RANDOLPH, NJ—Ever since Randolph High School was compelled to close its campus doors in mid-March due to COVID-19 concerns, the approximately 160 teachers on staff have shown adaptability and resilience as they learn and execute best practices in distance learning in order to support the high school’s 1,600-plus students.
For teachers, mastering the art of distance teaching has included expanding their use of Microsoft Teams, the collaborative arm of Microsoft 365; attending daily and/or weekly video staff meetings; developing and holding synchronous (live) video classes with students; creating and delivering non-synchronous (non-live) lesson plans; and navigating an endless stream of chat messages with students, ranging from answering simple homework questions to helping boost morale during these uncertain times.
“The biggest reward of virtual teaching in this scenario is that we’re still able to provide students with learning opportunities, and we’re able to check on their well-being and offer support if needed,” said Bree Valvano, an English teacher at RHS. “My students mean the world to me, so if I can help in any small way, I am more than happy to do so.”
With little advance notice about the extended closure, teachers of all subjects quickly developed creative virtual lessons for students. This includes creating one or two daily synchronous lessons that provide up to a hundred minutes of interactive learning time per day to supplement the asynchronous (non-live) content that teachers are also preparing.
For RHS math teacher Teresa Schuele, one challenge for her and her colleagues is twofold: to help students retain their prior knowledge of the subject and successfully master the next level of math.
In one example, Schuele created a video lesson on finding diagonals, which she demonstrated using simple materials from home, like a cardboard box and tape. “Each day I provide my students with a document outlining the lesson and it contains any links, either made by me or a colleague or that I've found online,” Schuele said. “I like that I can upload my own videos because sometimes the caliber that I find does not match the depth my students are accustomed to.”
For RHS music teachers, including orchestra director Eric Schaberg, the use of virtual learning coupled with music represents a new frontier, due to the hands-on nature of the subject matter. “I am recording each individual, taking each track and putting together a video of all of the kids together,” Schaberg said. “I’ve never done it, and I am sure it will not be easy. I am spending the entire vacation learning how to sub the tracks and put together a video of the kids playing through iMovie and Final Cut Pro.”
“I will always be available to help them when they have questions, and I am also planning on sharing YouTube videos of the ensemble material that we are working on as well as inspiring videos of their world-class performers in concert on their specific instrument,” Schaberg added.
In the English department, teachers have collaborated in video meetings, in order to plan activities and lessons designed to stir interactions between students while developing their critical thinking skills.
“In terms of virtual lessons, I have done discussion board prompts for the kids where they respond to questions and then respond to the thoughts of their peers,” Valvano explained. “I’ve also created videos and had students answer questions based on the video content. I’ve created small groups and had mini discussions on the novel we’re reading via video chat. I also hope to do some cool projects with the kids after spring break.”
For physical education, gym teacher Colleen Suflay has developed lessons that take into account the physical and emotional development of students. As she explained, her remote lesson plans are designed to allow students to become advocates for their own personal wellness.
“I’ve enjoyed communicating with my students over the last few weeks,” Suflay said. “It’s been an opportunity to connect with students. We have been communicating about overall wellness, plans, goals, stress management, mindfulness and other very important issues.”
The RHS teaching staff has quickly created a flourishing and supportive online classroom community, which teachers continue to enhance daily. Many teachers expressed their gratitude for the strong support of RHS administrators, who, among many other things, provided approximately 320 families with devices and Internet access to ensure that all students have equal access to school.
At the end of this crisis, RHS should be able to reflect on this experience and be proud of how teachers, administrators, and students worked together to get the job done.
“We’re all living through something that the world has never experienced,” Valvano said. “In my opinion, the most important things we can do for one another include being there to listen, being supportive, and being kind.”
Editor’s Note: Jonah Perelman is a student at RHS participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Randolph