This is part one of a two-part interview with Mia Young-Adeyeba and Michelle Touceda on the topic of online education during the pandemic.
Mia Young-Adeyeba is a veteran English teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has a passion for helping students develop into lifelong learners and for cultivating collaborative partnerships. In addition to being a high school English teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District, Michelle Touceda is also an Instructional Faculty Lead Mentor for new teachers and a past LAUSD Teacher of the Year.
David Starkey: Mia and Michelle, thanks so much for allowing me the opportunity to talk with the two of you! I read about your work in a Los Angeles Times article about teachers using their ingenuity to help keep their students interested and engaged in online learning. Can you tell me how Distance Learning Educators, the Facebook group you started, came together and what its purpose is?
Mia Young-Adeyeba: It all started in the breakout room of a Zoom meeting. We love to start our story off that way. Because we are both ambitious and always looking for new opportunities to grow as educators, our worlds collided during a district professional development course. We actually met for the first time in person to take the photo for the Times article.
DS: A very appropriate way to begin an online discussion group.
Michelle Touceda: It's true! We kept seeing each other’s names in teacher trainings and serendipitously we ended up in the same breakout room in training for teaching other LAUSD teachers on Zoom. It was Mia that created the FB group. It was less than an hour old when she asked me to join her in running it. I don’t think either of us expected it to grow so large so fast. From the start, our personalities just really clicked and our different skill sets, I think, came together in a way that neither of us expected, but was obviously filling a void. The purpose is to provide access to education experts we may never have encountered without this particular outlet. The fact that I can get advice from an educator halfway around the world in real-time is amazing, and that I am able to implement it immediately is awesome for my students. That I can then do the same for someone else helps with those feelings of isolation.
DS: And I notice that the group is for all educators—not just teachers.
MYA: Teachers, administrators, counselors, superintendents, and even personnel from various departments of education have all joined to build collaborative partnerships and support each other through distance learning. We now have 19 subject-based breakout groups and a dedicated Google Drive. Additionally, many educators have stepped up to help us moderate our groups. It’s been a team effort.
DS: That’s a real wealth of resources. What are some of the online learning strategies that have been discussed in the group that you’ve found most valuable?
MT: What I’ve found the most valuable is the support and network of teachers I’ve come to know and rely upon. While I have taken away great strategies on everything from taking attendance on Zoom, to engaging students, to how to teach a lesson on Of Mice and Men virtually, I’ve also found a resource where if I have a quick question on some digital platform or am in need of a sounding board for a lesson idea, I have this group of educators there to help me navigate through the process. I was already comfortable incorporating different digital tools in my classroom, but teaching remotely was something completely new. This group has helped me and others in the same situation feel like we have the support and tools necessary to build on what we already know and find the right strategies to make that shift from in-person to online.
DS: So, teacher training is a key component of making online education work.
MYA: We both completed LAUSD’s Future Ready program, which highlighted many of the digital instructional tools we would later come to rely on as remote educators such as Nearpod, Flipgrid, and Kahoot. Our group members have helped me understand how to engage students who may choose to keep their cameras off. Some days I facilitate my class with only a Google slideshow and the chatbox and it works! I can check in with my students, I can give them feedback, I can put them into breakout rooms, they can submit videos of themselves, take polls...the methods are endless.
DS: Those sound like strategies you can continue to use when you return to the classroom.
MYA: Absolutely. Another thing I did last week was create a shared Google slide show and asked members of our group to add their favorite TED Talk along with three discussion questions. Now I have a document with 17 Ted Talks that will last me through the end of the school year. Check it out! The collaborative nature of educators in our group has been the key reason I have been able to manage teaching during a pandemic.
[Part 2 of this two-part interview will appear next month.]