In the second week of March, Brian Kelly got the feeling his first graders wouldn’t be in the classroom by the time St. Patrick’s Day came around. Every year his Seaview Elementary classes in Edmonds have helped him build a model town for Lucky the Leprechaun, Kelly’s green-suited figurine. The project would culminate in a stop-action video made by Kelly, directed by the kids. With schools closed by executive order on March 13, it became clear that this would be his first class in 15 years that wouldn’t get to participate.
“And that kind of hit me, because it was something that all my kids remember,” says Kelly.
Kelly went ahead and made a short video with Lucky hitting an impromptu dance routine, posted online as a consolation for his students. Since then, Kelly has taken to learning the many ways technology can help reach his students. With the extra time at home, he has been able to play around with the programs offered through the school, as well as the programs being offered to educators free of charge.
A school day that would normally be six and a half hours of interaction now consists of a 30- to 60-minute lesson plan sent to parents. Kelly teaches every day online, but gives parents the option to spearhead instruction themselves. His courses consist of reading, language skills, and phonics, things Kelly says require daily maintenance at this age. But with a scaled-back lesson plan, he isn’t overly concerned with how his kids will advance academically.
“There's a lot of research that shows that kids tend to even out academically around third grade,” says Kelly; before that, falling behind is no big deal. “I know that when they're younger, they can make up ground a little bit easier.”
Kelly is concerned about the social connections and personality development kids make during these formative years. “This is just an interesting time. We're taking several months, now half a year, away from these kids when they would be developing their personalities and who they are,” says Kelly. “So it will just be interesting to see what that leads to.”
As hard as this transition has been for educators, Kelly recognizes the toll this schooling from home has taken on parents. He tells caregivers to focus on consistency. In his first-grade classroom, the veteran teacher let students lead the first 30 minutes of instruction—attendance, lunch count, morning journaling. “That routine makes everything so much easier for these kids,” says Kelly. “And it takes away some of the fighting and arguing about when you're going to do it because you know when you’re going to do it.”
Another key Kelly finds paramount: Not overdoing it. While 30 minutes of instruction may not seem like a lot, he says, if it's concentrated work it will have more of an impact on these students than trying to drag on lessons for hours at a time.
Kelly says many parents and teachers alike are trying to achieve too much in an already stressful time. During the first week of at-home instruction, he was trying to compensate for all the time not spent in the classroom. “I was sending home a full six hours of lessons for parents,” says Kelly. “And I was saying you know, pick and choose what you want to do, but I just want to make sure you have enough. Well, that's overwhelming for parents.” Now he’s more focused.
Even knowing that Washington schools won’t reopen before fall, Kelly still aims to make the most out of the school year with his students. “That's always been my goal as the teacher” says Kelly. To his students, he’d say, “I want to teach you guys obviously, but my goal is to make sure that you absolutely love the year that you spend with me.”