With the outbreak of coronavirus/COVID-19 in North Dakota, educators are needing to completely reinvent the playbook on how they communicate with students, parents, administrators and with each other, all in an abbreviated timetable. It’s been challenging, to be certain, but also a chance at reinvention, experimentation and creativity.
For Fargo South High School English instructor Benjamin Norman, it was a challenge worth accepting.
“I have learned so much from my educational colleagues in the last few weeks or so,” Norman said. “It was only a few weeks ago when I literally asked my girlfriend, ‘What’s Zoom?’ Now, I feel like a pro. Video conferencing passes along information well, and, more importantly, it still gives us a semblance of face-to-face human interaction. That’s so important in times like these.”
Norman is in his second year of teaching, and before this past month, hadn’t had opportunity to really utilize online video tools such as Zoom or Instagram Live for his instruction or interaction with colleagues. “The outbreak has caused us all to adjust everything at such fundamental levels,” he said. “Hopefully, this shows everyone how effective teachers are at adapting to unprecedented demands and overcoming adversities!”
He said that his crash course in Zoom has been a learning experience, and he’s eager to try it out with his students. “During the COVID-19 outbreak, I’ve mostly used Zoom to communicate with colleagues and friends,” Norman said, “Fargo Public Schools will be using Zoom extensively when we kick off e-learning on Wednesday, so I’m trying to get as much ‘practice’ in as possible. I’m excited to use it to synchronously meet with students — I miss my kids!”
Zoom is integrated with Fargo Public Schools’ daily planner software, EDUcal, which Norman finds helpful. “Specifically, I’m planning to use Zoom as a platform for book talks and class discussions throughout the rest of the year,” he said. “I’m hoping the breakout rooms will create solid small-group atmospheres, too.”
Norman has also been using his “Tinsta” (teacher Instagram account) to reach out to students during the time before classrooms go online-only and answer any questions they might have.
“A few co-workers and I used the Instagram Live feature on Friday, with the mission to answer any student questions about school and to just have fun during these weird times,” he said. “We called it Faculty Flannel Friday, naming it after our new Fargo South tradition of wearing school-colored flannels on, you guessed it, Fridays. I think it was a solid 45-minute success — we’ve heard nothing but good reviews, and we hope to continue the show on upcoming Fridays.”
Technology is also helping maintain the connections Norman has built with his fellow educators, in Fargo and all across the state of North Dakota, and even beyond there. “I’ve had as many professional Zoom meetings as I’ve had personal hangouts via Zoom,” he said. “It’s important for me, and probably for all of us, to be able to gather together and chat about work and life and our ‘new normal.’ Last week, a half-dozen of my college-pals-turned-teachers all met on Zoom to shoot the breeze, blow off steam, and even play a game of hangman. We had teachers from Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead, and even the middle of Iowa, share their recent teaching sagas. It was cathartic.”
A proud member of the Fargo Education Association and North Dakota United, Norman said he is happy to help any of his fellow educators at any stage of their career get a better handle on how to use technology to safely navigate through mostly uncharted terrain in the coming weeks. “I advocate for teachers to expand their comfort zones as they see fit and meet students where they’re at,” he said. “We’re all on the same ship! Never before has an experiment like this happened in public education — we’re living history. Embrace the challenges, vent your frustrations, find and set new boundaries for your work-life balance, and have as much fun as you can! We owe it to our students and ourselves to not go crazier in quarantine.”