teacher

Wendy Oleksinski's picture

Personal Connections in a Virtual World

How do you express yourself? Melissa Ballard, a 4th grade English/Language Arts teacher at Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA), likes to write in her journal. She also likes to make new friends and play in the mud.  During the first week of school, Ms. Ballard takes every opportunity to connect with her students on a personal level. How does that look in a virtual classroom?

Students who are enrolled at GCA have a multitude of ways to connect with their teachers. The school hosts several face-to-face events throughout the school year. The first events of the year, the Back to School picnics, take place at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Wilmington Island Community Park in Savannah, Amerson River Park in Macon, and other locations around the state. Since teachers who work at GCA live in various cities and towns in Georgia, students and teachers often live in the same areas. Ms. Ballard met two of her students at a Waffle House in Valdosta!

Students and teachers can also connect through the use of webcams and microphones. Students in Ms. Ballard’s class practice using journals by writing “All About Me” entries. Ms. Ballard brags that her students “love” sharing their written ideas on the webcam and microphone.  “I’ve learned so much about them already,” Ms. Ballard explains. “We enjoy sharing our interests and hobbies during live Class Connect sessions as we get to know each other the first week of school.”

K12 Inc.'s picture

Teacher Highlight: WAVA’s April Sorensen Makes an Impact

Aza L. (left) and Jayden P. (right) enhance their reading skills with the help of April Sorensen.

Much of a child’s achievement in school starts with reading. One Washington Virtual Academy (WAVA) teacher, April Sorensen, has gone above and beyond to ensure her students’ reading success. Two of Sorensen’s students, Aza L. and Jayden P., made huge reading gains after her work with the families.

Aza L.

Aza L. from Fall City, Washington, is a rising second grader at WAVA.

Shelby, Aza's mother and learning coach, says the transition from homeschooling to WAVA has been the perfect fit for their family. “We started off homeschooling Aza in preschool and found that coming up with the lessons on our own was very time consuming and frustrating. Aza started Kindergarten with WAVA and it was a perfect fit for us. It was wonderful that we were able to work at Aza’s pace and have a resource like April.”

Katie Hart's picture

Is This Thing On? How the Virtual Teacher Hears the Voices of Their Students

I love that “AHA!” moment.  When I was a student teacher there was a time I thought I should throw in the towel, but then it happened.  I was able to help a student figure out exponential relationships using the tale of Alice in Wonderland and exploring how Alice’s eating and drinking habits affected her overall size.  When the student finally understood the concept, his eyes lit up, his posture straightened and a literal gasp escaped his lips.  Not only did he understand an exponential relationship, but I knew I was hooked on teaching.

Many think it is a challenge for online teachers to experience that “aha” moment because we are not physically in the same room as our students.  For me, teaching online does not mean I don’t hear the voice of my students.  There are many tools we use to allow students to communicate with their peers and their teachers.  Students are able to give green checks for approval, or red x’s for a negative response.  Writing on the whiteboard by hand or typing with unique fonts are all ways to hear the voice of the student.   

Ana Berry's picture

LAVCA by the Numbers

Everyone relies on numbers.  Numbers matter.  We hear reports about records being set at the voting booth or at a sporting event.  A student’s score on the ACT or a grade in a course could make the difference between getting a college scholarship or not.  Numbers are everywhere.  We recently wrapped up our 5th year at the Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy and have a great deal of numbers to share. 

After 180 school days, LAVCA ended its year with the graduation of 65 seniors.   Among those seniors were students who earned 15 scholarships. LAVCA also graduated 73 kindergarteners, 85% of which plan to continue schooling with us.

Ashley Fryer's picture

Praise & Appreciation

Earlier this month, the Nation marked Teacher Appreciation Week.  This special week every year couldn’t come at a more perfect time- the final month of the school year when we’re wrapping things up, starting to grow a little weary, and when the students’ excitement about summer break is starting to become noticeable!

In fact, during this week, I began inwardly questioning whether students were enjoying my classes anymore- - when all-of-a-sudden I received a “day-changing” email. Our amazing middle school advisor worked alongside students to produce a touching video for teachers. With her help, students posted some of the things they appreciated about a specific teacher on the whiteboard during homeroom to later be shared. Our advisor put together a video with each teacher’s slide.  After watching this heartfelt video, I was moved to tears. 

Throughout the week, there were other great emails, videos, and even prizes from various teams in our organization.  It all meant so much and I really appreciate not only the thoughts behind this touching tribute, but the time taken during busy schedules just to let me know students care and notice my hard work. Then it occurred to me… Am I doing that enough with my students? Receiving praise all week made me wonder if I was giving enough myself. The answer was probably not. I, like the students, was ready for a break.  I felt like I was saying “good job”, but nothing deeper. 

Jennifer Schultze's picture

Positive Culture Creates Effective Learning Environments for WYVA Families

For the last few years Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) has worked on developing a positive culture and environment within our school community.  WYVA staff and administrators have embraced theories such as the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as well as strengths-based approaches which concentrate on the inherent strengths of individuals and groups.

I recently presented at a K12 Promising Practices seminar on the topic of positive school culture. I shared that I have seen our school thrive in the last few years in ways since implementing these new approaches.

At our school, students in kindergarten through high school are given weekly assemblies and strategies to develop life skills, create personal goals, and to help them find ways to better organize their learning approaches.  WYVA teachers work to have consistent communication with students that show that we are not just invested in them as teachers, but that we truly care about all of our students and families as individuals.

