Schools' teacher coaches filling vital role with online learning

MT. PLEASANT — The Mt. Pleasant schools instructional coaches have had a busy year dealing with technological adaptations, technological issues, new programs, remote learning and supporting district teachers.

During a presentation to the Mt. Pleasant school board Monday, district instructional coaches explained their roles and responsibilities during the pandemic.

Many coaches have found themselves more involved in the technological side of coaching the district’s staff.

One issue that many have found was the increased need for support on the district’s learning management system, Canvas. Brittany Roberts, a secondary instructional coach, said she spent the first two months of school working with teachers on Canvas and helping with the integration of other apps into Canvas.

Canvas is a learning management system used by schools working online.

“I’ll be honest, in the first two months of school our role for those of us on the tech side was working with Canvas,” Roberts said.

“That also includes the integration of the tech tools that come with Canvas such as Nearpod, Screencastify and Ed Puzzle, that extra piece that is great for remote learners but also integrates with our system very well,” she added.

They saw a big jump in necessity for technological support in the spring when the school year was canceled and the district moved to an optional remote learning format. To help teachers navigate this new need the district started hosting Zoom training sessions about Canvas for district teachers.

“With increased use comes increased needs for learning. In the spring we had some spring sessions over Zoom and in the summer we had these Canvas workshops over Zoom that were pretty awesome,” Roberts said.

The secondary level was not the only one struggling to support teachers on the Canvas platform. Elementary schoolteachers were being introduced to the program for the first time.

To get content to the students in the remote learning program for the district’s elementary school’s and to prepare for the event of a district shutdown the elementary school’s moved their curriculum to Canvas as well.

Instructional coach Shawn Striegel has been supporting the transition with elementary teachers with two teachers assigned per grade level to find content to put on Canvas, and to make it easily accessible for students.

“It has been a little bit different at the elementary levels because we’ve had a different learning curve,” Striegel said.

“Not only did we have to find content to put into Canvas, but then making it usable not only for the teachers, but for the students as well,” he added.

Striegel has had to teach the district’s elementary students how to get into Canvas and work the program. With technology like Canvas new to the students, it has been a fun, but difficult process, according to Striegel. “Just in case the doomsday scenario happens, and we have to leave and go remote, our kids are prepared to pick up that device and get the information they need to have to continue to learn,” Striegel said.

The district’s remote learning program in the fall was a big pull for teachers, and the coaches did their best to assist teachers in making remote learning accessible.

Jen Slagel, a secondary instructional coach, worked with many teachers attempting to make activities accessible to remote students. Using programs such as Screencastify and Nearpod to make the programs more engaging as well.

“We’ve done a lot of thinking outside the box to make those same activities that kids are doing in the classroom available to the kids at home, in the same engaging way,” Slagel said.

Along with teaching district teachers Canvas, Nearpod, Zoom and other online applications, the elementary instructional coaches have moved forward with adapting some new curriculum for the district. With their second year of iReady math and their first year on a new English curriculum they have had to work with teachers to implement these programs in their classroom and remotely.

Along with the new curriculum the elementary, instructional coaches are attempting to improve their intervention system so that district students aren’t falling behind in core areas.

“We’ve been doing a lot of the work of the special education department, and it has been trickling out into the classroom so that we can better support those students early on so they’re not falling through the cracks,” said Lisa Syfert, an elementary instructional coach focused on math curriculum.

In an effort to continue with social emotional learning, the district has had to adapt its practices, training teachers how to use what they have learned to aid themselves in stress control and self-care, according to secondary instructional coach Nikki Ensminger.

“This year we had to change that a little bit into teacher self-care because coming back there are so many unknowns, even now, everyday is an unknown,” Ensminger said.