Working During COVID-19: Teaching & Learning Department

This article is part of a new series about how IMESD Departments have adapted their work during the COVID-19 emergency.

Before COVID-19 changed so many things around the world, in our nation and in eastern Oregon, IMESD’s Teaching and Learning Department was already a busy place. The department has two full-time instructional coaches, Joe Buglione and Heidi Paullus.

Although instructional coaches have multi-faceted responsibilities, essentially their jobs are to help teachers be as effective as possible in well, their teaching. They may do this in a variety of ways – helping teachers effectively use technology in their classrooms, leading learning walks through other schools to learn different techniques from teachers or developing strategies for different ways to teach a concept.

On March 12th, Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered school districts in Oregon to close due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. At first, districts were to provide “supplemental” learning.

During Spring Break (March 23-28), the IS Department was busy. In a few days, Coach Paullus developed a new website called “Remote Learning Resources” using the Google platform. It included tutorials for teachers getting started with Google Classroom and setting up Seesaw, another remote learning platform. It included resources organized by grade level, plus ones for Special Education, English Language Development and more. “Essentially, we built this site as a quick shell so we could start getting resources out to teachers,” Paullus said.

On April 8th, the Governor announced that the school closures were for the rest of this academic year. The same day, the Oregon Department of Education announced the change from “supplemental” learning to “distance learning for all”. School district administrators and teachers who were just getting settled with the first concept now had to transition to a different concept offering more robust learning.

Paullus, Buglione and the Teaching and Learning Department weren’t phased. The Virtual Teacher Meet Ups they had been running had many more participants, though, especially for elementary teachers. By the third week of April, “The K-2 and 3-5 group were packed each week. There was less interest at the secondary level so we started taking a new route and setting a "theme" each week for them,” said Erin Lair, Director of Teaching and Learning.

For instructional coaches like Paullus and Buglione, whose pre-COVID-19 work was intertwined seamlessly with technology, the transition to working with people remotely may not have been such a shift. They say some teachers who were already working with different technology platforms have had an easier time transitioning to distance learning, but they are all learning together.

Monday, May 4th began the eighth week of teachers and students navigating at-home learning. The IS Department continues to offer four Virtual Teacher Meet Ups each week and continues to support teachers via phone, email and more.

“Our goal is to meet teachers where they are, help them solve the immediate problem and collaborate with them going forward to do the best job they can for students during this unprecedented time,” Lair said.