Jo Marie Bolick's picture

Online Educators are Pioneers

Growing up in Kansas, I’ve always been fascinated by pioneers – those who ventured west, accepting the challenge of the unknown. Do you remember the computer game, The Oregon Trail? That game is as close as I’ve come to experiencing wild terrain and the challenges faced by the Pioneers of the American west.

When it comes to education, however, my fellow online educators and myself are pioneers. Together we have mapped uncharted territory and used our unique abilities to define ourselves as online teachers and work together to serve students.

I began teaching at Insight School of Kansas (ISKS) in 2009. I’d just had a baby and left my traditional brick and mortar school for a flexible, online career opportunity. I quickly realized that there wasn’t a teacher down the hall who’d been teaching for a couple decades and was ready to share the tricks of the trade. My colleagues were as new at this online teaching gig as I was, and we were tasked with delivering high quality education to our students. I can’t say that we had it perfect year one, but I can say, without a doubt, is that we were committed to analyzing our teaching methods and revamping as necessary to best meet the needs of our students. Today, in 2016, we are fine tuning our methods and continually evaluating the effectiveness of our model.

CREDO, Mathematica, and CRPE released a study on online charter schools, which can be found here and here. This study provides an analysis of current online charter schools, information of policies associated with these schools, and finally, gives suggestions for online charter schools moving forward. This study does good job pointing out that the population of an online charter school is as unique as the model itself.

After reading this study, I felt as if the authors do not have a clear picture of what my colleagues and I do as online teachers on a daily basis. Although, I cannot make any broad generalizations, I can say for certain, there are a couple points mentioned in this article, that are not true for teachers at ISKS.

For example the study mentions “… online charter schools… usually rely extensively on “asynchronous” instruction that requires students to do their coursework independently and on their own time.” Although, my courses have a great deal of asynchronous material, live synchronous meetings with me are a large part of my students’ schedules. I meet with my students Monday through Thursday for an hour to deliver math instruction. They also receive instruction daily in at least two other subjects. In addition, I hold office hours and offer small groups for students who are struggling.

Perhaps, the largest misconception in this article for me as an online education occurs when the author states “Policymakers often raise concerns about the quality of teachers in [education management organization] schools – how the schools can be overseen effectively when traditional “walkthrough” inspections are not possible.”

If you haven’t taught in an online environment, you might not realize how absurd this statement is.

Lauren Weber's picture

Preparing to Dig into the Data

Now that school has begun and we are well into the first quarter, it’s time for teachers to start asking ourselves, are our students learning? It seems like a pretty simple and straight forward question, but it actually requires a lot of data analysis to truly and honestly answer this question.

Teachers at K12 schools across the country have really taken the initiative to delve deeper into our student’s progress. We do not simply rely on a student’s overall score at the end of each quarter to decide if the student is meeting their academic potential. We start much earlier than this. First, we construct well thought out interim assessments that align with our state standards and content objectives. These assessments can be given multiple times a year or semester. After students take these assessments, we spend days analyzing the results.

We meet with our department teams and go over our findings and we ask ourselves some very important questions. We analyze why a student missed a certain question or did not grasp a certain standard or objective. Was it the way the concept was taught? Is there a better way I can re-teach this to the student?  Why did the student or students fail to master this standard or objective? These are just a few of the questions we ask ourselves in these sessions that we dedicate to data analysis.

After we analyze our data and spend time on self-reflection, we then identify ways we can increase academic achievement and student mastery of standards and objectives, especially for our at-risk students. Some of these ways are incorporating small group sessions and 1 on 1 help sessions that target certain standards that the students struggled with. These small group sessions or one-on-one's require teachers to rethink our teaching process. Maybe the initial way we taught the idea or concept was fantastic for some students, but not ideal for others. During these smaller sessions, outside of regular class, is a time when teachers can differentiate our instruction and focus on meeting the needs of these individual students. We then track the student’s progress and meet with them regularly to analyze their growth, consistently asking ourselves along the way if there is something else we can try or do to improve their academic success.

Implementing data driven instruction in our schools has been monumental to our growth and success. Pass rates are growing, student engagement is on the rise, and family involvement is increasing. Learning Coaches are so supportive and encouraging when teachers reach out to them and offer extra supports for their students. By looping in Learning Coaches and sharing the progress that we have tracked and monitored with these additional sessions, we are seeing a strengthened partnership between Learning Coach, student, and teacher that is essential for online success.

Ana Berry's picture

Teacher Perspective: The Spark

There’s a common misconception that if a student isn’t in the same room as a teacher they aren’t receiving the same quality of learning. That’s just false.

Even though my students and I are not in the same room there’s still a spark – the ‘oh yeah!’ in a chat window that lets me know a student gets it. That feeling is thrilling to me.

I teach math online at the Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy (LAVCA) and for me the leap from teaching in the traditional classroom to an online classroom was not a large one. I’ve been able to use similar materials and create strong intellectual connections – I feel as though I know my students even better than I did when we were face to face five times a week.

 In the online environment my students are able to be open with me about what they’re struggling with which allows me to develop a specific learning plan just for them. That’s how we drive success at LAVCA – creating connections with students to find what learning pathway works best for them.

Last school year I received a thank you message from a family of one of my students about how their son had suffered a great deal of bullying in his previous school. I was told that this student had lacked confidence to speak up in class during the beginning of the year. Throughout the year, he grew to be a regular contributor in class and the family conveyed that he has a renewed excitement for school.

There are so many stories that show how this education model can transform not just learning outcomes but a student’s life.