Alan Green

Episode 7 - Navigating the World of Online and Hybrid Teaching / Transcript

Blog Post created by Alan Green on Feb 18, 2021

Alan Green:

Welcome to Connect a podcast by the national association of agricultural educators. No matter how long you've been in the classroom, we as agricultural educators know the power that connections play in bettering ourselves as educators and strengthening our profession. Connect is a podcast by the national association of agricultural educators and works to educate listeners about NAAE resources, inform them of new and innovative practices and connect current and future agricultural educators and supporters. I'm your host, Alan Green. We are excited that you're here. So let's get started. Hi everyone and welcome back to Connect a podcast by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. For those of you who are new here, I'm Alan Green and I work as a program manager with NAAE. I am so excited that you've joined us for today's important conversation.

Alan Green:

There's no hiding the fact that we are in the midst of a difficult school year, whether you are teaching 100% online juggling a hybrid format or teaching in-person while following social distancing standards. This year has been challenging. We at the National Association of Agricultural Educators, see the hard work that you are doing, and we are inspired by the incredible things that you do everyday to strengthen our schools and communities. We want to say thank you for making magic happen every day for your students. You are truly changing lives. In this podcast episode, we'll be talking all about online learning and meeting with two agricultural educators who will share what they've learned and what's working for them as they navigate this new world of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of focusing on what hasn't worked or what difficulties we faced, today's conversation is aimed at helping our listeners find solutions and generate new ideas that they can bring back to their classrooms and teaching methods.

Alan Green:

For this episode, we're joined by two agricultural educators who are working hard to deliver high quality instruction in both online and hybrid formats. Today we're joined by Ms. Kim O'Byrne, who teaches at Hatch middle school in Hatch, New Mexico and Mr. Jesse Faber in agricultural educator at Pontiac Township High School in Pontiac, Illinois. Kim and Jesse, thank you so much for joining us today.

Kim O'Byrne:

Thank you, Alan. It is exciting to be here. This is a whole new venue and it's pretty exciting.

Jesse Faber:

Thank you very much for the invite. I'm looking forward to the discussion.

Alan Green:

Well, again, I'm so excited to have both of you on the podcast today and having an open conversation in such a critical topic right now for teachers all across the country no matter what their school year looks like. Kim and Jesse, if you just want to start off the conversation, introduce yourself, maybe share a little bit information about where you teach and how long you've been in the classroom.

Kim O'Byrne:

All right. Well, thank you, Alan. My name is Kim O'Byrne and as we said, I teach at Hatch Valley Middle School. Hatch is the chilly capital of the world. So it is a very agricultural community. I'm a new teacher actually, because I retired after I had 28 years of education under my belt and I retired and stayed out for a year in our state you can do that. And when all of this took place, I just saw that there was a need to come back into the classroom. So the doors just opened and I walked right in. So it's been a huge learning experience for me.

Kim O'Byrne:

I teach in a middle school. I'm teaching seventh grade agriculture right now, but I also work with the high school in the eighth grade. And I teach in a very rural community. We have 1100 square miles of district and there's about 1300 kids, K through 12. It is 91% Hispanic, mostly Spanish speaking as their first language. Only 18% of those are probably proficient in math and 29% proficient in reading. We have 100% free and reduced lunch, but we have great kids and so much potential. And it's been a lot of fun to start this adventure with them.

Jesse Faber:

I'm excited to be here as well. My name is Jesse Faber and I teach in Central Illinois. I'm at Pontiac Township High School and we sit right on the interstate between St Louis and Chicago. And I'm about 70 miles Southwest of Chicago. My school district has about 670 students in it, and we have one kind of larger central town of Pontiac, which has about 12,000 people in it. And then we've got a rural area that we serve as well with some smaller communities. This is year 15 for me in the classroom, but there's been a few challenges that have come, or I guess there's some just different things that have come that made this year a little bit more unique even beyond COVID. This year, I moved from being in a two teacher program back to a one teacher program and made that adjustment while also adjusting to a new schedule in the COVID world.

Jesse Faber:

I have been in the classroom every day, the school year, but my school is split with our attendance. So we're doing a hybrid model where I see all of the students or see all of my classes, but only half of the students at a time. So I have a lot of what I call going through the groundhog day scenario of where I seem to relive the same experience multiple times as we go through it. It's been a real interesting challenge that way, and we are a nine 12 district and I have five different classes that I teach throughout the day.

Alan Green:

Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing both of you. Jesse, you talked a little bit already about what your school day looks like, that you're in a hybrid model. Kim, tell us a little bit about what your school day looks like. Are you in person? Are you hybrid? What is a day in the life of Kim look like right now in the classroom?

