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Perspective | Being nimble, resilient, and innovative in unique times

The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the Dec. 5, 2020 broadcast of Education Matters: “How teaching has evolved during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Educators who serve our state in a variety of roles share how school still looks very different during COVID-19. Across our state, students and educators are continuing to engage in remote learning, in-person learning, or some hybrid of the two.

While there are so many challenges that students, families, and educators continue to face, what has struck me most during these past nine months is just how incredibly resilient, nimble, and innovative we have all become during this very difficult time.

On that note, I want to share some examples of this kind of innovation, some of which we have highlighted on social media along with many of our partners during our weekly “Moments of Hope.” We’d like to thank EdNC for their work on capturing the work of these individuals.

At Newport Elementary in Carteret County, school librarian Emily Golightly worried about how much screen time her students were experiencing during remote learning. To tackle this issue, she secured a grant to fund a “read and ride project” — something that she dreamed up to allow students to come down to the library during break times and peddle their wiggles out while reading books, giving them the much-needed chance to get the physical activity they might be missing this year.

Korick Sisomphone, or “Mr. S” as his students know him, is a social studies teacher at Phillips Middle School in Edgecombe County. As he embarked on leading a virtual classroom this year, Mr. S realized he wanted to make sure his kids could still connect with him in meaningful ways.

So he came up with the idea to add “vlogs” to his classroom, keeping bloopers and all in these video updates that not only offer personal stories and lessons to students, but also show his kids that he too is a human being who is learning how to adapt to this new environment we are all in.

In Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, which is where I live, Deborah Cox, an art teacher, and others at Carrboro Elementary, decided that this year, the show must go on. A previously planned school play is being converted into a virtual performance with more than 120 students — with an individual backdrop being created for each child’s home!

David Stegall, the Deputy State Superintendent of Innovation and Equity, shared with us in a recent Moment of Hope that a colleague of his rightly said for this school year, we are all first-year teachers, counselors, principals, APs, and superintendents. “None of us have ever experienced what we are going through. We are all in this together and we must trust one another,” he said.

Those words resonated with me. While I have marveled at just how resilient, nimble, and innovative we have all become — the truth is, these traits are inside all of us, and during crises, they tend to come out.

It’s with a sense of community and shared trust that those traits transform into action, and I’m proud to say that here in North Carolina, I’m seeing and hearing of those actions play out each and every day in classrooms across our great state.

Mary Ann Wolf

Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D. has served as President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina since June 2020, bringing with her more than 20 years of educational policy and leadership working directly with schools and districts across North Carolina to improve equity and build capacity for innovation.