Education Matters: How Fresno Unified’s Magical Teacher makes distance learning work

Education

FRESNO, California (KSEE) – Fresno Unified’s move to distance learning got off to a rocky start. The school district first had to get electronic devices into the hands of many of its students and with the help of some very dedicated teachers they are preparing for the fall.

Teacher Carlanda Williams loves all things Disney and it’s reflected in her classrooms. It’s how she got the name “Magical Teacher.”

“My student said our classroom is so magical and then she said and you’re the Magical Teacher,” said Carlanda.

As an elementary school teacher in Fresno Unified, Carlanda works to make each class a magical experience for her students.

“So I try to make sure my content is engaging they are always getting something they don’t expect, they never know what I am going to do when they come to school.”

What happens when kids can no longer come to school and the learning takes place in a virtual classroom on the web using such platforms as Zoom.

“When we went to distance learning I still tried to keep some magic in our zoom meeting, so I wear ears every day, I try to make fun activities so they have a scavenger hunt once a week, I give them an art project to do.”

Despite having talented teachers like Williams, the move to distance learning has not been easy for the Central Valley’s largest school district. First came the task of making sure all students not only had access to a device but their homes had the proper infrastructure.

“You need connectivity in every home,” said Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson. “You need to have families that are functional with utilization of the device and the tools that go with the device whether that’s Teams or Zoom or Skype.”

Parents needed training on how to use these new tools and some teachers also needed help managing a distance learning classroom.

“We are getting better every day and we are thankful the vast majority of our kids are having regular interaction and it’s meaningful and it’s worthwhile but it is still a work in progress.”

School Board President Keisha Thomas says the key is improving communications between students, parents, and teachers.

“Ultimately parents needed to know how to communicate with the schools to help their children be better at distance learning,” said Thomas.

As the teacher, Williams says it’s all about relationships, especially what kind of relationship you’ve built with both students and parents. She works hard to make herself available to both.

“Some of the hardest parts of distance learning for kindergartners is having someone there to help them log in and that’s why I try to make my meetings around the times my parents are available.”

It’s realizing that a lot is being asked of parents, who are having to deal with much more than distance learning.

“The world didn’t stop when school stopped right,” said Williams. “You know people are losing jobs, there are things going on in homes where they have to be there for their family, so I tell my parents to take care of their families and if they need me to reach out.”

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