Teacher Spotlight: Professional learning played important role for WMES teacher Rachel Brahm for Distance-Learning

After unexpectedly ending the 2019-2020 school year on Distance-Learning, unsurprisingly, much of the summer teacher professional development in Marion County Public Schools focused on strategies and tools to address online learning.

For West Marion Elementary School first-grade teacher Rachel Brahm, those summer sessions played a large role in making this school year a success.

“Especially after our summer PD sessions with the instructional coaches, we got a really good idea what our playlists would look like and using the different programs that the district has offered to us to use,” Brahm said, specifically referencing the online resources Pear Deck (an interactive slideshow) and Classkick (a tool to provide feedback). Playlists refer to online lessons MCPS teachers design that students access and work through independently.

Now in her fourth year in education, Brahm admits she’s not completely a “seasoned teacher,” but this year’s obstacles have been stressful for all teachers as they wrap their heads around making Distance-Learning work. 

“I’ve been pretty comfortable with technology throughout my career but implementing it for Distance-Learning was a challenge,” she said. “And communicating with students and parents about what it would look like was a bit of a challenge as well.”

However, thanks to those summer professional development opportunities, the software made available to teachers by the school district, and the chance to work with students for a short time in-person, Distance-Learning has proven to be a surprising success. 

“It was more of a seamless transition than we anticipated,” Brahm said. “We were really impressed with how our first-graders took it on and everything we were doing. Overall, it’s gone pretty well I’d have to say.”

Although Brahm had used some of the educational resources in the past, this school year has required her and other MCPS teachers to use them more extensively.

“Last year we dabbled in Eureka math and this year we are using it full on,” Brahm said. “Having those PD’s were extremely helpful in rolling that out. At first it was kind of overwhelming, but with the help of the instructional coaches and [fellow first-grade teacher] Mrs. Patton we could figure out how we were going to incorporate it in Distance-Learning and our own classrooms. Those PD’s were very important for that.”

Brahm also had high praise for the first-grade Instructional Assistant Linda Robbins: “We could not have done any of this without her assistance.”

The limited time MCPS spent offering In-Person learning also proved important as Brahm focused on using online tools in anticipation of moving back to Distance-Learning.

“We used those programs on a daily basis in-person to be prepared for Distance-Learning,” she said. She also used the school’s open house as an opportunity to help parents understand how Distance-Learning would operate.

During their time on Distance-Learning, Brahm said she’s been pleasantly surprised with her students’ ability to catch on so quickly with the programs they are using and communicate effectively using video chat.

“It’s been very rewarding to see them taking all of this in and being successful with it,” she said.

And while she noted that exclusively teaching online has its drawbacks, Brahm also said she recognizes the importance of this experience for her students.

“This is going to be a positive for them as they are progressing through their education because they’ll continue to use technology and Chromebooks even more.”

Despite the drastic differences in how students are being taught, Brahm is quick to acknowledge that much about interacting with first-graders hasn’t changed. 

“[The students will] interject sometimes and tell me something about their families or show me something and those are the same things that happen in the classroom,” Brahm said with a laugh. “They have a positive attitude and that’s given me a positive attitude.”