Martha Beltran & Todd Herauf, Ed.D.

River Oaks Baptist School
Houston, Texas
Martha Beltran, Spanish Teacher & Todd Herauf, Ed.D.,
Associate Head of School for Academics

Flexibility, Less, and Assess for Success

At this point in the school year, at least prior to 2020, teachers and students were “in the groove” and settling in for the next eight months or so… That changed starting in early 2020 as the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic began sweeping across the globe, changing our very way of life.

One thing that shouldn’t change is Administrators regularly checking in with teachers.  While checking  in with our new Orchestra teacher, Dr. Courtney Ruth, when asked about her year so far, she shared this with me, “We cannot expect normal outcomes amid abnormal circumstances.” She went on to comment that her priority this year was creating and growing an Orchestra program from the ground up.  Her hopes have been exceeded so far, as students are back on campus, playing string instruments, and excitement is growing for the initial performance – whether it is virtual or in-person later this year.  So simple yet so profound…and words that can help us all work through things as we successfully transition back into classrooms (with or without learners).

A similar sentiment was shared with me by co-author, Spanish teacher Sra. Beltran, when she said, “Hybrid teaching has been hard and is not ideal – but we are not in ideal times. Not having our whole class in our collaborative learning space has made working together feel disjointed at times.  However, the spirit our students have for finding the silver lining in this situation has raised everyone’s commitment to making things work.  What helped me most the honesty and generosity of my peers, administration of River Oaks Baptist School (ROBS) and master teachers in the foreign language community”.  She went on to remark how they did not hold back, pretending all was great when it was not. People all over the community were willing to share their ideas, tricks, and resources while providing timely training.

Sra. Beltran reflected on the four things she has learned and now intentionally tries to practice each day:

  1. Flexibility becomes fluidity.
  2. Focus on building community in the classroom now more than ever.
  3. Less is best!
  4. Assess growth and effort, and mastery will follow.

Flexibility becomes fluidity. What worked in our classrooms in the past does not always apply to this year.  We must resist the temptation to fall in love with any teaching mode, schedule, or class set up due to constant changes.

To build community, we greet every one of our students by name, both those in person and those on Zoom. Students need those peer interactions as well, so we have those in the classroom come to the computer and greet their peers on Zoom.

Less is best! Covering content is not what our students need.  Allow students to get comfortable with the content so they can use what they have learned.  One way to do this is to cut online homework assignments significantly. After a whole day in Zoom, there is not a need for excessive screen time when home.

While assessing growth and effort, we celebrate mistakes because they help us grow. Students are encouraged to make corrections to most of their assignments, while they are also peer reviewing more often each other’s work.  To cut down on stress, due dates for corrections are flexible.

In summary, Sra. Beltran knows that being open to constant changes, focusing on building relationships in the classroom, assigning meaningful assignments, and keeping the focus on growth and effort have been key lessons learned from leaders in the Foreign language community, her peers, and the Administration at ROBS. These valuable lessons prepared her for a smoother (but not easy) successful transition into a hybrid mode, and for that her students are grateful!