Keaton Smith

The Academy of Arts & Knowledge—K-5 Public Charter
Fort Collins, Colorado
Keaton Smith, First Grade Teacher; Alison Sloan, First Grade Teacher

We are first grade teachers at an arts school in Fort Collins, Colorado. We wanted to start by saying we began the school year here at AAK (Academy of Arts and Knowledge) with the choice of participating in a hybrid model or 100% remote. Every educator knows it is easier to teach students at school instead of through a monitor; we decided to take part in the in-person, hybrid, half day start to the school year. We were so happy with our choice because we were able to build community and meaningful relationships with our students, while also educating them about safe practices when social distancing in the classroom.

It was a difficult introduction to the year not being able to have the physical contact with our first graders. Denying a child a hug made our hearts hurt; but we are educators, and we adapt, we strategize, and we roll with the punches. We introduced air hugs and air high fives into our class norm. Our classrooms look very different this year as well. We now have a 6 foot taped off section away from children. Our kids know it as the teacher safe zone. In this zone, we as educators get to be the best performance artists that we can be. Integrating math, language arts, social studies, and science, as if we are popstars in the education realm; putting on a show for our biggest first grade fans. We have had to use the space to the best of our ability, unfortunately having to get rid of precious whole group space. But this has led us to create our entire classroom into more of whole group learning venue. Luckily, we also have taught Drama at our school in an afternoon club. Which has helped us integrate the arts into this socially distant classroom, using projection of voices, creative movements, and becoming expressive with our eyes that aren’t hidden behind masks.

We know this year is going to be hard, and we know that this year is not going to be perfect, but what year in education is ever perfect? What year has ever been easy in teaching? Allowing ourselves to also learn alongside the students, in this hectic environment, has taught us to slow down, work harder, and to live more in the moment of education. We may be the only other adult, or person, that they come in contact with outside of their family life. And if we can share just one light of joy in their life at this moment, then the education and learning will fall into place.

One final note from two educators to you, we all know one of our best tools and resources are one another; don’t forget to collaborate, ask for help, and remember that you are never alone in education.

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