During the 2020-21 school year many students were faced with the unfamiliar prospect of remote learning and didn’t know what to expect. Simsbury teacher Agnieszka Petlik had a whole classroom of remote first graders, and their experiences and those of students like them prompted her to write the book Follow Me to Distance Learning.
“I knew that after being online since March 2020, many of the students who did online learning would need a way to help them understand what they went through, and help them transition back into the classroom,” Petlik says. “I was very intentional with my illustrations in the book by having students of all backgrounds and abilities because I wanted every student to be able to relate to at least one of the characters in the story. Equity and inclusion to me means that we meet every student’s needs based on their abilities and support them through not only academics, but also social emotional learning.”
Petlik, who has been teaching for more than eight years, says that Simsbury was fortunate to have a distance learning academy last year, meaning that teachers were able to focus on engaging students either online or in the classroom, not both simultaneously.
“As a teacher, I was faced with figuring out creative ways to teach a curriculum that was made for in person learning. This meant long hours of team planning, collaborating, and making PowerPoints to make sure that learning was equitable, inclusive, and fun,” Petlik says. “Weekly, we brainstormed ideas on how to engage our students. With the help of our administrator and in-person staff we handed out resources so that students could have a balance of online learning and hands-on activities. All the teachers, students, and parents worked tirelessly to promote a positive learning environment during these unprecedented times.”
Petlik is currently working toward her PhD, and her dissertation is on how to better understand the social emotional changes that students went through during the pandemic. She is interviewing teachers in different districts to get a broader perspective to further support student needs.
“I’m very excited to be back in person this fall as I also missed teaching in person and having those social interactions with my students,” she says. “However, I will not forget all the learning I did. I will continue to take this year’s personal growth as an educator and implement my strategies as the new group of students come in. Always, keeping in the back of my mind to address the whole child through inclusive practices while teaching academics and focusing on social emotional learning.”