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Mentoring Through a Pandemic

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We are certainly living in uncharted waters right now. Who would have ever thought that we would be remote learning and teaching for the final 3 months of the 2019-20 school year? 

Despite mandated closures, schools have a huge responsibility to continue to teach all students, even those that do not have a device or internet at home. 

So let’s start there. Your school district has a plan for the continuation of learning. Now you, as a mentor/teacher, must carry out that plan to the best of your ability. 

Here are some tips to help you get started:

Finding & Using Resources

One teacher recently told me that there are so many resources out there on remote learning that she is overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start. 

Here’s my advice: First, remember that you are not alone and everyone is in the same position! Then take two or three of the resources that you find most relevant and start there. 

Remember, you don’t have to use every resource all at once. Once you have mastered those first few resources, look for more, if they are needed. 

If you are a mentor and a teacher and do not have access to your textbook or lesson plans and/or your students do not have their textbooks at home, Michigan Virtual is currently offering free content in over 70 of their courses to educators and parents

You can just drop this content into your LMS or Google Classroom. This is one option to help students bridge the gap before the start of the next school year.

You can view this free content here, along with a weekly checklist template. 

Communicating with Students

We all know that communication is critical. 

It is important to consider how you will communicate with your remote students. 

Does your school district require you to complete a communication log? Do you have to make contact with your students each week? 

If so, Zoom, Google Hangout, Remind.com, etc. are great tools for communication. Many of these products are free to use, and those that previously required a license may be free for now. 

Some media companies are also providing free or low-cost internet to low-income families during this crisis

It also must be difficult for parents, who are working from home and need a device, to coordinate with their school-age children who also need a device during the day for school.

Some schools have purchased devices and passed them out to students, but we have to remember that some students will still not have access to a computer or to the internet. 

To address this, some school districts are passing out paper packets for students who do not have access to technology during their meal distributions.

One innovative but perhaps not scalable solution that some schools are using involves having parked buses loaded with Wi-Fi in neighborhoods to provide internet access for students.

One student told her mentor that she can sit in her car in the school parking lot to be connected to the school’s Wi-Fi. 

School districts are doing the best they can to reach as many of their students as possible! 

Addressing Students’ Social Emotional Needs

Ask yourself: What is your school district doing to address the social and emotional issues of your students? 

It is difficult for adults to wrap their heads around all that is going on right now, and it must be even harder for our students. Thanks to funding from the State of Michigan, Michigan Virtual is now offering an excellent resource for free mental health & social-emotional learning resources.

Relationships with students are key to being a supportive and effective mentor. Now more than ever, students need these relationships. 

One mentor expressed that she has virtual office hours every day for students. One day a student attended and didn’t have anything academic to talk about, she just wanted to talk. 

In these troubling times, just being available for students can be enough. For some students who have a difficult homelife, having a caring and supportive mentor can make a meaningful difference. 

Especially now, students need to know that someone cares about them. While it may seem challenging, it is possible to build strong relationships with students through technology. 

The Search Institute has some great resources for how to build strong relationships with our students. 

Michigan Virtual has also produced several webinars to help support teachers in communicating with parents, engaging students when learning from home, accommodations in the online classroom and many more! These webinars are also relevant for mentors. 

Another great resource to share with parents is our blog series on Parenting During a Pandemic, in which state SEL expert, Lauren Kazee, offers tips for supporting students’ social and emotional needs during times of crisis.

Handling Passwords & Proctoring Exams 

Many school districts have policies that require tests, midterms, and final exams to be proctored by their mentor at school.

How will schools handle these policies now everyone is fully remote? 

One way has been for schools to give the password directly to the students. This isn’t ideal, but given the current situation, schools have had to forgo their original policy so students have the opportunity to finish their classes. Some mentors are even asking parents to proctor the exam and giving the password directly to them. 

Other schools are proctoring final exams using Zoom or another online method, but this may not be scalable. In the case of proctored exams, students typically sign up for a time slot and the mentor can supervise the student taking the exam. 

However, this option is very time consuming, and some mentors do not have the time or capability of proctoring final exams. 

Every school district has to choose the best option for their mentor and students.

Still Need Help?

What else do you need to help you and your students through this remote learning experience? 

The Keep Michigan Learning facebook page has over 3000 members that are posting resources and asking questions as we are all in this together! 

You are also welcome to join our Online Mentor Community to collaborate with other mentors. You can participate in discussion boards, share resources, and ask questions of other mentors.  

Celebrating Your Accomplishments

Educators are under a lot of pressure right now. Take a pause to celebrate your victories. Ask yourself: what has been my biggest accomplishment during this time? 

You may think you don’t have any, but think about where you were almost three months ago and what you have learned and accomplished since then! 

As a result of the emergency remote learning, many mentors have expressed that they have learned more technology skills during this time period than ever before. 

Some have said that they just never had time to look into these resources, but having been forced to try new things, they are excited because they will be able to use some of these resources when they go back to their face-to-face classrooms. 

Perhaps this situation will show schools that blended and online learning does have a place in our classrooms and that we are going to have to do more to meet the needs of all of our students. 

The Mentor Forum

In our new Mentor Forum blog series, we discuss the role of mentors and mentoring in K-12 digital learning. Our hope with this series is to highlight the importance of mentoring, provide valuable resources, and further the discussion on best practices for mentoring online learners. Stay up to date on future blogs in this series by signing up for email notifications!

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Debbie Lynch

Debbie Lynch

Debbie’s passion is teaching and mentoring! She joined Michigan Virtual in January 2010 as a part-time instructor. She taught business and technology at the high school and college level for 33 years. She was also a mentor and online coordinator for 8 years at the high school level.  Debbie has a Bachelor of Science and Master’s degree from Central Michigan University. Debbie is excited to be able to affect even more students in her new role as Outreach Coordinator for Mentors.

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