We met virtually with Sharon Westbrook, 3rd-grade teacher at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School, to learn more about her 33 years as an educator and her nuggets of wisdom during this period of distance learning.

Sharon hopes we maintain a sense of community and generosity of spirit when we return to campus.

Since the beginning of distance learning, what would you say is/was one of the most innovative teaching methods you adapted for yourself and students?

You might not call this innovative but I have learned new ways to connect students with one another to create a classroom that is more inclusive. For example, I have found activities like collaboration boards, breakout room cooperative groups, and imaginary tossing and catching activities. I also found constructive conversation strategies that support English language development and encourage classroom-type interactions in a virtual setting.

What is your advice for teaching during distance learning and staying student-centered?

As a 33-year veteran, I would advise teachers to ask for and accept help. I feel closer than ever to my Joyner family as they have kept me afloat. We must remain whole-child centered while being accountable to the standards. I try to make learning as fun as possible so that students want to engage. I use online games like Jeopardy and Kahoot, and arts integration strategies. Even small things like calling students by their self-selected Zoom names bring smiles to their faces. Laughter is so important for social-emotional wellbeing! I also share my technological struggles (sometimes unintentionally) with my students to show what learning truly looks like. We have to remember that although we are living through difficult times, this is still their childhood. Social-emotional check-ins and opportunities for self-expression are more important than ever. 

What are your hopes for your students, peers, and whole school community going into the New Year?

I hope that students and teachers alike will go into the New Year feeling proud. We’ve conquered so much, and I hope we’ll use our strength, tenacity, and newfound skills to overcome future obstacles. I am also glad that our students have proper computer access to enable them to develop the technological skills needed in the 21st century. This pandemic has brought teachers all over the world together in the sharing of ideas and creations, unlike any other time in history. I hope that we’ll maintain this sense of community and generosity of spirit when we return to campus.

How has the Partnership supported your development during online learning?

I am so grateful to be a member of the Partnership team. They have offered training to enhance our teaching repertoire, given us opportunities to collaborate, and supported us in numerous ways.