Alumni Q&A with Janekka Colbert: Education During Social Distancing
Janekka Colbert completed the TCU College of Education Accelerated Master’s program, earning a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education in 2014 and a Master of Education in Curriculum Studies in 2015. She also serves as Vice-President for the College of Education Alumni Network. She teaches fourth grade and serves as the gifted and talented specialist at Kenneth Davis Elementary in Mansfield ISD. Janekka answered questions about the professional and personal challenges of being an educator during the coronavirus global pandemic.
What was it like to switch to remote instruction so quickly?
“Our district’s curriculum and instruction department did an excellent job providing resources for the teachers and families as soon as the pandemic began worsening and our schools closed. The key component was not introducing anything new right now, just reviewing material the students had been exposed to. Mansfield ISD started online curriculum on March 23 to provide resources to the families.
Before distance learning began, the first initial contact to the families was a wellness check to ensure the students were doing okay and safe. I reached out to every parent/guardian because relationships are first and partnering with the families is key. Also, I wanted to find out if my families had technology and document those who did not. It’s hard to require online learning when not everyone has access, but MISD has been working to get access for all students.”
What are the biggest challenges of being an educator during the coronavirus crisis?
“The biggest challenge during this mandate is not connecting with my students face to face. The physical part in the classroom is what I am missing the most. For example, every classroom on our campus has a mood meter, a sign on or near the door and the students wait on their teacher to greet them. There are four quadrants with colors and feelings, so if students are having a good or a bad morning, I am able to address that early in the day. I’m missing that barometer and connection.
The students are missing normalcy and the routine of being in a physical classroom, so our campus adjusted and now we are trying to take some of the normal routines and implement them online. After the first initial week, I began sending Flipgrid videos via Google Classroom to stay connected to the students. The first week was Riddle Week and students could respond anyway they wanted to. Also, our campus is conducting virtual spirit weeks and creating interactive lessons to keep the students engaged through technology. We’re trying different things to connect with students and make it a little more normal.”
“It’s new and uncharted waters but I like that fact, not the circumstances. It’s challenging us as teachers to meet the needs of our kids, and the energy you put out is the energy the kids receive.”
What do you want families to know right now?
“The message that I would like families to know right now is that we are all in this together and we will navigate through these uncharted waters. The expectation is not for the parents/guardians to be homeschooling, but to receive resources that will ensure the success of their student, during this unforeseen change.
I have a child who’s 16 and throughout the year, his curriculum has been provided online. However, it has been a challenge for him to cope with only receiving his instruction through technology. My husband and I also had to move our daughter from college and now we’re all working and doing schoolwork from home. Everyone has to adjust to this new normal.”
What have you been learning from this experience and how will it change your teaching going forward?
“I’m always trying to figure out how I can grow as an educator and this experience is teaching me how to be adaptable. I’m being flexible and keep telling myself if I make mistakes it’s uncharted waters. My favorite mantra is that failure leads to success. Online instruction has encouraged me to have a conversation about technology with my parents/guardians earlier in the school year. Most of all, I’ve been able to reflect more and think about how I can adjust, stay on the cutting edge, and create lessons that are still fun and engaging.”