Christine Cooke-MacVittie

Elmwood Franklin School
Buffalo, NY
Christine Cooke-MacVittie, Head of Parallel Instruction Program

 Yes, AND! Teaching through COVID-19

Every good actor knows how to create a successful improvisational scene; you need two key elements: a strong team and the readiness to respond, “Yes! AND…” to your team members. You work united with your cohort, depending on each other for support to bring your story to a satisfying conclusion. I have been privileged to be part of just such a team during this school year’s preparations and implementations.

From day one, Elmwood Franklin School viewed returning to school in-person as an opportunity to innovate. Teachers, students, parents, and administrators—every member of this intimate community—jumped in with conviction. We worked together tirelessly to move our story forward. We initiated new ways to build relationships, develop curriculum, and support each other. We began preparing for an uncertain future ensconced in tumultuous times. We realized we may have to pivot at any moment— improvise—to deliver to our students the social-emotional support and educational experience every child deserves.

In May, when our students could not physically go on their yearly outdoor education trip we didn’t merely say they were going to miss another experience because of COVID. We seized the opportunity to reply, “Yes, AND we are adding a three-day digital camping experience. You will have classes in outdoor education, make your own forts at home, and share in a live-streamed campfire sing-along and movie night. Be on the lookout for your s’mores kit that will be dropped off at your house tomorrow.”

Now that we have reopened our school, teachers ask, “But, are you able to form connections with students in the classroom while wearing masks?”

Yes, AND we are forming even stronger bonds with each other through this shared, small-group experience. The classroom laughter sounds the same as every other year. We connect through the good and the bad, as we always have, and always will.

Parents ask, “Are you able to support both online and in-class students emotionally during these uncertain times?”

Yes, AND we begin each day with a social-emotional check-in and a thought-provoking question (“If you were a pirate, what would your ship be named?” or “What would you like to be remembered for?”). Students then share their “emotional number” on a scale from 1-10 to tell us how they feel, choosing whether or not to support their answers with more detail. As a community of teachers and learners, we discuss how we can be on the lookout for ways to raise the numbers of those in the group when needed.

Like a studied improvisational actor, I have pivoted from being a grammar and theater teacher to the head of the Parallel Instruction Program, where students who are staying at home for the school year or may have to quarantine can meet daily as a cohesive group. I now teach in school, online, and provide support in between. I can do this because I work with some of the finest professionals who have the resources, support, and time needed to prepare for the unknown. I can say, “Yes, AND,” because I am part of a world-wide teacher community that shares their resources, worries, successes, and struggles online, so we can lean on and learn from each other. I am privileged to be part of a strong team, both at Elmwood Franklin School and with teachers around the globe, who have the skill, grit, and resiliency to keep saying, “Yes! AND…” each step of the way.

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