In today’s interview, we’re hearing from Lianna. She and I went to high school together and she is SERIOUSLY one of the most talented artists I’ve ever met! The fact that she’s now teaching youngsters how to “art” makes me so happy and so excited for the future of humanity!
Julia: Tell me about your school and your role. What are the demographics of your school? How many students do you have? How many staff? What grades do you teach? What subjects? How long have you been there?
Lianna: I teach Visual Arts at a public charter elementary school that is part of the top-performing school system in the state of Arizona. My school is different from others in our “district,” as we are more urban and diverse than a lot of the other buildings. We have kids whose parents are both doctors that drop them off in Teslas, we have kids who are in the foster system and sleeping on couches in group homes, and everyone in between. Our school has about 800 kiddos, but I teach approximately 360. I teach all of 3rd and 4th grade, and 2 sections of 2nd grade. I tag team art education with my coteacher, who teaches the rest of them. I am the only full-time Visual Arts teacher in the building, as my coteacher also teaches 1st and 2nd grade Theater Arts. I have been at my current school for a year.
Julia: In what ways was your school prepared for distance learning?
Lianna: My school was absolutely prepared for distance learning, in the sense that we had a major head start due to two of our campuses being in China. Those campuses did a lot of the troubleshooting involved with finding a platform, and I believe we only took one extra day off for training before we resumed distance learning. We were very lucky as well that we shut down during our spring break. I also know that the students who did not have laptops/internet access were in contact with our Deans and were given laptops on loan, and internet access paid for through local programs. All of our teachers were able to adapt to the distance learning format pretty well, in my opinion. I’m grateful that my school was able to handle it so well.
Julia: In what ways was your school unprepared for distance learning?
Lianna: On the whole, I think we were extremely prepared. However I don’t think I personally was prepared for the lack of communication we’d have with some kids; I didn’t hear from some of them for weeks even though we attempted to contact them daily. We also had some less tech-savvy teachers who were doing distance learning on a massive learning curve.
Julia: What does your typical school day and week look like now?
Lianna: During distance learning, my daily schedule went like this: Wake up, exercise, check in on my “classrooms,” spend some time messaging or emailing students, then go to our staff meeting at 10am. I then had three grade level meetings, and one weekly art teacher meeting with all other art teachers on all other campuses. The rest of my time I spent uploading how to draw and readaloud videos, lessons (one per week) and helping out the core class teachers with anything “artsy” they might have needed. I was also able to attend way more IEP/504 meetings because I wasn’t teaching during them like I usually was during the “normal” school year. I will say though my day ended earlier, I was doing the same amount of work. It was just different.
Julia: What platform do you use to teach (Zoom, Google Classroom, etc.)? What are the pros and cons of that platform?
Lianna: We used Microsoft Teams. I liked it for the most part, but as an art teacher we had no space that we could share our work with rules/parameters put in place. I couldn’t delete anything potentially inappropriate. I also didn’t like how students could start meetings without us (very annoying!) and how they could message us whenever they wanted. I miss them very much, but not at 10:00pm on a Saturday night!
Julia: What’s the funniest thing that happened so far during distance learning?
Lianna: Honestly, the last day of school we did a group drawing in 4th grade on the Whiteboard app and it was hilarious. We drew a troll and a goblin, which I learned are two entirely different things, and they turned out great. Hands down, the funniest part of it all was that the kids didn’t seem to comprehend that we could see everything they typed, even when they started “private chat rooms.”
Julia: How do you think kids are handling this time emotionally? What should other teachers and schools prioritize?
Lianna: I think the kids are handling it a lot better than we think they are. My kids have been vocal about how bored they are with some parts, but a lot of them just approached it as a new challenge. My school does a great job of teaching them to approach problems head on and with confidence. We had everyone from K-4 online and I think they did great. I was also able to directly reach out to some of my more sensitive kiddos on a daily basis through chat, so I like to think that helped. Other schools and teachers should prioritize the basics before expecting the kids to achieve at “normal” levels, in my opinion. Even though my students are already learning at an extremely high level, they’re still kids at the end of the day and need time to adapt.
Julia: What do you think will happen in the fall? Is full-time distance learning the future of education?
Lianna: Well, my state just announced a pushback in in-person instruction until mid August, about two weeks later than planned. I really hope that distance learning doesn’t continue longer than it needs to. Art is so tactile and needs to be taught in person, and I can’t imagine teaching it online forever. I think we’re all just trying to do the best we can with the circumstances we’re given.
As soon as Lianna told me “my school was absolutely prepared for distance learning” I was like TELL ME MORE. It sounded like their partnership with the campuses in China made a big difference. I think that’s something that’s not emphasized enough in education: don’t reinvent the wheel. It can be MUCH more cost-effective to collaborate or learn from other schools’ successes/failures than testing it out on your own. Too often teachers and schools are their own little islands.
Inspired by Lianna’s optimism,