JerseyCAN is spotlighting our Teacher Fellows to show how #NJStrong they are with their resilient and creative support for students during this challenging time. 

Read more about JerseyCAN’s Teacher Leader Policy Fellowship here.

BEN KLEINER
Fifth Grade Teacher
Walnut Street Elementary School,
Toms River Regional School District

Ben was very honest about the beginning of this school year being a learning curve for everyone for several reasons. For years, he had taught fourth grade, and this was the first year he was tasked with teaching fifth. Aside from getting familiar with new standards and content, he knew it’d be essential for students and families to get more acclimated to online platforms like Google Classroom, Google Meet, Class Dojo, and Flip Grid.

“I was thankful that we took the time at the beginning of the year to conduct parent academies where teachers volunteered to walk families through each of the platforms our school was using. Many of them can be used together, which is a huge help. Rather than having to jump from one application to another, most of the Google platforms and plugins “talk to each other” and can be used in unison.”

The time and effort that went into familiarizing everyone with technology paid off when it came time to pivot between a hybrid and remote model of teaching.

“It was essential that students and families became proficient in using each platform because they were the main sources of communication every time we switched instructional models. My school has gone between being 100% remote and hybrid about four times now, and we’re currently holding steady with hybrid instruction. Once parents knew their contact information was integrated into many of the platforms we use, it was easy for us to send out email blasts to communicate changes as well as where to find schedules to keep students on track no matter where learning was taking place.”

Ben reiterated that parent/family communication was essential to pivoting so quickly, but also to keeping students on track. He was lucky enough to have had some of his fifth-grade students as fourth graders last year, which made a huge difference when it came to establishing relationships.

“The frequency with which I communicate to parents is off the charts this year. It’s as if they’re part of my class, which I don’t mind. My pre-existing relationships with students’ families have helped tremendously, especially when my friends (students) decide not to come back to class after a break. Ha! But, I will say, this environment has given students more autonomy and choice when it comes to learning, which I think is a huge plus.”

When asked what kind of advice he had for other educators, students, and families, Ben placed a huge emphasis on the new modalities of teaching and learning. He loves the fact that his grade team divides and conquers different subject areas and develops interactive slide shows for the whole grade. It has helped reduce the stress of having to create engaging material for all subjects. As teachers become experts in the subject they plan for, they can flag potential misconceptions and/or tech issues before the lessons. And when it comes to students, he recognizes that they’ve developed some new skills as a result of being more self-directed.

“Not being in a physical classroom has enabled students to be more hands-on with their learning. Their research skills have improved because they’re doing it on their own; investigating the world, making inferences, and determining the credibility of sources. Their work products have been more interactive and creative and it’s amazing to see.”

We are happy to hear that even though the ups, downs, and in-betweens of hybrid and remote instruction, Ben and his students have come out of this experience unified in their relationships and excited to experience education differently! We know you’ll remain #NJStrong and continue to #create and #innovate!

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