How do educators endeavor to keep BRIE as a fundamental part of their teaching in this unique time of online classes? That is the question we set out to answer with educators from our REACH schools. Third Grade teacher, Karen Kittelson from Covenant Christian School St. Louis, was highlighted by her principal, John Roberts, as being an example of BRIE teaching during this season of online learning. Karen has been noted as doing an exemplary job of maintaining her connection with her third graders and making their transition to online learning “comfortable” How is she doing this? We spoke with Karen to hear from her perspective how she maintains BRIE in her online classroom.
First and foremost, Karen repeatedly said how much she loves her students. While she does not prefer the online mode of education, she wants to love her students well and that has clearly motivated her to be an excellent educator. This love she has for her students is what allows her to maintain a solid connection to her students. Here is how we saw her reflect each of the BRIE areas in her teaching:
The third grade class continues to memorize scripture. While they are not able to do devotions together anymore, Karen maintains her classroom culture from before COVID-19 by keeping the “Prayer Bucket” in her classroom. The Prayer Bucket was a place students could write down and share their prayer requests with their classmates. Now, they are able to share their prayer requests via email or zoom. They continue the practice of praying together and this is something that Karen believes helps maintain her classroom culture.
Karen also dropped off an Easter care package for her students. Included in this package was sidewalk chalk. Karen wrote a note to her students encouraging them to use chalk to be a witness. “You can use this chalk to witness to others that Jesus died and rose for you.” She says she encouraged them that even though they needed to be socially distant from others, they could still be out there with chalk and be witnessing about Jesus.
“Part of what we love [as teachers] is the relationships we build with students.” Karen says this as she tells how she starts off her daily literature class via Zoom with a time of sharing. She allows her students to take the first few minutes of class to share with each other. “We have one student who likes to tell us that he has caught a snake and the other kids will ask him questions.” This relational piece of her classroom helps her students to feel connected to each other.
Karen mentioned that while she misses seeing her students in person, it has been interesting to “see” her students in their own home environments. This has allowed her to develop different and more personal relationships with some of her students. “Some of my kids have opened up more to me and are more comfortable with me now. The student who talks about the snakes, I could have told you about him before but now I can tell you so much more. I am learning different things about them from what I knew in the classroom.”
Karen also stated that mutual respect has been a key in her relationship with her students and maintaining her classroom culture in this new format. “I had relationships with them before this, they knew me and I knew them,” she says, adding, “That mutual respect and knowing each other, that helped.”
How does Karen keep her classroom content integrated? Karen admits she is still learning and trying to work on how to do this online. “In third grade we still have a lot of core basic stuff. I am still trying to do [integral studies] online. For example, the unit Ancient Egypt, we learned about pyramids and simple machines and the writing was tied into that.” She says while history/science and writing don’t always “go together” she will find ways to make connections. For example, the class is currently reading Charlotte’s Web. “The assignment was to go outside and find one spider, try to identify a spider, draw it, and write three facts about it. We would do this in our classroom too.” Karen continues to describe an animal research paper the students are currently writing. This was something the students were excited about in the past, particularly because it involved creating a physical habitat for the animal. She tells me how the students are going to do this at home this year and film it. The admin team at CCSSL will put the photos and videos together for a presentation. As Karen continues to talk about this adaptation to the end of year project, you can clearly see the depth of care Karen has for her students. Yes, this is not her preference and yet her students are still able to participate in integral learning opportunities.
Karen explains how usually during the Ancient Rome unit, students would construct a roman road together. This is something they can’t do together as a class now, but she encourages students to do this on a smaller scale. Students might construct their roads in a shoebox instead. Karen said that this experiential portion of the lesson is optional but she makes sure to include these optional experiences in her lessons. Karen tells me how students have told her about doing these activities with their siblings instead and how families have enjoyed seeing the relationship between siblings benefit from opportunities to work together.
So what advice does Karen have for other educators? When asked this question, her response was a humbling reminder. "Teaching is not about us. We are called to this job. For me, this is a ministry. God chose us to help these students grow in so many areas of life. You are doing so much – God has put you here in this job with these students. You are touching their lives, but we still have a responsibility to give these kids all that we can in the best way we can. It is tough and there are challenges. For me technology was challenging. I was so thankful to have my college students with me to help me with youtube – I’m learning! I’m learning a lot of new things – this is helping me to be a better teacher because I’m learning new things that I wouldn’t have known before."
Do you have questions for Karen Kittelson? Comment on this blog post and she will answer your questions! Thank you, Karen!