How Might the Coronavirus Affect Our Classrooms? (Ep. 209)

With the Coronavirus continuing to spread and schools around the world being closed, it is time to discuss how these events might affect our classroom. Today, Tim talks to Libby Beaty, a teacher in South Korea whose school was recently closed. Listen as they discuss the adjustments being made by students and teachers, the technology that has been most helpful, and how you can still create a classroom community from a distance.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

I wanted to spend some time talking about the coronavirus on this week’s episode. As the virus continues to spread and schools across the world continue to close, I think it’s beneficial for us to step back and take some time and think about that fact. We should think about our approach and what our strategies may be if schools here were to start closing or if we were asked to begin teaching remotely to help combat the spread of this virus.

Now, before we start, I want to address two things. First, when I’ve talked about doing this episode with people, they ask, Why are you worried? It won’t be that bad. You’ll handle it fine if you get it, if you get sick.” I think that we need to not dismiss the virus by saying, “It’s not even that bad if you get sick.” It’s not, for me.

Odds are, I would get past it, but I’m not concerned about me. I’m concerned about the people around me, including ones in my immediate family, the people who don’t have the immune system that I do, the people who won’t be able to fight through it easily. We take the precautions we do because of them. I think putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, some thoughts and some altruism and some empathy can go a really long way here.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, I don’t want this episode to be part of a panic. We should not panic. It’s counterproductive. But I wanted to do this episode because I believe what we should do is learn, educate ourselves, and prepare for what could happen here, what might happen here.

There’s a lot to learn from people who came before us, and that’s going to be the goal of this episode, to learn what it’s like to teach remotely, to discuss the mindset and strategies and technology and approaches that you need to learning online. The goal is to help you start thinking and to help you start preparing in the case that your school could eventually be closed temporarily.

My guest today will be Libby Beaty. If you are a longtime fan of The Art of Ed, you may actually remember Libby, as she was featured on our Teaching Art Around the World series on the website back in 2016. She was teaching in Norway at that point, and since then, she has been teaching in Seoul, South Korea. Now, her school has been closed recently in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus in South Korea. I wanted to bring her on this episode to talk about the situation in our country, how she is adapting, how her students are adapting, and what we can learn if or when any of us are faced with a similar situation. So let me get her on the line.

All right, and Libby Beaty is joining me now. Libby, how are you today?

Libby: Hi, Tim. I’m doing pretty well. Thanks.

Tim: Good. I’m really excited to talk to you today. Before we get started with everything, can you just introduce yourself to the audience? Let us know who you are. Tell us about, I guess, where you’ve taught before and where you’re teaching now.

Libby: Sure. I’m an art teacher, and I’m currently teaching middle school art in Seoul, South Korea. But before moving to Korea three years ago, I lived in Kentucky. That’s kind of where I’m originally from, but I’ve lived a lot of different places. After Kentucky, my husband and I moved to Kenya for four years and taught at an international school there. We went to Qatar after that for six years and were at an international school there, and then moved on to India for three years, and then to Norway for three years, and now in South Korea. All those places that we’ve lived, we’ve been teaching and working at international schools. And 19 years later, we have three kids with us here in Korea.

Tim: That is amazing. Yeah, a wealth of experience there. I think that’s spectacular. Now, I wanted to talk to you because of everything that’s happening in South Korea right now, what your teaching has had to go through, I suppose. Can you maybe give us a little insight or tell us a little bit about what the situation is like in Seoul right now, and maybe how the decision was made to close schools to contain the virus and move to the idea of virtual teaching?

Libby: Sure. We’re actually in our second week of virtual learning right now, and the school has recently made the decision to stay with the virtual learning until March 20th, so we have a few more weeks ahead of us. That takes us actually to our spring break.

Obviously, this was a huge decision to make, but we have a crisis management team here at our school with all of our senior leadership and a few other people on that. We have a medical doctor that advises us, and obviously we take advice from the government and talking to other international schools, and made the decision that this was what was best.

The first couple of days, the teachers were all at school. We were required to be at school without the students, just to make sure we had a plan in place for what virtual learning would look like. That’s pretty important. But in the last couple of days, teachers have been given the opportunity to work from home, and that’s just in case people are not feeling safe. We have a lot of teachers that take public transport through the city, and obviously people were feeling more and more uncomfortable to do that.

I’m actually working for home from home, basically because I have three children that are also now at home, my own three children that are doing virtual learning, so just balancing that, working at home full-time, but also being a mom full-time.

Tim: Yeah. Can I ask you, how have your own kids dealt with that? How are they feeling about being home from school trying to do this virtually? What has their reaction been?

Libby: My own children? Definitely a learning curve. What does that look like to be at home, and just finding a space that you can call your workspace for most of the day? Getting up and just treating it like a normal school day, where you get dressed, you have your breakfast, and you’re online at 8:00. My high school daughter has to… All of them taking attendance, making sure that they are with the teachers. There is a couple of days of adjustment for sure, but I would say as time goes on, it’s getting easier. We understand what that routine looks like.

