Building Engagement During the Pandemic
This post is week 3 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators. "We all needed to do different things to survive all the constantly changing demands of education." I really connected with this statement on Hot Lunch Tray this week. I think for all of us, we had to figure out how to keep our head above water and even thrive in the new normal we found ourselves in during the pandemic. My learners this year became my focus. Engagement was key. I knew my students and my staff needed a totally different approach to ensure they were successful and supported this school year. I had to think outside of the box (in this case the physical space of my library) to develop clear actionable goals for myself about how I could build engagement in my school community.
Engaging Students During the Pandemic
As a librarian, I had to figure out what my role looked like in a 100% virtual world. It was a whole new experience trying to engage our students without the physical space of the library or the lure of physical books and in person activities to draw them in. Let me give you a little background on my campus. I work at a public high school that is a really innovative concept. We have approximately 300 students who choose to attend our campus for it's small size and access to the district's College and University center that is housed at our campus. Students that attend our campus are still connected to their "zoned high school" where they can choose to participate in fine arts and/ or athletics while attending a smaller school with us for their core classes.
All summer long, I had been a part of a brand new initiative to provide virtual summer library programming to our community developed by our district library department team. We are in our second year of this summer programming. You can check out the website I created for it here. This initiative provided opportunities for students to "see each other" virtually throughout the summer during our live district wide book club meetings. We promoted books on social media and through our Google classroom for our students based on themes and state reading lists. I set high expectations for my high school students right as we returned to virtual instruction in September 2020 with encouraging students to turn in their summer reading logs. Despite the pandemic, lack of access to reading materials, and our district remaining completely virtual for instruction we had almost fifty reading logs turned in. Now you might be thinking, well that's not really that many logs... but let me tell you, at the high school level (sadly) many students are no longer interested in reading for pleasure and even less want to be tracking their reading on a reading log. One of my goals as a librarian is to help students build up their love of reading again. To encourage them to read what truly brings them joy, not just to read what they have to read or what is required by a class syllabus, but to discover what they want to read and why reading benefits them.
Without being able to have an in person reading celebration, I had to think about how I could recognize these students who went out of their way to turn in their reading log and read during the summer. I approached this with excitement and caution. I am aware that many secondary students don't want to share their photo or information about themselves. I can see why they feel cautious with sharing in the world we live in social media can be a vicious place at times. But, I didn't want that to hold us back for those students who did want to share and be celebrated. So I set up a Reader Profile template in Google Slides and sent access to all my summer readers, asking them to fill it out and customize it with whatever they wanted to share. They could include their photo, Bitmoji, or no photo at all. They got to add books they recommended, their aspirations, and some of their favorite things. (Check out a sample below.) And you know what happened? Students participated! Almost all of my summer readers participated. It wasn't for a grade. It wasn't for a prize. It was a way to celebrate reading and their accomplishments. It was amazing!
Engaging Staff During the Pandemic
My staff was also striving to engage our students. I started hearing from my teachers about how most students had their cameras off and were talking very little during class. I worked closely with my ELA teachers and went into each classroom for library orientation. One of my teachers confided in me that she really wanted to see the students turn on their cameras. She mentioned it had been a struggle knowing whether the students were really engaged. During my orientation, I started with some icebreaker games that required students to participate in the chat and later turn their cameras off and on.
Students were excited to participate! Do you know what happened? They turned on their cameras for me! This started me on a trajectory to have regular library classes by coteaching with my ELA teachers and showing students a technology tool or resource while also providing that modeling for teachers on engagement and participation. This was and amazing opportunity to collaborate with my teachers and try out some new strategies with students to continue to build engagement. I worked closest with my "early adopter." My teacher who was most excited to try new strategies and tools with students. We tried Flipgrid together and built up to having a Poetry Fliphunt. We tried Wakelet and Jamboard and so many others. By November, my principal was allowing me the opportunity to train all our teachers weekly on technology integration and modeling how to engage students using technology. As my teachers became more comfortable with me, I continued to reach out and ask if we could collaborate. I was able to collaborate with teachers whom I had never been able to get my foot in the door with before.
Everyone Needs Engagement
Both my students and my staff were needing engagement. They wanted to be engaged and "seen." They wanted to participate, but weren't so comfortable with all the new tools, strategies and this virtual "new normal". They needed scaffolded support. For my students, we made it "fun" and collaborative as much as possible. They had lots of opportunities for choice with different ways to respond to activities. And my staff needed much of the same, they wanted support on how to use tools and strategies with students modeled for them with real world examples of how it would look in a class lesson. They wanted to participate in fun collaborative ways. They wanted choice on how and which tools and strategies to use.
What stayed out of my reach this year?
I wanted to do so much, but the reality is you can only do so many things with greatness. When you try to squeeze in too much, something you are doing will suffer. But this allowed me to prioritize the most important things to focus on this year and set future goals to address the items I didn't get to for next school year. I am eagerly planning out how to continue to boost engagement as we return for in person instruction with one to one devices. This will be our first time having all students in person with devices.
I anticipate all the great opportunities for collaboration and support to continue as my role as librarian and technology integration support evolves.