Professional Development: Teachers Return to School Virtually in First-Ever Online Convocation

Monday started the first of 10 days of professional development for teachers as they learn the ins and outs of a new, more refined remote learning program prior to children returning to school on Sept. 16.

Typically, teachers and administrators and staff have gathered in the Chelsea High gym with elected officials for a breakfast and then a rally-like Convocation. It has marked the beginning of the school term for years on end, always featuring a speech highlighting the vision of the district given by the superintendent. This year, Supt. Almi Abeyta was to give her first such speech, but things were altered due to COVID-19 and that speech came online while teachers sat mostly at home in front of their computers.

Abeyta said this week marked the beginning of a 10-day training in the district’s Remote Learning 2.0 program. The district will be using several different online platforms for various subjects and grade levels, requiring a great deal of learning curve for teachers before they hit the virtual classroom this month.

We have improved our remote learning from the spring; we have learned from what did not work so well in the spring and from our successes in the summer,” she said.

The training will also include: Remote Learning, Safety, Family and Community Engagement, Social Emotional Learning and Anti-Bias professional development. 

Prior to the beginning of work, several school and City leaders delivered online messages – messages that were highlighted by Abeyta’s speech. This time, it was less about an overall vision and more about motivating teachers to be there emotionally, as well as academically, as they return to teach children that likely have been traumatized in some way by COVID-19 and family upheaval.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” she said. “But, I know that we will rise to the occasion. We will stay focused on our mission of welcoming and educating all students.  This is even more important during this time because our students need you!  And, I am sure they miss you.  I miss seeing you in-person, too.  Many of our students have experienced much uncertainty and real trauma as a result of COVID-19.  Thus, our students need you now more than ever.”

To illustrate that point, she recounted the 1974 story written by Elizabeth Ballard about a teacher, Mrs. Thompson, and a student, Teddy Stoddard. The teacher didn’t like Teddy, as many hadn’t before her. He wasn’t popular with the other students and could be mean – plus he often looked unkempt and dirty. Sometimes he would even sleep through the day.

At one point though, Mrs. Thompson went back to review Teddy’s previous comments from his other teachers. She discovered that he had been a top student and a joy in his first years. Then, one year the teacher comments that Teddy’s mother had died and Teddy’s father was not able to emotionally support his son. The situation year by year got worse in the teacher comments, and Mrs. Thompson began to understand what had happened. She cried that entire day, Abeyta said, and took a new approach.

Teddy eventually recovered his confidence with her help and turned his life around. As the years went on, he would mail letters to Mrs. Thompson to tell her about his high school graduation, his college graduation, and his graduation from medical school – eventually asking her to be with him at his wedding.

At the wedding, Teddy tells Mrs. Thompson that she believed in him when no one else would and gave him the gift of turning around his life. Mrs. Thompson, however, said to Teddy that it was, he, actually that had given her a gift. She told him she had never known how to really teach until she met him.

“How often is it that our students teach us the greatest lessons?” asked Abeyta. “May we find the Teddy’s in our classrooms and schools and love on them. Our students and families need us to love them relentlessly during this time – now more than ever.”

That point was also bolstered by City Manager Tom Ambrosino, who cautioned teachers that the students are going to need a careful hand as they return to learning.

“All of you know the terrible toll this pandemic has exacted in the City,” he said. “Combine that with the disruption in education and other routines since March, and it is obvious that the children you are coming to teach and serve this year will have an unusual amount of uncertainty, perhaps fear, and, in some cases, real trauma. These children need you now more than ever.”

Students will begin the year learning remotely at home on Weds., Sept. 16.

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