Colorado's teachers are learning something: How to teach remotely.
"In my eight years of teaching, I can't say that I have ever heard the words 'remote learning,' necessarily," says Niki Brock, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Mesa Middle School in Castle Rock. "I've heard online learning, distance learning, but remote learning, especially under these circumstances, I think is new for all of us."
Schools across the state are closed to in-person instruction because of the coronavirus pandemic. In most Denver-area districts, school buildings are shuttered for the rest of the current school term; elsewhere, the closure order is scheduled to last until April 30.
Many of Colorado’s 178 school districts are resorting to a variety of remote-learning programs so students can keep up with their classes. In districts like Douglas County, that includes real-time video sessions with teachers for at least part of the day. That even extends in some cases to reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and taking attendance online.
Teachers are also coaching parents at home with kids how to help them learn using online tools.
But while many teachers are engaging with students online out of necessity, they acknowledge it isn't ideal – and not just because some Colorado students lack adequate computers or internet broadband access to take part.
"Honestly, in all my years of teaching, being an online teacher, while I know that is the best place for some kids to learn, and I know that it can be really successful, that is absolutely not my first choice of the way to teach," says Colleen Meyer, a sixth grade teacher at Saddle Ranch Elementary School in Highlands Ranch.
"I enjoy engaging with kids," she says, adding that it's easier for her to set high expectations in an in-person classroom setting.
Fortunately, says Brock, "kids in today's world ... almost know these tech tools better than we do as teachers, and so they're picking up on the tech side of things really quickly."
As for teachers, "we're having to be creative with how we're accessing content and curriculum right now and how we're getting that to kids. So I think kids are helping us learn just as much as we're teaching them," she says.
That extends to using online tools to keep students engaged -- like maybe a teacher dance demonstration for "Wellness Wednesday" delivered via the short-form video app TikTok.
"With the videos we're putting out there, that's just a way to kind of catch their attention," Brock says. ... "Once we've got them engaged, that's half the battle."
She hopes that lessons learned through the remote-learning experience will extend beyond the COVID-19 crisis: "We're going to learn a lot through this journey together, and hopefully we do see changes in how we teach and how we reach kids."
Click here for more details of the Douglas County School District remote-learning program.
Rocky Mountain PBS is offering a new daytime schedule and remote learning lessons for families and educators.