Kim O'Byrne:

Wow. So this is the hardest think I think for me to get used to, because I've always had kids in front of me. And so we have been 100% virtual since day one. I have never actually seen my kids in-person. So it's been a little bit unusual. So to start with, it was very hard for me. I was a retired teacher. I used technology, but I had never used Canvas. I had never used a Google classroom. I had never used a Bitmoji or anything like that. So it was a huge learning curve to begin with. And so I tried to, as I go, learn with the kids and learn from the kids and learn from my colleagues and from any other source that I could find. I did a lot of professional development on my own to learn these things.

Kim O'Byrne:

So trying to find ways to engage students because they sit and stare at a computer for four hours a day. So we start at 8:00 in the morning and we go through four classes and I have... We still are working on a hybrid model like Jesse said, because when we go back and we will be going back on the 8th of March. So I'm excited about that. Not all the kids will go back, only the kids that choose to at this time. But we will go back until they'll have four classes. And then we have what we call advisory for the rest of the afternoon, where we help the kids in areas that they need help. I've done a lot of practice with my pre speakers and CDE practice and that type of thing. And then the next day we repeat the same thing.

Kim O'Byrne:

So I know what Jesse's talking about when he talked about that groundhog day, because it's like, did I tell you guys this, or did I not? So it's like trying to remember what you've told who, because you do that several times a day. I'm looking forward to the in-person, we've tried to make it as hands-on as we can. We actually created these little boxes that we sent home to the students where it had some materials where we could do hands-on labs so that I could facilitate the labs from my computer into their living rooms or wherever they're at, so that they could do some hands-on things. But it's been a challenge.

Alan Green:

Jesse, is there anything else? You already mentioned about what your school day looks like, but is there anything else that you'd like to add to that question?

Jesse Faber:

I don't know. We've used a lot of different technology things and tried some different stuff. Our school actually changed our schedule at semester to try a different approach as well. When I say that, we're on what some people consider a little strange anyway, because the normal school year has us on a eight period partial block. So our days look a little bit different than what most are used to. I think it's been a really interesting adjustment, but post some challenges to really, I guess, live and things up to take the optimistic approach.

Alan Green:

Well, when we talk about online learning, I think that there's a lot out there. And when all of this started, we were introduced to a lot of new tools that we could use in a lot of new resources. But boiling down to that basic question, what do you think are some of the key factors to making online learning and online teaching effective? Whether that's 100% online like Kim or you're teaching in a hybrid model or a teaching in a format, or maybe you have some students and you're following social distancing standards. What makes online learning and teaching effective and in what should teachers be keeping in mind as they think about preparing to teach remotely or to be teaching in a hybrid model?

Kim O'Byrne:

So I'm going to start here with first, you have to get them online. We had a huge problem with them not even showing up. I think they thought that it was just for fun or whatever they weren't taking it serious. So I think the first thing that I had to do was I had to make it engaging. I had to make it fun. I had to make them want to come. That was the first hurdle. And once they were like, wow, this is fun. And they were learning by accident. Then I had to show to them the why. And I think that's the big key is though, why do I need to know this. Even in middle school. So it engaging fun that I had to make them want to come and they had to know that, why? Why do I need to be here? Why do you care? Why do you care if I'm here? So it was making that social and emotional connection even through the computer.

Jesse Faber:

I think for me that a lot of the principles that work in a hybrid model are the same principles that are just good teaching. When I found, and actually I had the opportunity for some reflexivity on this, this last summer because we ended up finishing last school year in a really crazy, all of a sudden, we go from Thursday and then a Thursday in March to, we don't see students again for the rest of the school year. And that put us all in a real big scramble I think. I think there were a lot of teachers who were trying to figure out what can I do here that helps to continue to be good teaching practice and mostly, show the students how much we care about them and making sure that we're still there to educate the whole student that way.

Jesse Faber:

So I had the chances, I took a couple of classes this summer to look at how my professors in the classes I was taking and organized some asynchronous courses as well and what they did. And so when I think about some of those very basic ones, making sure that we're clear with what we're trying to do, make sure that we communicate in a way that students can follow in an organized fashion because we won't have that chance to make those corrections in class and live that we might have otherwise because they're not going to have that contact time. Really be intentional with how we utilize what time we do have with those students, I think is a really important piece.

Jesse Faber:

And so to break that down just a little bit more, what that means for me is that every week, I actually shifted over our school. I have been in a learner management program called Moodle. We've been in there for about over a decade, I guess, as far as what we were using. And I had not switched over to Google classroom just yet, even though many of my colleagues had encouraged such and really talked about it. I just hadn't gone through those steps to move all of those materials that I loaded up in my other courses. So this year I did move into Google classroom and try to be very intentional with how I set up each week and how I communicated with students that way, so that they knew here's what we're going to do with the contact time we do have together. Here's what I want you to complete in the remote time. A couple of things looked very different. I'll use one of the examples. I'm one that during my units, I would have students who would keep their notebook. And then at the end of the unit, I do the notebook check. And so we basically have one grade for the notebook check as we did our summative assessment at the end of that unit.

