leadership ’18), took on the challenge of a less-than-ideal workspace by crafting a simple standing desk from two milk crates and a plank. He also suggests investing even a small amount into upgraded technology, such as an extra monitor and separate webcam.
Structure has also been a theme for Gray, a busy assistant principal for Seattle Public Schools. His number one piece of advice, he says, is to use a different cell phone for work. This way, “when I want to be done for the evening or weekend, I put my work cell away where I won’t look at it.” His principal and the head secretary have his personal number for emergencies.
To keep things interesting during intensive weeks of back-to-back meetings, Gray would sometimes appear wearing a different hat throughout the day. “It was metaphorical but also left colleagues amused and brought a little levity to some really difficult days.” To that end, increased collaboration has become an unexpected gift. “One of the best things about this COVID year is that it’s been far easier to meet and collaborate with colleagues all over the district.” In a regular year, he likely would have seen fewer than half of his administrative colleagues. He hopes that this virtual connection with people outside of his school will continue.
Smith and Gray both agree that leaning into the change and allowing their own learning to evolve have been essential. Smith notes that her preparation in LEDE introduced her to the Framework for School Leadership Accomplishments (FLSA). This became a tool, or lens, by which to understand the rationale of school and district decisions around COVID-related policies. “When every single system was tested, and there was no normal to rely on, frameworks like FLSA have been critical.”
Both educators believe that this past year has spotlighted the importance of authentic connection, which ultimately achieves higher levels of student success. For Smith, this time of remote learning has emphasized her belief that knowledge is socially constructed. The shift to remote learning has had varying levels of success. She feels that a post-COVID landscape will continue to rely more on technology than before. However, she states, “some will have the opportunity to continue those practices that were successful in building student agency and identity.”
Gray continually encourages his colleagues to make relationships the priority – it’s family first, and “whenever you can, make a phone call instead of sending an email. Person-to-person connection […] is what everyone is missing most of all.” This all translates back to supporting and empowering students, beyond the digital divide. Last Spring, Assistant Principal Gray challenged his middle school students to meet 100% engagement.The reward? He would shave his thick head of hair. By May, every student had engaged through the online system and by submitting their work requirements—and were treated to a video of Mr. Gray slowly losing chunks of his hair to an electric trimmer, at the hands of his two delighted daughters. You can watch the video here.
And while Gray may have needed to add extra hats to his collection, he remarks “I’m in this job because I love working with kids. If that part is missing, the job brings way less joy.”
Recently Relaunched Master of Education Develops Critical Lens Toward Equity and Learning
By Michele Graaff, Graduate Academic Advisor
Autumn 2020 welcomed the first cohort of graduate students to the newly restructured Master of Education program. A two-year admission pause allowed SES faculty and staff to intentionally restructure the M.Ed., aligning the program with the vision and mission of our School. Students in the new M.Ed. choose between two equity-focused concentrations: Critical Educational Change and Leadership (CECL), or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).
Curriculum centers on the historical context of systemic racism inherent to educational structures, theories and pedagogies of equity in education, and implementation of social justice initiatives within educational contexts.
Feedback from the M.Ed. cohort has been rich and inspiring, with students digging deep into self-reflection and collaboration. CECL student Sabrina Chacon-Barajas (she/her) is a Teaching Artist and Art Program Manager at Seattle Pacific University. She shared her first impression and experiences:
What drew you to the M.Ed. – Critical Educational Change and Leadership Program?
I think it is important to acknowledge that graduate degrees are not needed to access the spaces of social transformation but I also understand the leverage that degrees have to access spaces of decision making in white supremacist institutions which have not been inclusive of intersectional BIPOC experiences- which brings me here. The CECL program seems to have an integral and critical analysis on how to address the issues that inflict harm on our black, indigenous, students of color in the education system and how to support transformation.
In your first quarters, how do you feel the content is changing your thinking or shaping the work you already do?
The design of classes is helpful. The critical examination of identity and history of hegemonic ideologies in the first quarter has supported our analysis in the second quarter where we dive into critical pedagogy and the landscape of educational research.
Favorite parts of the program or any other thoughts you would like to share?
Connecting and learning from people that are educators, administrators, and overall advocates for equitable access to education for all age ranges of students has been invaluable. The expertise brought on by these folks have supported inclusive and holistic conversations that support our education and work.
The UW Bothell M.Ed. program is currently accepting applications for Autumn 2021. More information can be found here: www.uwb.edu/med