Savannah Staley, Possip reporter and former AP English teacher, writes about how working for Possip strengthened her teaching.
The day felt like any other.
From inside my classroom, I could hear students’ voices echoing through the hallway with the sound of the bell. But as students began filing into my classroom, I quickly felt the unanticipated chaos of the moment. I was bombarded with unanswerable questions about school closing and the contagious nature of the new coronavirus. I was instructed to hand out information about next steps regarding potential school closure. While internally I felt anxious and uncertain, I outwardly maintained my composure. Two days later, my district made the announcement that school would remain virtual for the foreseeable future.
When schools closed, Covid-19 exposed the truth about the role of traditional schools in a functioning society.
It shed additional light on our society’s reliance on the education system for necessities beyond education. Schools are not just the place students go to learn. They are where students receive vital resources such as food, or mental health and language support. Schools are also a form of child care families consistently depend on; they provide stability and regularity. The pandemic changed the role of teachers and parents alike as school leaders grappled with their new ubiquitous, virtual reality.
In this new world of virtual teaching, family communication felt more important than ever before.
As an AP teacher, I felt pressure to prepare students for the AP exam, while providing them opportunities for socialization, and space to express their anxieties around the pandemic. Additionally, as a teacher of primarily upperclassmen, I believed it important to create a culture of accountability and self-advocacy, as these students would soon be graduating. However, the pandemic made this dynamic more difficult for myself and others– teachers, students, and families alike struggled to remain afloat.
I joined Possip as a reporter in early January 2021 as a means to explore my impact as an educator beyond the classroom. Not only has Possip provided me with exposure to the EdTech world, it has strengthened my teaching and powerfully impacted who I am as a teacher in more ways than one.
The protests spurred by the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor during the Spring and Summer of 2020 served as a catalyst for reflection for many institutions, especially education. As a result, schools and teachers began revamping their curriculum to include more diverse perspectives. Throughout the year, I began noticing trends in Possip Pulse Check responses in regards to more inclusive curriculum changes. Parents celebrated the schools and teachers integrating new voices into the curriculum and sharing the truth about United States’ history. Schools planned intentional lessons during Black History Month and asked for parent feedback regularly. This prioritization of parent voice and culturally-relevant curriculum prompted my own reflection on student voice and feedback in my classroom.
Effective culturally-responsive teaching is more than just exposing students to Black and Brown voices. As a teacher, it’s equally important to accurately represent students’ cultures, experiences, and perspectives by asking for authentic feedback on curriculum choices and teaching practices.
With this in mind, I assigned a regular quarterly course evaluation, where students had the opportunity to share feedback anonymously. Due to the nature of the pandemic, this survey was not solely about content and academic growth. Perhaps most importantly –
- It created space for students to evaluate whether or not they felt seen by their teacher and peers
- If they truly believed their teacher prioritized them as individuals over their grades
Additionally, I reflected on the significance of student advocacy as it related to their grades. I regularly asked them to self-score their writing or give themselves weekly participation scores with supportive rationales.
I almost always honored their self-assessment and reflection as a way to say, “I see you, and I know you’re doing the best you can.”
By the end of the school year, students were openly providing feedback on each other’s writing. They were also collaboratively deciding how each essay should be graded, including summative assessments.
Student voice is more than students sharing their ideas; it is effectively integrating their thoughts and perspectives into structures and systems. That way, school is truly collaborative and exploratory in nature.
In order to teach our students, it is first necessary that students feel known and seen in our classrooms. It is important to establish a culture of trust and belonging before we invite students to take risks and practice vulnerability. It is equally important that we as educators mirror vulnerability and courage if we are asking this of our students. The parent comments I read through Possip showed me the importance of reflective teaching and regular integration of student voice. I also noticed how impactful it was for families when they received positive and regular communication regarding their student’s academic performance and overall growth. I made it a habit to contact at least five new families weekly to share celebratory and positive moments I experienced with their students. This too, inherently changed the way I communicated with families as I worked to establish a culture of respect and support.
Although not the original intention, my work as a reporter at Possip has proven instrumental to my work as an educator. The way Possip strengthened my teaching is a testament to the significance of feedback and family communication. Possip creates the space for school leaders to make informed decisions based on formative data and family feedback. It’s an invaluable resource for school communities who want to improve school culture, influencing teachers and students alike.
Read more stories from the Possip team here.