This week I am attending a virtual conference from my makeshift (and yet somehow more and more permanent) office in my dining room.
It is an annual conference for fundraising professionals hosted by Blackbaud, the platform Easterseals uses to manage donor data.
Initially, I wasn’t super excited to be glued to my computer for Zoom Keynotes and Zoom breakout sessions and Zoom networking (what even is that?). That PLUS my regular Zoom meetings seemed like maybe too much zooming.
Then, the people at Blackbaud scored Amy Poehler as a keynote speaker.
(If you don’t know Amy Poehler’s alter-ego Leslie Knope from the long-running TV show Parks & Rec, you *must* go right now and binge-watch it on Netflix. It is a definite pandemic pick-me-up.)
#BBCON, you had me at Amy Poehler.
Leslie Knope is known for her commemorative scrapbooks and detailed event binders, her dedication to her job, and her enthusiastic encouragement of absolutely everyone to be their very best. She is the ultimate development professional: nothing gets her down, she can always find a way to work around a “no,” and she has never-ending energy.
(I kind of love Leslie Knope.)
But it was the actress, not the character giving the keynote, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Turns out, Amy Poehler is her own brand of Leslie Knope, having recently started “Amy’s Smart Girls,” a nonprofit “dedicated to helping young people cultivate their authentic selves.”
She was amazing.
She talked about the physicality of doing her voice work as the character “Joy” in Disney Pixar’s Inside Out. She talked about the world right now, about finding happiness in uncertainty, and about philanthropy.
Two things she said stuck out to me.
First, she said “Do work you are proud of with your talented friends.”
CHECK. I am proud of the work we do at Easterseals. It’s SO hard right now because of COVID pivots and uncertainty, but I know that what we are doing makes a difference in the lives of the kids and families we serve. And boy do we have some amazing talent. From our teachers and assistants to our PT/OT/Speech and Music therapists to our Assistive Tech Department and even accounting, we have staff that work here because they love it, and it shows.
Then, when talking about philanthropic giving, she said “Giving is self-care.”
It feels good to do good.
Leslie Knope couldn’t have said it better herself.
As we approach the season of giving, I don’t want our donors to “give till it hurts.”
I want to help our donors learn more about what we do, about how we serve people with disabilities, and how we continue to serve families through COVID. I want donors to get Leslie Knope-level excited about our mission. I want them to understand why their gifts are so critical (especially now), and to see the absolute joy on a child’s face when they achieve a goal… a goal made real in part because of our donors’ gifts.
I want our donors to give until it feels good.
I’d even be willing to make a scrapbook to commemorate the occasion.
This summer marked my 5th year as an ESY (Extended School Year) teacher for Lower Merion School District through Easterseals of Southeastern PA. I have worked with students in the program from grades K to 12, and while I mostly work with students in their own homes, in past years I have meet with kids at local camps, equestrian farms, libraries, churches, and even cafes. All work is provided by the child’s special education teacher and I track data for each goal highlighted in the child’s IEP. I LOVE this program and the all of the students I have worked with throughout the years. I normally have a new group of kids each summer, but I have met with some students multiple years in a row. Every family I have met has been warm, inviting, and grateful for my summer help.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer was the first time I completed my tutoring sessions online. At first I worried that I would have trouble connecting with each student in a virtual format, but each child’s personality was still able to shine through. I had one student who bonded with me over our shared love of guinea pigs. At the final session, she showed me her pigs, and I held up all three of mine. I had another student who was very into technology. Each session he had a different virtual background waiting for me to see. I learned a lot of new Zoom features by working with this child!
I struggled to figure out how to teach over Zoom, using the scanned paper and pencil tasks that had been left by the students’ teachers. I ended up using the “Snipping Tool” to “cut” the daily tasks we would be completing together. I then pasted each activity into a Google Slides presentation. I made a new set of Google Slides for each session, and started each presentation with the objectives for the day. I locked each task so that it could not be moved, and then added text boxes on top of the task so that the student could type the answer. We also used the line feature for matching activities and the scribble tool for multiple choice questions. Students were able to work in Google Slides with me during the session, which made our time much more fun and interactive. When it was time to send materials back to the teachers in August, I was able to include a document of Slide links, instead of scanned pictures or individual materials. What I thought was going to be a more difficult summer of adjusting to teaching online, actually ended up being much calmer and organized than I could have planned. I am excited to return to my regular position of teaching second grade, where my district will be fully virtual until at least October 2.
This was my first summer taking part in the Easterseals program for ESY, working with high school students in writing. After several years as a professional writing tutor for a couple of universities in the area, I took the chance to broaden my experience by working with students at a different grade level. Online tutoring, as a result of the pandemic, is a mixed bag: on the one hand, I’ve done totally virtual tutoring in the past, so the transition was smooth for me. I point that out because, conversely, students were still adjusting to the shift from in person learning to using computers from home, logging on to school and tutoring. The readiness of distractions, coupled with the separation from a dedicated learning space, made for difficulty early on. As the first couple of weeks went by, students started to adjust to this new situation. We established routines and had clearly defined expectations for each session we met for.
