Note: this post is part of a series about Noble’s preparation for the upcoming school year.
Christine Wong is a 10th grade English teacher, entering her 8th year at UIC College Prep (UICCP). Christine is part of the Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) working group at UIC and also leads Culturally Responsive and Supportive Teaching professional development sessions (which are tied to the Noble Classroom). We sat down with Christine to hear more about the transition to remote teaching in the spring and the way she is preparing for the fall semester.
MM: Thanks for making the time, what were you thinking when schools had to close in the spring?
10th grade English teacher
Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) working group member
CW: There was a lot of sadness for me because it felt so abrupt. We were told, “take all your things home,” and so especially as a senior advisor at the time, it was really sad to then realize that was the last time I’d see my senior advisees in person and all the students who I had built strong relationships with. Not having a chance to say goodbye in person I think led to some personal grief that carried on through the remainder of the year, especially as we realized this was how it was going to be for the rest of the school year.
MM: Once you got past the initial news, how did you think about adapting your instruction for the remote setting?
CW: When I think about remote learning, I think about it a lot from a culturally responsive and sustaining teaching lens. In the spring, we were doing a lot of emergency remote teaching because we didn’t know how long it was going to last. But, even in that time, a lot of the emphasis was on community and relationship building, even though I had been with my students for half the school year already. We focused on finding ways to heal, find joy, or connect together synchronously and asynchronously. For example, my co-teacher and I held Google Hangouts to play games with students and build those relationships, and there were some students who came to that every week who really valued that time to see one another and to catch up.
MM: What did the logistics look like for your transition into remote teaching?
CW: Mostly we used Google Classroom, now I’m thinking of more ways for students to engage asynchronously too – like Padlet and Pear Deck – that allow students to see one another’s contributions and respond to them. Or, I’m considering a class social media account to share updates in those other ways as well to build community.
MM: In terms of your curriculum, what were the top things you focused on?
CW: I focused on building in a lot of student choice and opportunities for students to do mindfulness activities – whether it was journaling prompts or poetry. Just lots of opportunities for students to bring their full selves and share what their reflections are, lots of google classroom posts (like, “what’s your emoji for this week?”) that were just check-ins to build community. Sometimes we don’t think of relationship building as part of our curriculum or classroom, but it really is.
MM: Can you share a moment that went really well from the spring?
CW: Remote learning really pushed my thinking about what learning really looks like. I hear people’s concerns about losing instructional time but am pushing back on that – all of us are living through a pandemic and a racial uprising so there is a lot of learning happening. What went well was bringing in our students’ lived experiences. Students really engaged with assignments around COVID and figuring out what was reliable and true about the news they were seeing around them. Also, we focused on having spaces to write about and process their feelings around the racial uprising. They had choice in their curriculum – so it wasn’t seeking to traumatize students by requiring work around these topics – but if they needed that space to process and heal, then we co-created it in the work that they were sharing.
MM: And what are you looking to do differently in the upcoming semester?
CW: One thing we’ve been working on a lot in my planning team and the UICCP DEI working group is how we reimagine schooling. Oftentimes as an educator, I’m automatically granted this power because of the structures we have in schools – as a teacher, I get to decide what is valid and what isn’t valid. This year I really want to give up that power through reimagination – how can I co-create with my students what they need from me? What they want the curriculum to be this year, how we engage with one another online and offline. So that is really my focus this year as I’m co-creating that with students.
MM: If you had one piece of advice for teachers heading into this year, what would it be?
CW: As we’re all moving into how we can do anti-racist work at Noble, I’ve been thinking about the quote, “we need to prepare our youth not for the world that is, but for the world that could be”. And so as we’re deciding what curriculum to use, or what our “norms” or zoom best practices to be, I’m trying to push back on “well we need to do it XYZ way because that’s what colleges do or that’s what the SAT requires”. We need to own that some of those systems are actually very inequitable, so how do we prepare students to critique that and reimagine new ways of being that are liberating? Because, we have that power. That is the opportunity we have in this totally new realm of virtual teaching.
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