Teacher Speaker Series: Celebrating Growth Through a Challenging School Year
Danielle Behlmer has been a teacher for 5 years; however, her exposure to education does not start there. Growing up with both parents as educators, her passion for teaching stems from her youth. She loves teaching and loves her school, which she’s worked at since graduating college.
Danielle currently teaches 4th grade, which she feels is her sweet spot. Her own 4th-grade teacher inspired her as well, showing her that teaching and learning could be fun. In fact, she is still in contact with him today!
Experience During the Pandemic Years
Like everyone else, Danielle and her class struggled when COVID-19 hit. With classrooms thrown into virtual environments, much of class time was spent learning to navigate Zoom and Google Classrooms. Both Danielle and her students had to learn how to function in an online environment.
She admits that “It was by far the most difficult thing I think I have ever endured.”
Additionally, learning loss came in entirely new ways. Due to the new environment, students had to learn different skills (such as operating Zoom and etiquette for the virtual classroom) to successfully function. This, unfortunately, led to a loss of many academic skills.
Danielle had to learn how to manage over 25 students online and how to place them into smaller groups. Luckily she was not alone. With a now empty classroom, her teacher friend could set up on the other side of the room.
“I’m so blessed,” she says. “We weren’t lonely, and we could have conversations. Honestly, if I didn’t have that, I think I would have had an entirely different experience.”
With the pandemic slowly ending and many schools returning to in-person learning, teachers are faced with a new set of challenges. Danielle explains how it is normal to see a range of learning levels and styles in students. This year, however, those differences are extensive and not limited to academics.
Danielle explains how some of her students have been virtual for almost two years. Having not been in a physical classroom for so long, “they’re learning again how to ‘school.’”
She is also finding that now, on top of the many academic skills she must catch her students up on, she has to reteach them how to work in a physical school setting.
Danielle admits that “The processes we’ve had to work through are almost more difficult this year than it was last, because [then] everyone was in the same boat—everyone was virtual.” But with many students opting to remain virtual all last year and some choosing in-person learning, “they’re coming in [with] a totally different experience across the board.”
Methods for a Strong Classroom
Danielle shared with us a few of the methods she uses to help her students comfortably readjust to classroom life, helping them succeed.
She says, “My biggest thing in my classroom is we are really just open with each other. I treat my classroom as a relationship. I absolutely have a relationship with each and every one of my students.”
Building trust and relationships with students is a vital aspect of any classroom. Danielle shares her view by saying, “I think if I didn’t have that, I could do every strategy in the book, but it wouldn’t work [without] that relationship.”
In addition to building a solid, trust-filled relationship with her students, she has worked towards consistency. At the beginning of the year, she and her students study contracts and amendments. They then create their own classroom contract, which everybody gets input on, agrees with, and signs:
“With the classroom contract, the kids know what’s expected. This is what it is; there’s no argument; this is what we’ve agreed. That’s been a saving grace because the kids know I respect them; I respect their input. [...] They also see me treating everybody as equal in terms of expectations.”
By building a classroom with clear expectations and guidelines, Danielle Behlmer has provided her students with a safe, consistent environment, enabling the class to essentially run itself.
After implementing Boddle in her classroom, Danielle has found the perfect way to utilize it. She uses Boddle mainly as a supplemental tool and as an activity for early finishers. However, she also loves using it for review purposes.
Through Boddle, Danielle can remotely assign review material, reintroducing and reinforcing concepts the students haven’t discussed for months. She finds the reviews especially helpful for upcoming tests.
She relates how the self-lead aspect combined with Boddle’s review videos allow her to truly focus on the students who need her help on the newer skills:
“I could not ask for anything better. That’s why I love it so much because it helps me, enables me to do my job and to reach the ones who really, really need it.”
Danielle is looking forward to seeing how her students excel throughout the end of the year. She has spent much time with her students, tracking their progress and helping those who’ve fallen under the radar. So, she is excited to see how they’ve grown.
She feels proud of herself and her students for creating a method that works for them all, especially after such a tumultuous two years:
“I’m not afraid to celebrate it!”