After many months of eLearning and countless challenges, teachers are bringing some unique perspectives back to school this year. Verbit reached out to Lisa Pavic, a science teacher at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Illinois, to learn how her experiences during the pandemic are shaping her return to the classroom.

Lisa has a Master’s in education, 12 years of teaching experience and was recently named the Environmental/Ecology Teacher of the Year by The National Association of Biology Teachers, thanks to her innovative ways of engaging her students. Here are some thoughts and experiences that this rock-star educator shared about teaching during an unprecedented international crisis.

Q: How is your school ‘heading back to school’ – is it hybrid, in-person, remote?

In-person currently. Recently we had a board meeting to approve some hybrid learning, video OWL technology during class, to support students in quarantine and any that could potentially have to quarantine.

Q: Now that you’re back, are you finding that more students are struggling as a result of the past 18 months?

Yes and no. Almost all are excited to be back. Some did better on Zoom, without the distraction of others. It depends on who they are. It also seems as if many never left the classroom and are right back to being students.

Q: Do you think there will be long-term effects of COVID on teaching and education delivery?

While so many of us want to jump back to “normal,” it likely will not be truly normal for a while. We will likely see “gaps” in student learning and understanding, but if there is anything I have learned from teaching, it is that I never knew how much students could do until I let them. Let them write, explain, and work together.

Q: What aspect of remote learning did you find most challenging?

Many students hesitated from speaking on Zoom, which was extremely challenging.

Q: What have you learned from remote teaching and the last 18 months?

I learned that we are incredibly versatile and adaptable humans. Getting through the last 18 months and balancing my family, my work, and everything else is quite an accomplishment to me.
When it comes to teaching, I have been obsessed with learning how students learn science, and the Zoom option for professional development actually allowed me to participate in more. I was able to become an AP reader, join UIC with Illinois Science Assessment cluster question creation, engage in an AP workshop on Project Based Learning, and participate in graduate courses at the Brookfield Zoo. All of these things have made me a better teacher and I earned the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) Environmental/Ecology Teacher of the year in 2021!

Q: Did remote learning influence your teaching style?

My teaching style is student-centered. I teach biology with a storyline approach. I have seen much success academically and engagement-wise with this curriculum, but there were a lot of changes that occurred due to the Zoom environment. My team of teachers and I had to scaffold and modify activities daily, and it was exhausting. We used technologies such as Classkick to help monitor progress or Parlay to implement an online discussion board. Now that we are back in person, we use some of those modifications but implement the activities on paper since we want students to work collaboratively.

Q: Will you continue using technologies that you relied on during remote learning now that you’re back in person?

I still use technology in many ways. For example, we use Google classroom to deliver all of our activities. I am happy to have the activities done in person, on paper, but I still post online for students who need to review notes or who lose a paper copy. Developing these practices has taken me a lot of time, professional development, and work over the years, but I am passionate about providing students an engaging experience for deeper understanding in my classroom.

Q: How are you ensuring student engagement this fall? What tactics are you using?

The curriculum I implement requires students to learn collaboratively, so focusing on social skills while in groups is huge. I still lecture at times but can see if students are struggling more clearly versus the Zoom environment, where it was difficult to see if students were paying attention.

I constantly implement formative assessments and provide students opportunities to discuss, write in an exit/entry ticket, gallery walk after learning about a topic, and use their questions and ideas to guide the activities. Social-emotional learning (SEL) activities are integral in building trust and relationships with students coming from an emotional year.

Relating content to the student experience is also so important. I am really excited to implement a project where students collect data about their own usage of various resources to ultimately put together a plan to present to their families about reducing their ecological footprint. It is incredibly eye-opening and engaging! Now I have students who understand the purpose of what we do.

Q: What are you doing to help students with learning disabilities and other disabilities to ensure their success this fall?

Four of my five sections require a teacher aide, and each student is required to have a school-issued Chromebook. These biology courses require more support and have concentrated students with an IEP/504. Thankfully one of the teachers on our team is a special education teacher, and she has helped us modify our curriculum to meet the needs of a variety of students. Our team presents nationally at conferences every year on how our storyline curriculum supports equity and belonging in the classroom.

Providing scaffolded lessons and differentiated instruction is a must. I rarely lecture for the full 90-minute block. When students are presented with an environmental or biology-related problem, I provide a variety of ways to come up with a solution. I also encourage the use of online research, Youtube videos to learn about a topic, and e-book resources to use as supporting evidence for their claim and reasoning of scientific concepts. Some students require all of their resources to be electronic due to fine-motor disabilities, so Google Classroom and the Google Suite have helped me deliver many of these materials. Providing electronic notes is also extremely helpful for students who need further review or are absent.

Q: What advice do you have for fellow teachers this fall?

Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. I describe myself as “extra” because I do all the things, but I wasn’t always this way.

COVID-19 undeniably caused teachers and students a great deal of stress when it forced them to make unprecedented adaptations. The silver lining might be a better understanding of how technology can support learners of all ages, as well as an appreciation for the time students get to spend working collaboratively in the classroom.

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