As teachers around the world quickly moved to teaching online during the coronavirus pandemic, UNC English Education graduate student Rachel McGuire made sure her District 6 students and families were equipped for success during at-home learning.

McGuire’s teaching experience includes three years at Brentwood Middle School in Greeley; wildlife survival at YMCA of the Rockies; intensive summer school for English Language Learners from Mexico and Central America; and a nomination from her undergraduate alma mater, Illinois State University, as a 2019 Outstanding Young Alumna for her work with diverse learners in mentorship roles.

Here’s how she and her colleagues approached the sudden move online.

Rachel McGuire

District 6 is encouraging the theme of “hope” to our local community. We’re planning ahead for the worst-case scenario, but hope to welcome students back for the last month of school in-person and provide them with a sense of “normal” before the academic year officially ends. In the meantime, we’ve deployed Chromebooks and related devices to families in the district; Comcast offered a special deal for qualifying families in the areas and extended public “Hot Spot” areas; and our district’s Nutrition Services is continuously providing healthy meals for students ages 1-18 at sites around Greeley-Evans. We’ve implemented remote learning through an online platform called Schoology. Students have a structured schedule reflecting their regular routine while at school, attend conferences with their classmates and teachers in each course and complete work. During this time, educators have been grading gently and considerately, mainly checking in to ensure students are safe and healthy.

In the days leading up to our remote learning launch, our faculty participated in numerous virtual meetings, trainings, and conferences. Most of my focus was on preparing and delivering devices to students, previewing the weekly curricular objectives in order to effectively instruct online, and contacting all 30 families on my caseload to make sure they had an efficient device for all students in the family, necessary household items and utilities (toilet paper, food, etc.), and were emotionally well. Since classes started up on Schoology, my central responsibilities have been consistently interacting with students and their families regarding any personal or academic issues they’re encountering and assisting students with our online curriculum and assignments.

I’ve found Dr. Stacey Bailey’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies to be especially helpful throughout this process. It’s a challenging task motivating students from afar; I’ve found that checking in with their emotional and mental states has been a wonderful way to reach their overall living and learning experience during this pandemic. A few of my students have tested positive for COVID-19, and so my priority as an educator is to place their health and well-being before their grades (which, as mentioned above, teachers have graciously been tending to, acknowledging that overwhelming events and crises could certainly present academic obstacles for many of our kiddos). Overall, though, it’s the importance of building positive and genuine relationships with students that go beyond the classroom setting.

–By Rachel McGuire as told to Rebecca Dell