Jesse Faber:

Well, that had to look different because I broke each one of those components of that out. And so instead of having one notebook check at the end, that would be 20 points. Maybe I've got four different five point assignments as we go to help those students who maybe missed one week or maybe they missed one thing and instead of them looking at it and to break it down so that it was in real digestible, very clearly identified chunks for them to be able to approach. The other thing that I really tried to focus on was being intentional with what I ask of them in terms of, if I was going to ask them to do something outside of class, to make sure that it was structured in a way that they'd be able to basically take down those barriers that aren't really important to the content components or to the activity components.

Jesse Faber:

So, when I go back to what you said, a lot of intentionality, and I think the final part is making sure that there's time in there where we communicate with the students, just in terms of being those teachers that connect with kids and about the things, because there's a lot of them that are going through things that are unfamiliar and a lot of them that have so many different challenges and we could go into a whole another podcast just on challenges. And I'm even going to say the inequity of challenges that some of our students have. And I think specifically back, I've had several moments where you have that student where yeah, they've gone fully remote, but when they're fully remote, they're the ones that are at home with their younger siblings having to help their younger siblings get through elementary school, that's remote. And then we're expecting things of them as well as teachers of have them in the high school classes.

Jesse Faber:

And how does that look different? Because I think that we have to step back and understand that many of our students have things that pose those challenges to them at home as well. And so how do we help to navigate and continue to help them grow?

Kim O'Byrne:

I was just going to say, Jesse, I couldn't agree with you more and you bring up such a great point. I have students in my classroom that aren't even students yet because my middle school students have to babysit their younger siblings because there's nowhere else to take them. And so I have some four year olds that I have in class that we always try to tie in just a little bit, but it's fun because then at least they're getting a chance to learn and you're meeting that student where they're at and what they need. So they're not split into trying to decide whether they need to take care of little brother or sister or whether they can be online. So there are a lot of challenges that way and meeting the students where they're at, I think is hugely important.

Jesse Faber:

I think one thing to add to that, because as I was thinking here as Kim was speaking on that. One perspective that I think really helped me grow as a teacher preparing for this year was last spring. I have a six and an eight year old. So they were in kindergarten and first grade last spring and I was trying to help them through remote learning. And I remember reaching out to their principal at one point, they're in a small school and I know their principal well, and I go, is there any way you can give us just a little bit more guidance as parents trying to help our kids, it wasn't that we couldn't help with the concepts. It was that I was struggling a little bit to make sure that I wanted to teach that, use an example, math. I want to teach the first grader math, the way that their teacher wanted them to learn it.

Jesse Faber:

And when I looked at their worksheets, I was sometimes confused by the vernacular that they were using. And if I was going through that as a parent, and I feel like I've got a pretty strong background in math courses with first grade math, how does that look for high school students? How does that look for someone else that might not have some of those resources that I do? And so I really tried to be cognizant of that from the teacher perspective as well with my communication that's going on.

Alan Green:

Absolutely. And I was just going to add that, I think I saw on Facebook, a page that I follow, someone posted that this is the year to show grace in the classroom and to show grace when it comes to the expectations that we have for our students. So both of you thank you for sharing those experiences and that's definitely true. Can you mention it a little bit earlier, but you mentioned that really the key to online learning for you has been to find ways to get students motivated and engaged in online learning. I'm wondering if you two could provide a little bit more about how you go about doing that. How you go about creating a personal experience, a motivating experience and an engaging experience with students who may be are behind a computer screen. Or Jesse for you, maybe you are in a classroom where everyone is keeping their distance, how do you make it engaging? How do you make it exciting for students even when everything is so much different this year?

Kim O'Byrne:

So, Alan, for me, this has been one of my greatest learning curves, I believe. So it does come back to good practices, I think, and finding ways to hook those kids and make things relevant. And so I found a lot of great online tools. I've used a lot of great tools to help enhance what I'm doing. And sometimes I've used just simple things. For example, I took my Bitmoji and I actually laminated it and I put it next to different plants and I created a little storyline and we created a crime scene. And so kids had to investigate and look, and I played music that went along with it, and it was just tying them in or bringing them in, drawing them into this story that I was creating. And they wanted to come. I had kids that weren't showing up to class, were suddenly coming to class when I created these stories that they wanted to be a part of. They wanted to see what was going to happen next.

