The pandemic taught teachers flexibility

by Barbara Gaines Winkelman
Posted 8/19/21

For Jessica Stein, fourth grade math and science teacher at John S. Jenks School in Chestnut Hill, one of the keys to success during the pandemic was “mass collaboration” among teachers; teachers within her school, across the Philadelphia School District and nationally in Facebook groups.

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The pandemic taught teachers flexibility

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For Jessica Stein, fourth grade math and science teacher at John S. Jenks School in Chestnut Hill, one of the keys to success during the pandemic was “mass collaboration” among teachers; teachers within her school, across the Philadelphia School District and nationally in Facebook groups.

From mid-March 2020 through April 2021, the Philadelphia School District taught school remotely. In April 2021 through the end of the year, it taught a hybrid of remote and in-class learning.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the uncertainty was hard. As teachers adjusted to teaching online, they helped each other. Some needed support using the new technology to teach remotely. Others shared their lesson plans and slide presentations. It was not just among teachers at Jenks. The School District of Philadelphia set up what Stein called a “great science collaborative” in which science teachers across the district work together. Stein is also in at least ten Facebook groups of teachers. The groups have different themes, such as teachers of upper elementary grades and those that teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Through Facebook, teachers from across the country worked together by pooling resources.

“Everybody just threw everything in and shared.”

No one was territorial about their lesson plans. Teachers shared their power points and modified each other’s work with ease.

“All of a sudden, the hardest things started getting really easy,” recalled Stein.

Jessica Stein is staunchly proud of how well her students handled the change to learning online.

“They’re really, really an amazing group of students…My class rose up and just did amazing together. They would help each other when they could and help me too.”

At times when Stein had to leave the screen, she would hear her students working together virtually, helping each other out, telling each other that everything would be all right. They also helped her when she needed technical assistance working from her basement office.

“They would walk me through whatever it was,” she said.

Currently the School District is moving forward with in-person learning with precautions in place. Everyone in school will be masked. Students must be three feet apart. Teachers are setting up their classrooms in what Stein refers to as “old school ‘80’s style,” where desks are far apart in rows and columns. Of course, teachers are expected to follow these guidelines “to the best of their ability.” It will be more challenging for classrooms with tables instead of desks.

There is a “no sharing” rule in the school district. For instance, students cannot share crayons or books. Stein is thinking about how to pass out the math books that her students use in school. Currently, she is planning to put each math book into a reusable shopping bag to prevent the books from touching each other.

What the pandemic has taught Stein is that she needs to be flexible.  “In the back of my mind I have to be prepared for absolutely everything…This year the class motto will be, ‘go with the flow’,” said Stein. “Last year it was, ‘We got this.’ Whatever pops up we are going to do it, we got it under control. And we’re going to make it as much fun and exciting as we can.”

Stein cannot wait to interact with her students “for real” and have them participate in science experiments again.

Also known as the Jenks Academy for the Arts and Sciences, Jenks plans to pull out all the stops on the first day of school. Stein said they will “have balloons and will roll out the red carpet” for the students.

Stein has been teaching for 20 years, 13 of them at Jenks. “That’s like the Holy Grail!” Stein said of her getting to teach at Jenks. Jenks has a “great working environment. The staff pulls it together and just support each other,” said Stein. “And The parents are super supportive.” Stein values the small size of Jenks. There are two classes to each grade.

What Stein asks of the Chestnut Hill community is “grace.” She asks that the community be patient with the school as it returns to full operation at the end of August. “There’s going to be traffic where there wasn’t before…people are going to be parked in places they shouldn’t be.”

During this transition teachers “will try not to inconvenience the community,” stated Stein.

Stein is very excited for this school year.

“Last year we did the best we could…but I can’t wait to get back to actually interacting with my kids in person.”

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