May 8, 2020

Remote learning through the eyes of teachers and specialists

By Elizabeth Richards

In RSU14, the staff interacting with children, including classroom teachers; special education teachers; occupational therapists; and speech therapists, have worked hard to find creative, flexible ways to approach remote learning.

Zoom meetings, email, phone calls and online assignments are all part of the comprehensive support
Kristen Inman, Occupational Therapist for
RSU14 tries to accommodate her services
to fit the current family life
that staff has set up. The way teachers and specialists communicate is often based on the needs of the individual student.

Caitlin Plain, a speech language pathologist at Windham Primary School, said she is conducting teletherapy speech sessions, which allows her to work directly with students to target their speech and language goals. She also posts resources on students’ Google Classroom, and communicates with parents via email, she said.

Kristen Inman, a pediatric occupational therapist said she is not doing traditional telehealth services because families are already overbooked. “I am trying to provide OT services in a way that fits into the current family lifestyle by providing activities that meet the needs of the child yet are fun for the child to do or fit into their academics or playtime,” she said.

Inman also has live video chats with the students ed-tech; offers pre-taped videos of individualized OT activities; mails assignments; and checks in by phone. “It really just depends on what works for the family. It makes my day when I hear from my students in whatever form,” Inman said.

Emily Stokes is a sixth grade ELA/Social Studies teacher at Windham Middle School. She has shared the work with others using the same curriculum. “We came up with rotations for planning and creating lessons, in order to keep ourselves in a good place and not overwhelmed. It’s definitely been a team effort.”

They try to keep as connected as they can to their curriculum, but a main goal, she said, is the social and emotional piece for kids.

Remote learning has required many changes, since things like the “Heart of Courage” program that Stokes typically does with her students in the spring to teach them about veterans through classroom activities and community service aren’t possible. 

“It’s something that I’m grappling with because it is something that the kids learn so much from,” Stokes said.  She hopes to set up a schedule of people who can help place flags and clean up the cemeteries. “That’s one small way that we could help out,” she said. Anyone wishing to help can contact Stokes via email (

Teachers in special education are using a variety of methods to connect with their students as well.
Kristina Fitzgerald, who co-teaches seventh and eighth grade classes with a general education teacher meets individually with students who need more accommodations or explanation beyond Google Classroom or Google Meets. For executive functioning skills, she said, she provides websites and links, as well as time with the social worker and herself on Google Meets. “I also have two amazing ed techs who help with student work and follow through for IEP goals or accommodations,” she added. 

Lauren Gale, a special education teacher at Raymond Elementary School, said remote learning was a big adjustment because of how closely she works with kids based on their academic and social/emotional needs. “My first thought was worry and sadness that I wasn’t going to be a consistent person for them anymore,” she said, but has found that families are very responsive to her communication.

All staff know that families and students are doing the best they can. “Right now, my district’s greatest concern is with the emotional well-being of our families and staff. We, as staff, will provide what we can, and families will do what they can. We cannot expect more than that right now.”
There have certainly been challenges with switching to remote learning.

“I am limited by what the family has time for, the resources for, or is capable of,” Inman said. Students in K-2 usually aren’t independent in the use of technology, especially live video chats, she said. Being able to get devices set up so she can see the student’s whole body, and they can see what she is doing, can be difficult and frustrating. Children who have differing abilities have their own unique challenges as well.   

My heart goes out to those families that have three or four kids,” Stokes said. There are also families who need to be at work all day and then come home and help students with schooling, she said, so the key is finding balance without overwhelming anyone.

Gale said that because she’s not the student’s primary teacher, she let them know she was available for support then left it up to them to decide what would work for their situation.

Fitzgerald said the biggest challenge is time. “I work with some students who have difficulty initiating tasks and to not be right there with them to assist with that skill is difficult. I wish I could work with all of them, one on one, every day. I have formed relationships with each of my students, but these are connections you make face to face, not in a virtual world,” she said.

There are some silver linings to remote learning. Inman said she has discovered many new OT activities. “Sometimes you get in a rut of doing the same activities,” she said. “I am sometimes finding new areas that I wasn't aware the child needed help with and new ways to work with or help the child,” she added.

Working closely with parents has been a positive, Plain said. “Parents are able to see strategies used in therapy sessions and carry this over throughout the week with their children at home.”
“I think for some students, this is a great fit,” said Stokes. “A lot of kids get to sleep in and get up and do the work at their own pace.”  Another benefit is that kids are able to get outside more and get more fresh air, she said.

“Overall, it has been pretty positive!” said Plain. “Most students are excited to see you and this platform has resulted in me having to get more creative, which has led to some very fun sessions.”
Though children are struggling with so many things throughout this remote learning, Inman said, “they are slowly adapting and moving forward a little bit more. Each day this becomes their new normal. Kids are pretty cool that way.”

It’s important to be positive and optimistic, and it’s all about the kids,” Gale said. “At the end of the day as long as you’re helping them in any way, even if just saying hello, that’s what most important.”

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