Kim O'Byrne:

And I think that was the way for me to be able to draw them in. And if I had been in a classroom, I would be setting up my classroom and creating this story that when they walked in, they would see what was going on and I didn't have that option online. So I had to find ways to do it virtually in the best way that I could to be able to draw them in so that they wanted to be a part of the learning. And it seems to be working. We've even had some high school kids showing up to my classes with their siblings, not just getting on. And like I said, some of the younger siblings, so it's been fun to see how it's actually working and how those kids are showing up and being a part it's like they want to be a part of it. And I think that's the big part. You have to make them want to be a part of it.

Jesse Faber:

I use a little bit of a focus. And I think you brought up a great point of the importance of showing grace. I had a real high focus on making sure that we didn't waste any contact time, so to speak. And as I looked at that, I thought a little bit about all those things that we've... Even going back to, as I say, in teacher school, where we took all those ideas and we took those principles about how long the attention span is and what we're looking at. And I tried to be very focused on what are the things that are engaging that they can do from home, that they have the capacity, they have the resources, the abilities to do from home. One of the reasons I use that is one of the labs that I have my introduction to agriculture students do is we always do in class. We do a soil profile lab and I do use the case curriculum, but I was doing this one in a way even before that. And so when I have them get a soil sample and mix it with water and shake it up and let it settle, I'm like, that's something that hopefully we can do that remote learning, and they can do that from home and then be able to show whatever it looks like in their particular home.

Jesse Faber:

I tried to really think about and utilize the time that we had in my classroom for stuff that couldn't be replicated for instance, outside of the classroom. My landscaping, I have a horticulture course called landscape and turf grass. I made them the promise because as they were coming back to school, even in their partial days, I said every day that we can be outside, we're going to be outside. And so we did landscape maintenance all around the front of the school and that effectively took about the first two months of our contact time. And we re-did flower bed and we re-landscape and took care of a group of the trees and mulch them and did that type of thing where it was very hands-on. And that was really my hope even to the point that in a world where everybody has to wear mask now. As I mentioned, I went to one teacher program and so I switched classrooms. Well, my old classroom, they let me keep my lab tables. And so I put them in the back of my [inaudible 00:21:37] shop.

Jesse Faber:

And so basically on days where we could, I let the kids go out, we had an outdoor classroom outside the back of my [inaudible 00:21:43] shop, where as long as we got spread out enough that let the kids have a little relief from the mask. As long as we met the standards and we weren't moving around, and more than six feet apart, they could take off their mask if they had a table themselves. So we did stuff like that. One of the other parts that I did in some of my classes, I'm a big fan of getting out of my building. As I mentioned, we're on a partial block. So in a typical time, we have 90 minute periods once a week for all my classes and tour. We're all typically given a bus and we'll go somewhere and maybe it's taking a group out to the local forest preserve. Maybe it's just taking the crop science kids to a local agribusiness and tour it. Maybe it's going out to a local farm, whatever those happen to be. We try to get out of the building a lot. And I couldn't do that.

Jesse Faber:

When I say that, even though we were in-person, our school had the policy, we couldn't go to public places. So even though there's an equipment dealer that's three blocks away, we couldn't even walk there for a experience because they're a public business. And so I said, what can we do? And I started doing a lot of Zoom. When I say that, and when I looked at the Zoom, [inaudible 00:22:52] Zoom, where you can go anywhere in the world. And we did some of the local places that have been awesome to work with all through the years for those same types of tours, even though we couldn't be onsite, they would still give us the tours and give us some of that experience. But then we took it even a little bit further and I was able to go to a number of different States in terms of getting the peak into agribusiness there. And we even had one guest speaker that came to us from South America to talk about, we're actually looking at regenerative agriculture, my crop science students, but I guess I'd have to go back and look at how many different States we went to.

Jesse Faber:

But saw everything from a nitrogen production facility out in Nebraska to another FFA chapter that has a CSA up in Minnesota to a cotton seed production facility in Texas. And so tried to use those as a means for my students to engage in a way that that was unique, impossible because of what we were doing. And I thought that was really important too, as we look at. I think the one other thing I tried to do as many, like where I could pull a YouTube video or pull some types of video clips in and have that be part of what students engage with more so than some of the other sit-down stuff [inaudible 00:24:11]. I say sit down, instead of reading off of a computer, trying to find some different ways to do that.

Alan Green:

That's really cool. Jesse, Kim and I were talking before you hopped on the call that, as much as embracing all of this new technology has been a challenge for teachers. There's also so many opportunities that have been opened up because of the restrictions, because of the new technology, the opportunity to connect with other FFA chapters with Agribusinesses are truly endless. My next question. So we as agricultural educators know that our classrooms are hands-on and interactive and a lot of teachers out there are really struggling with adapting their classroom or their curriculum to either an online format or to a social distance format, if you will. They're struggling because they're missing that hands-on component that really makes learning come alive. How would you guide them? What advice would you give them as they try to adapt their curriculum to meet either online or a hybrid format?