Tim: Okay, so I wanted to ask you also when the decision is made to close schools, how do you shift to that type of thinking as a teacher? How did you get started virtually? You talked about learning curve for your kids. What was the learning curve like for you?

Libby: Yeah, definitely a learning curve and just a shift to think, how do you still connect with your students when you’re only able to connect through a screen? Because as we know as teachers, that human interaction and that relationship and those shared moments in class are pretty key to what we do, so it takes a bit of experimenting, I think, with our kids to realize what works best for them. Each of our students has different needs, of course, so we have to consider that.

Our school has been fantastic. I’m a little biased because my husband is the IT director, but I’ll say we have a great IT team and digital learning coaches that support each section of our school. They have really done a fantastic job of helping support us through this, giving us all different ideas and platforms for what we can use for our different needs.

I would say just realizing, “Okay, do my students, is it working to connect with them through me sending them videos? Do I need to use something like Flipgrid or Google Hangouts, or what’s going to work best to really connect with them?” You get into a rhythm and realize, “Okay, this is working in my situation for my specific subject.”

Every teacher at our school, I think, is doing a little bit different in different areas of what they’re using, what works best for their content. We use Google Classroom primarily in our middle school, high school and share out stuff there. Elementary uses Seesaw. That seems to be working well there.

Tim: Okay, that’s good to know, because I know a lot of teachers in the United States here are just in that mindset of “If our schools close, what are we going to do, or how am I going to present information?” So I wanted to ask a little more about platforms, I guess. You mentioned Seesaw and Google Classroom. I’ve seen on Twitter that you’re using TikTok also. Are there particular platforms that you have found work the best for art, or are there certain digital tools that you’ve found success with?

Libby: Yeah, so primarily Google Classroom is definitely where I’m sharing out most of my information. That’s what my students are used to. I found it important not to switch everything completely on them because they have a high learning curve going on right now as well, so trying to keep consistent with the platforms I’ve been using, but adding in a few things for engagement and just interest for them, TikTok being one of them, because I know they’re sitting in their homes, which can be quite isolating, and they’re getting a lot of information coming through in their inbox, and I just thought, I really want to lighten the mood for them and help them realize and remember that we’re thinking about them.

I wanted to just give them a moment to smile and laugh, maybe even roll their eyes at their crazy art teacher, but just keeping it real for them. Also, it’s a form of creativity, right? I’m sending them a TikTok video every day, just hopefully to make them smile and take a break from the intense focus that they have right now with all that they are needing to do each day-

Tim: Yeah, I think, Oh, go ahead. Sorry, I keep interrupting you.

Libby: No, no problem. Screencastify is another platform that I’ve used just to record myself talking to them, talking them through things. A lot of our teachers are using Flipgrid, and Zoom is another one. There’s so many. We just have to find what works best for us.

Tim: Yeah. Now, I also wanted to circle back to something you said earlier with losing out on that ability to connect with your kids, and I wanted to ask, being away from your students, is that difficult for you emotionally? Because, yes, we love our subject matter, but we’re in it for the kids, not the subject matter. What is it like to be away from your kids for such a long time?

Libby: Yeah, it is definitely not ideal. That is the reason we go into teaching, and being in that creative space as an art teacher with my students, I love it so much, Not walking into that room every day and getting to share in that creative process, I miss it, so I’ve tried to be really intentional to write my students back with just personal messages, checking in to make sure they’re doing okay, and really try to respond quickly, let them know I’m right there.

I know all our teachers are doing that. That’s been part of the challenge, just “When do you have your breaks?” because you want them to know you’re there and responding right away. That’s just a difference in your daily routine of not always having planning or not knowing how to break out that planning time because you want to make sure your students know you’re there.

A lot of teachers are doing video calls with students. If they have questions, hey, let’s video call and make sure. That face-to-face interaction can be really important as well.

Some schools in other countries have been doing this a lot longer than we have, and we’re really trying to learn from their experience. I think that’s where, for me personally as an international teacher, Twitter and Instagram, it’s so important, just learning from them, how can we keep this connection and keep our kids engaged through the long haul? We know we have a few weeks ahead of us, so that’s important.

Tim: Let me ask you also, how have kids responded to this whole process? Do you think, is the learning similar as far as difficulty level and the content that you’re trying to get to them, or have you had to cut back on what you’re doing, what you’re covering, what you’re trying to teach them?

Libby: That’s a great question, and that’s something we’ve talked about as teachers quite a bit. I think that it does slow down at first because you’re figuring out so many different things as the students and the teachers. We’ve done a lot of surveys with our parents, with our teachers, and that feedback has been incredibly important to know where we’re hitting the mark and where we need to maybe work on areas of improvement.

Student interaction with each other is an area that we want to try to improve in. Of course, that makes sense when everybody is working from home, or even different countries. We have students that are now in different countries with their families because their government has asked or required them to leave. They’re looking at working from different time zones, and that is, of course, another level of difficulty if you have some kind of way you’re wanting to meet up with your students and hang out and talk or have a video call, and they’re in the middle of the night for them.