This year, everyone needed to adjust to these new circumstances: teachers, parents, and students. ESY was no exception, as families were forced to cancel vacations, children had to stay inside away from friends, and both present and future were uncertain (and remain so). While ESY may not have been most students’ first choice on how to spend this new summer vacation, I believe it did help to bring some sense of normalcy to their lives. No matter what else may have been going on, there was at least the knowledge that “I’m going to be doing writing work later this week.” While keeping skills sharp during summer break, ESY gave the chance for routine, which is important for anyone during times like these. I feel great knowing that working with Easterseals helped provide not only learning, but structure for these students.
Our Takeaways to Remember for Online Learning:
1) Keep an open mind: While virtual teaching is different from the in-person learning we are used to, it has many positives. Students can interact with coursework in new ways and show off their computer skills. There is still time to bond with each student, so look for their interests and help foster connections with those.
2) Keep to a routine: Students thrive from routine and structure. If possible, use the same link for each session and meet at the same time each day. Structure your activities in the same format such as: warm-up, mini lesson, practice, fun review game. Students will know what to expect and will feel more confident participating.
3) Be organized: In an online format activities and lessons need to be easily accessible and ready to go to maximize time-on-task with students. Consider placing your lesson into a format like Google Slides or Google Docs that students can complete with you. If students are not completing tasks on the screen, these formats can still be used for organization when you share your screen. Use easy to use fonts and do not overload each slide with excessive pictures or colors. Keep student interest by alternating text with videos, games, and other activities.
4) Set expectations: Telling the students the objectives of the lesson upfront will help them stay on task as the lesson moves forward. When working with students with IEPs, tell them which goal you are working towards and why. Students are often much more motivated to complete tasks if they know what they are working towards. Some students are also competitive and want to beat their own scores when they notice a pattern in assessments and have a set goal. Celebrate their victories when they move closer to their goals or surpass them. Consider graphing their progress each week to add an extra element (and some math!) to the process.
5) Be flexible: Everyone is adjusting to new territory this year and many students are going through more than we know. Try to be patient and encouraging with students by allowing them to keep their videos turned off, allowing time for snacks, and factoring in some movement breaks. Sometimes allowing for something this simple can keep the student working hard throughout the session.
Matt Parsons is a professional writing tutor and adjunct professor at two local universities. Melanie Solano works as a second grade teacher and the LMS Curriculum Coordinator for Springfield School District in Delaware County. They both love teaching and helping students meet their goals.
My first day of work and I was super excited to see my kiddos since it has been a few weeks since I saw them last. I was also super nervous and anxious about doing teletherapy. I kept asking the questions, how was I going to manage a caseload of 17 plus kids and manage my own five year old? Most importantly, I could not understand how I was going to effectively provide occupational therapy intervention with preschoolers who have Autism Spectrum Disorder through a little screen. As the 2019-2020 school year already had its own set of challenges, not one of us could figure out how to do this type of hands off interaction with our Easterseals kids through this platform. As we reflected, the slew of emails arrived and we really started to panic. We all started going to online trainings, reading blogs and asking questions, conducted team meetings and practice runs with our colleagues. We all became computer experts in zoom and GoTo Meeting, we connected with colleagues and families throughout the day, sitting for longer than any of us are used to and then we became the minority of people who are still part of the workforce.
Since practicing teleintervention for a few weeks now, I am still trying to manage a hectic schedule between work and family. My son at this moment is trying to lay low because he knows he is getting away with watching way too much TV and no one has been after him to do his school work for awhile. The overall challenge of teletherapy has been a good learning experience and now familiar. In fact, at this point in time, I am a proponent of teleintervention and I feel this could be offered as part of the IEP plan. Of course I would rather be working directly with my kids and coworkers, but we (the school team) have always discussed how beneficial it would be to have a better way to follow up at home. When you are working on certain skills, such as managing challenging behaviors or carrying over potty training, it would be very helpful to coach the parent more directly in the child’s home environment; to really bridge the gap between home and school and further support our kiddos success. This unfortunate pandemic event has been that opportunity, possibly causing positive change and providing more options and choices for our families.
It has been an adjustment period for the parents to say the least and I give a shout out to all of our special needs parents out there, we see you and you are doing a great job, so hang in there, we got your back. Again, looking on the bright side through this unique time, I also find myself appreciating the small things that help me get through the day, one benefit I enjoy, I know many people share this with me, is illustrated in the picture. I cannot complain about the reduction of my now nonexistent commute, being able to get ready for work in 15 minutes or even caring if my comfy uniform matches or represents the correct season; dressed in my Easterseals teletherapy uniform.