Kim O'Byrne:

So I would have to say, don't be afraid to think outside of the box to problem solve using creative solutions. We get stuck in the way we always do things. And I think sometimes we have to open up our minds to what's possible and then what is something that we can use that they might have. And I think we've touched on that a little bit, but I know for instance, it was crucial to me to get materials to my kiddos because in this community, it is very low income and so they don't have a lot. And so I wanted to be able to use things that I knew would be there regardless. And we created these boxes and put materials in them that I knew that they wouldn't have, but that we could use other things. So for example, Jesse talked about the soil profile and that's a great example because you can get soil outside anywhere and they can look at the differences between those and the similarities as well.

Kim O'Byrne:

So being able to put things in their hands that they might not have, and then let them use things that they do have. You have to be creative about how you go about doing those labs and maybe it doesn't look like it used to look and maybe it's even better. And that's one of the things that Alan and I talked about a little earlier, you have to step outside of where you feel comfortable and be able to look at what's possible, not what's always been done.

Jesse Faber:

I think that's a great summation of it as well. I think that's a great way of looking at it and I actually hope and I do believe that there's a number of the practices that I've started doing and things that I've started utilizing that I'm going to carry with me even in the post COVID world. I think they're just once again, just good practice. And as we look at it, I think more towards some of my colleagues have done that, have been more remote than I have. And I think about their creative ways of helping students to exist and to utilize technology in a way, perhaps that they haven't used it before. Being able to use different platforms. And I know that there's a laundry list of them out there. One of them that I used this fall was, and I felt like there were times where it worked really well, but I also know that it was a barrier for some students in the world of Flipgrid because that had them recording themselves instead.

Jesse Faber:

And when I think of this, I really tried to move away from the reading and the writing component, which I know has value, but I sure gathered that they were getting that from a lot of other places. They had teachers who were just giving them worksheets and everything was just reading and writing. And so having a little break from that was a value. Another thing was to me was really differentiated and that goes back a little bit is maybe I'd have them do, instead of necessarily objective assessment type things, doing it more where they get to be open-ended and get to describe what their experience was with it. And that goes to what Kim was saying is each one of them, they're going to have a different experience than what another student is if they're doing it from their home, because they're doing it in a different setting. And so if we don't adjust what were our expectations in terms of our assessment are, then we're missing something there in my mind.

Jesse Faber:

And by giving students a couple of different options in terms of how they submit it, but really focused a lot of my assessments on them explaining and describing what they got from it and trying to pick out those high points because they're all experiencing it in a different way when they're remote from their own situation. I think that's really where I think about some of the biggest ones to think of one of the things that I did, I do a wildlife ecosystem project in my intro class every year, and I enjoy watching what they create from a 3D ecosystem.

Jesse Faber:

And so that was another one of those things that worked really well for at home activity. Making models out of craft type stuff regardless of which class it was, was something else that seemed to work well from an at-home piece, or if you were able to have that, where they have that assignment that they did and what time I had with them, but then they could really go and do this last part of it, where they applied and explain themselves and have that be that at home piece where really what I tried to do with some intentionality, I guess.

Kim O'Byrne:

I would just like to add to that just a little bit. You mentioned something that I think is so important. So one of the things I've used them in the past, but I really started utilizing them and those were choice boards and that's what I used for my assessments. And those choice boards allow the kids to differentiate to their strengths. So I was able to assess them where they felt most comfortable. And I think that has really helped in the engagement piece and also in them feeling comfortable and confident in the material that they're learning and that they are showing their progress or their proficiency in. And so the other thing I wanted to mention is Jesse mentioned his wildlife. And years ago, when I first became an agriscience ambassador, I worked with Rich Miguel who is actually from Illinois and... Or Indiana, I guess. I'm sorry. And he and I actually created a COVID project before COVID actually happened, but we created this collaboration between his students and my students in a wildlife situation.

Kim O'Byrne:

There were three problems that he had in his community that had to deal with wildlife and I had three problems in mine. And then we had the students get together and work collaboratively through Google classroom and through Google docs to be able to solve this problem and then they have to present it to people within their community. And it was phenomenal to see how kids would problem solve and work, because we were overcoming many differences. For example, the time difference. It was hard because the kids were never on at the same time. And so they had a lot of issues. In Indiana, they had a lot of snow and the kids would be like, they didn't do anything well it's because they haven't been at school for several days now. And so it was interesting then, because I think that helps me with my mindset to be able to see that there's a lot of possibilities in what you can do and what you can accomplish. You just have to think outside of that box a little bit.