The feedback has been very helpful. It’s been positive from parents and teachers up to this point, and we’re just trying to work on, how can we really give the students more interaction? That’s a focus right now.

Again, we’re in the second week, so I feel like, boy, we’re still learning so much. But what I love about it, Tim, is that I think it’s really required teachers to use their creativity, which, of course, we appreciate as artists, just the things I’ve seen my colleagues doing that I’ve not seen them do before, and myself as well. I think when we have challenges, we have this great opportunity to grow through them, if we see it as that, and this is one of those. How can we improve in areas that we’ve not really explored before?

I have a sixth-grade son, and one of his teachers every day uses a filter as he does his video to my son in his class. This week, he had a cat on his head; he had a beard and sunglasses. Just being creative in ways we maybe aren’t normally, and I love that so much.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. That actually brings up two different questions that I want to ask. I want to get back to that creativity part, but first, you’re talking about the feedback that you get from parents, from other teachers, and I guess I wanted to know how much you’re collaborating with administrators and with your colleagues throughout this process. Is there a lot of correspondence happening there, or is most of the communication just back and forth with your students?

Libby: That’s also a good question. We have definitely been very intentional to get together. We have meetings in the middle school, and I know this is true on every level or in every section, that we’re getting together and making sure that we’re connecting.

Now, since I’ve been working from home this past week, of course, that’s a little more challenging, but I know that the teachers that are still at school, they have a time where each day they’re just intentional to take a break. They have games that, for 15 minutes, they get together and they’ll play Monopoly, or they’ll have snacks that they come in and share with each other. We’ve done hikes for that 15-minute teacher break together, or done a dance together, something that just brings us together, to connect and to laugh and to get away from our screens.

Our administration have been great about also just communicating with us what’s going on. I was able to connect in on a staff meeting, a faculty meeting this week, and they’ve just been very great and supportive in that way.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really good to hear. Then the second thing I wanted to ask you based on that last answer was about teachers using that creativity. Do you think that schools have learned a lot from going through this process? As you said, taking that opportunity to grow and explore, do you think that it might or do you see that leading to more virtual learning in the future long term?

Libby: I think that situations like this force you to stretch yourself, as we know, and so we have this opportunity in front of us to grow and to… It is definitely a challenge. It’s not ideal. Ideally, we want our students in the learning environment with them together learning. But when you don’t have that option, you have this opportunity to really expand your knowledge of just learning tools and way to engage and way to learn, and that’s what’s happening. Teachers are branching out. They’re stretching what their ideas of what they know and how to teach and how to interact, and I think that can only benefit us going forward, if we see it as that opportunity to just grow through this.

There are challenges with it. You try things and they’re not as effective as you want them to be in, and that can be discouraging. But as in life, we have to see that, I think, “Well, how can we do this differently and do it better?” I just think it’s one of those seasons for us as a school and as teachers. Hopefully, we’ll be able to use all these things we’ve learned when we come back together in the classroom, and we just will have expanded our toolkit of how to interact and learn together. That’s my hope.

Tim: No, that’s awesome, and that’s really very well-said. Libby, thank you so much for joining me. We appreciate your perspective. We appreciate you telling us everything that’s going on with you and your school. All of the advice that you have for teachers I think is going to be a huge help moving forward here, so thank you so much.

Libby: Tim, it’s great to talk to you. Thanks for giving me the honor of talking with you online. It’s great.

Tim: Thank you so much to Libby for coming on, sharing a little bit about her situation and everything she’s doing to still be a successful teacher in what have to be incredibly difficult times. When she was talking about still making connections with her kids and doing things that still bring them together and continuing to form that classroom community, that’s really powerful. I hope you appreciate, also, all of the information Libby shared about her teaching tools and strategies and takeaways that we can use if or when we are faced with the same situation.

Now, I think it’s going to be beneficial if you follow Libby on social media. She’s @LibbyBeaty on Twitter and on TikTok. She told me off-air she would love to connect with any other teachers who are using TikTok. That’s not me, but if that’s your thing, then definitely reach out to her. On Instagram, she is @sfmsartrocks. It’s the account for Seoul Foreign School. There you can see what she is teaching and what her kids are doing, including some artwork that has to do with the coronavirus and what kids are learning virtually. Just a lot more valuable information there, and you can also see some of Libby’s teaching strategies in action.

Finally, I will just close by reiterating what I said in the beginning. I wanted to do this episode because we have the time and the opportunity to learn and to educate ourselves. We can listen to and learn from the people already dealing with these issues. I hope Libby was able to paint a picture for you of what it is like to teach remotely for her and for her family and also for her students, and I hope she gave you strategies for the technology you might use and approaches you can take to learning online. It’s worth a minute of your time to listen, to think, and to prepare for that eventuality. To that end, I hope this episode has helped, and I thank you for listening.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you, as I just said, for listening, and remember to spare some thoughts and time and have some empathy for everyone around you. Talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.