On a packed Zoom meeting in early August, 20 educators talked about the importance of incorporating social emotional learning (SEL) in their literacy instruction. Guiding the conversation was Laurie Brooks, WITS curriculum manager. Laurie does not believe SEL should be a separate part of instruction that is set aside for certain activities. SEL is so important that it needs to be weaved into every aspect of teaching.
The educators at the meeting are participants of WITS’ latest cohort of Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees (RLTA), and the SEL workshop is part of Summer Institute – when WITS provides literacy professional development for awardees over the course of six weeks. Summer Institute usually takes place at the Literacenter, with teachers meeting to socialize, network, and improve their practice. However, COVID-19 meant that WITS had to quickly adapt from offering Summer Institute in person to becoming a fully virtual experience.
Teachers As Facilitators Leading the Way
During the early stages of switching from in-person to virtual, WITS wanted to maintain the quality of workshops and the overall learning experience for educators. Daphne Robinson, WITS’ program and operations manager, reached out to every presenter to adjust the timing of workshops to better accommodate the virtual learning. WITS works with teachers to facilitate most of the workshops and they found innovative ways to present their information in engaging ways – from using breakout rooms to have small group discussions to using pear deck and nearpod for a more interactive experience. Viewing the workshops on these new platforms allows for educators to become familiar with them as options for remote learning, and teachers create community online.
By the end of Summer Institute, WITS will have offered nearly 40 professional development workshops on topics ranging from SEL in the Literacy Classroom to using the Google Suite in Readers and Writers Workshop to Building Emotional Literacy Through Conscious Discipline. WITS is responsive to educators aspiring to improve their practice, and we know the variety of workshops appeals to teachers who are taking charge of their professional development. We are proud to say that we were able to keep all planned workshops in the transition to the virtual workshops.
Learning and Sharing On Zoom
During the SEL workshop, as teachers introduced themselves, a few mentioned having technical difficulties and joked about having to ask their children to help them increase the volume on Zoom. Everyone laughed. Later, Laurie had the educators share their literacy autobiography – sharing what they remember about learning to read and their relationship to books and stories as a young person. Teachers posted their autobiography in the chat, and others responded. It was a special moment that set the tone for a welcoming and safe learning space.
The WITS community of teachers are tuning in from home, through their computer screens. As teachers create community online, they are still making connections, learning from each other, growing through shared experiences, and cultivating hope about the school year ahead.