Alan Green:

And both of you have mentioned it so far already. In regards to simulating science labs particularly case labs where a lot of the learning is happening in the science lab and students are doing the experiments. How are you still providing that hands-on experience other than just recording the labs? Do you have any recommendations for how to deliver the science labs and the hands-on component, even though you're teaching in a virtual format or a hybrid format?

Kim O'Byrne:

Well, there's a lot of great tools out there. For example, he mentioned Flipgrid. I've had a few of my students film certain aspects of something that they were doing and they would have to post it and then other kids would comment on it or build on that. So it gave them opportunity to peer review and help and move ahead. So that was one option. So even just having them show you how to do something while you're in a Zoom, doing hands-on right there, show me that you can do that. And they enjoy being able to do that. It's really hard or at least for me, it's been really hard to get our kids to turn on their cameras. So you're basically looking at little icon all on your computer screen. And sometimes it's really hard to get feedback as a teacher.

Kim O'Byrne:

So you have to find little ways that you can get that feedback from them. And I understand, some of them can't turn their cameras on because of the conditions at home or whatever. And so being able to find other ways. So we found emojis to be able to communicate their feedback or to show me how they feel by putting something in the chat or sharing something. So there's lots of different ways that I've had to learn and I've had some great examples. Like I said, I came back as a new teacher, so I'm learning so much this year, but it's been great. And those tools, I agree, I will carry up a lot of what I've learned into post COVID.

Jesse Faber:

I think for me, it goes back to the intentionality that's been mentioned here a couple of times. As you look in, we do use a lot of the case curriculum. I use in a number of my classes and even my classes that I don't have specific case curriculum for, I really appreciate that model and use that style for all of my courses. When I say that, I'm going to use an example is that I've been very focused with my students to preview what they have. And actually when I talk about the planning and purpose for those that know me best are going to laugh at this, I think because, me sitting here talking about structure and planning very specifically is not necessarily been my calling card for my 15 years in the classroom, but what I do every week is I post the entire week module. And with that, I give them a to-do list that [inaudible 00:34:53] all the stuff that there is for week.

Jesse Faber:

I also told my students to try and keep things somewhat organized. And also in my mind, I said, there is going to be one due date a week. A one time that anything is due and anything for that week is going to be due on a Monday. I said, it's the only due date that you need to worry about. And so the reason I did that is because with our hybrid, without going into the details of it, I get to see every student on Monday. And so it gives me a chance for them to answer any questions and to follow up before we have a deadline. To use a specific example of how I do this, I try and preload stuff for my students.

Jesse Faber:

So if we're going to try and do some labs, I'll look at them and say, here's what we're going to try and do in our brief time together as we're out in the lab. So in order to be able to do that, you need to be prepared to this point and to use a case model for that. You need to make sure that you've already been through the purpose that you've done some pre-work in terms of the procedure, so that when you walk in here, you can put on the equipment and off you go instead of us having to go through it all together. And when we've been able to do that, it's really worked well and my students have responded.

Jesse Faber:

One thing that I've noticed and might just be here at my school, but I've had a few colleagues that have pointed this out as well. Kids are more engaged when they show up to the classroom now. [inaudible 00:36:15] half as much as what they normally would be. The classrooms are half as full as what they normally would be. And I have had zero discipline issues this year. And I've had pretty well zero times where I've had to get a student to wake up and join in, so to speak. And so those things have made those parts of it a little bit easier, but when we're going into do those things in the lab, it hasn't taken near as much convincing.

Alan Green:

Now, shifting gears just a little bit. Let's talk about FFA involvement. Several teachers are also struggling with getting students excited about FFA and getting them involved in the organization and different programs. What's been working for you. Are your students still actively searching for those involvement opportunities? How have you been able to keep students excited about FFA during these challenging times?

Kim O'Byrne:

Okay. So Alan, my situation is a little bit unique in that they haven't had a program at the middle school where I've been for a very long time. So it's brand new to my kids. So with it being new, I pretty much just encourage like, you guys, you've got to do this. It's so much fun. It's going to help you in the future. So we have a lot of those types of conversations. Plus it's helped that so far, all of my kids that have competed have been successful. And so when the kids see that success and they see those kids having fun and the kids come back and they say, oh, it was so much fun and I had a great time, it sell itself. I try to make sure that the kids feel like... Even if they're not competing, just learning these things is going to be worthwhile.

Kim O'Byrne:

We just had a state officer visit today and it was great. It was on Zoom. We had 39 kids present at this Zoom meeting and she said, I was one of the biggest in the state. And it was so exciting because the kids felt like they were a part of something bigger and they felt like they belonged. And I think it's that sense of belonging and that sense of getting to do something [inaudible 00:38:29] and to do those things. I think it really makes a difference. And my kids so far are excited to be able to get to be a part of that. So for me right now, at this level and at this stage in the game so far, it's been fairly easy to convince them to get involved.

Jesse Faber:

It's really hard. I'm going to add a little bit to that, but I think I could almost cut it off right there. It's just really hard. And right now, there's the mix of those students that should be flying high and excited for wrapping up and outstanding FFA career. And they felt like they were just missing out on so many of those things starting way back last March. And it was really hard to get into it and it required a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy to try and get us going. We have not had much participation in competitions just yet. We've gotten several FFA activities off the ground that we've been able to execute. We've actually had some success and had some students take some pride in a couple of basically Zoom centric, FFA activities.

Jesse Faber:

We did one last may that went over really well. We're really proud of how that one shook out. We did another leadership event for some middle schoolers in October that went really well. We had to modify it big time from what we had done before, but I think that we executed that one fairly decently. I will say this, and I hope that some of the state and national level things that have taken place to provide more access to more students, I'll use it. virtual national convention does not take the place of a normal year convention, but a virtual national convention made all those things more accessible to all of my students. Another thing that was done is our state, the state officers did their chapter visits and did a series of those online. And in Illinois, we have section officer teams and our section officer team here in our particular section did an awesome job in terms of more of a recorded leadership thing. And those were done well and provided more access, I think to all of my students.

Jesse Faber:

I'm nervous. I don't get nervous often. I am a little nervous in terms of what this is going to look like in terms of moving forward. But one thing that I did do our typical recruitment time is actually wrapping up right now, normally in January. And one of the things that I did for my introduction [inaudible 00:41:04] class again, was to focus a little more on marketing and in the business sense of it from an agriculture topical area, but I introduced some Canva, Canva online, which is a graphic design program for those that don't know. And one of my friends and colleagues informed me that the Canva pro account is free for educators and not just that, I could set up all of my students into it for free.

Jesse Faber:

And so that let them go in and I told them, just make some graphics that represent you. And what that also allowed me to do is not only were they building some skills and focusing on principles of marketing and sales, but they were also really focusing at this time of year on why did they join in the first place? What were the reasons that they came into the [inaudible 00:41:49] program that they were looking forward to and how to highlight that. And so when I think about that, it was able to bring their minds back to it and talk about it openly too, even though they feel like they're missing out on some stuff, there's still some things to hold on to.

Alan Green:

So as we wrap up our conversation tonight, we know that COVID-19, online learning hybrid learning has really taken a large toll on teachers and mental health and we could have an entire episode just talking about mental health as it relates to COVID. As we wrap up tonight's conversation, my last question for you is this, as veteran teachers, what would you say to teachers who are struggling right now, particularly early career teachers who can't seem to find the light at the end of the tunnel during these times, or who are really struggling to find joy in the work that they do. What would you say to them? Do you have any words of advice as they try to navigate these difficult times to get through the school year? Any words of wisdom as they navigate these difficult times?

Kim O'Byrne:

So these are really tough times for everybody. And I think these are uncharted waters that none of us were really prepared for. And so I do mentor several new teachers. And one of the things that I tell them is that they have to take care of themselves and they have to reach out when they need help. That sometimes means setting boundaries and sticking to those boundaries and knowing what you can do and what you can't do or shouldn't do. And I think it's taking care of yourself. So one of the things that I do in between my classes, I get up and I do little seven minute workouts, just so that I can get my blood pumping and make my brain work again. And so that I feel better because if I sit here at this desk for some time, it's 10 to 12 hours a day, literally I have that many meetings. And so I have to make sure that I'm taking care of myself.

Kim O'Byrne:

And you have to know that what you're doing matters. And I think that, that's the big one right there for me. I could have stayed out. I didn't have to come back, but I felt like students needed teachers who cared. And if nothing else, if they just know that I care and that I'm there for them. So at this point in the game, if they're learning, that's fantastic. I'm ecstatic, but I do want them to know that I care and that there's somebody there for them. And I think teachers need to know that they're making a difference, even though they feel like it's not the same. We can't measure. It's like measuring apples and oranges. And we can't compare those two. We can't compare what we did in the past to what we do now. And I think we have to... Again, I love that, show yourself some grace, and we have to realize that we're all in this together and we're here for each other and reach out to people when you need it.

Jesse Faber:

I would echo a number of the things that Kim said. And I smirk at the question you ask here, Alan. And I think about that from the energy perspective. I've joked a little and some of my closest friends, I even started using the phrase a little bit that I consider myself an anti martyr. And the reason that I joke about that is that I think that we need to focus on the joy that we have and we need to keep focused on what that joy is that brought us into the classroom in the first place. Because as teachers, I don't disagree at all with what Kim said on taking care of yourself, but a lot of that happens with just being conscious and being intentional with those things going on around you.

Jesse Faber:

And so to dig into that just a little bit deeper, I think that we have students that need us to be there and we need to be able to bring that positivity to their world as well. And so, however we find that, is something that's very much that we need to figure out and don't be afraid to reach out. A few of the things that I did, I worked with some pre-service teachers and did some teacher panels that I really enjoyed that were all done virtually. Me and a couple of my colleagues started doing some early career Zoom, happy hours for some early career teachers just to give them a place to connect and be able to do that. And when I say that the idea was to help others, but it was reinvigorating for me. Something that I got from one of my friends, and I'll give Riley a shout out, because we were on Zoom last March and I saw him and he was just feverously writing while we were on a Zoom together and just visiting. And it made me think, and he was talking about how he was writing cards to his students.

Jesse Faber:

And so I went on Amazon and I bought one of those cheap kits or cheap boxes of cards that there's like 200 and something in there. Probably when I'm feeling some of the most negative stuff that's wearing on me, I'll look and see where there's a student that probably needs a card to send home. And I have sent more cards in the last nine months than I probably have in the last ever, just ever in general. But when I sit down and I write a card to hopefully make one of my students, who's gone on quarantine, hopefully brighten their day a little bit, it makes me feel better. That's something that works for me and it has a positive effect across the board.

Jesse Faber:

So, I'm hoping that we have a lot of teachers that will focus on that. Probably one of my biggest concerns and so I'll say that. The world of social media where I see colleagues and friends that basically, and this is where the anti-matter comes from, put out there for the world to see how tough things are. I think back to, if I was a first year teacher and I'm seeing experienced teachers out there talking about how tough it is, then maybe I should be thinking it's tough too. And I just don't think that's fair to them. I think that we have to find ways to do it that aren't necessarily going to negatively impact some of those that are seeing it happen. And by going on is when we look as experienced teachers and maybe leaders within our profession, if we're the ones out there telling early career teachers how tough it is, then even if they're not having a tough time, eventually they're going to think they should be having a tough time.

Jesse Faber:

And I think we need to take care of each other that way, and we need to be out there and help and find those things that really go back to what I said originally. Find and focus on that joy in the profession. And that's not just during the COVID time. I think looking at it and making sure that as we operate as professionals and even in our personal world, continuing to find those things that bring us joy, those things that bring us energy that we feed off are important to focus on. And sometimes I actually told some students this year when I was coaching on some livestock reasons where she was just not bringing the energy. And I said, well, if you don't feel inspired, then fake it and fake it to the point that the official sitting in the room can't tell when you're faking and when you're not. And at some point you might not even know and you almost twist yourself into it. And so I think sometimes forcing ourselves and having that power over how we look at things ourselves can be really beneficial to how we approach the day.

Kim O'Byrne:

Jesse, you just reminded me of a story I told my kids today. Do you know the story of the little tiny frogs?

Jesse Faber:

I do not.

Kim O'Byrne:

So there are little tiny frogs that are a little community and they're little bitty guys and they decide they want to have a competition to climb up the tower. And so they start trying to jump in the tower and the crowds yelling, you can't do it, give up. Don't try. You're wasting your time. And so these little frogs keep going and eventually they start falling off. No, we can't do this. And then there's one little frog and he's the only one left in the crowds yelling, give it up, man, you can't do this. And eventually he made it to the top. And when they went over to tell him, man, how did you do this? We didn't think you could do that. And they found out he was deaf. And the moral of the story is, when you start hearing, you can't do this. You're too young, you're too old, we don't have the tools to do that, we don't have the means to do that, turn a deaf ear to it because we can do it. So thank you for saying that, Jesse. I think it's important.

Alan Green:

And what a great note to end our conversation. And I bet any teacher out there, anyone who's listening, you can do it. You do have what it takes. Yes, these times are challenging. They're pushing us, but you have what it takes and you're making a difference every day. Kim and Jesse, thank you so much for sharing your insight and the knowledge in this topic. And we appreciate the incredible work that you two are doing every day for our students and for our profession. Thank you again and take care.

Jesse Faber:

Thank you Alan.

Kim O'Byrne:

Yes. Thank you very much.

Alan Green:

Thank you for joining us for this episode of Connect, a podcast by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. It's always hard to say goodbye, but we'll be back with more episodes to help you build even more connections to help you grow as a professional. If you like what you've heard, we'd love to have you subscribe, rate or give us a review on iTunes or whatever platform you use so we can help connect more agricultural educators through our podcast. Until next time.

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