The Canton Charge, powered by the Cleveland Cavaliers, are excited to announce this year’s first winner of the Most Valuable Teacher of the Month presented by WGU Ohio is Rebecca Blackford from Sandy Valley Elementary School.
Mrs. Blackford is a 5th grade teacher and is an unsung hero for kids, peers, and the community every day. There is rarely an activity or event she doesn’t volunteer for and she does it without seeking affirmation. She is involved with Girls on the Run, as well as acting as a piano instructor and accompaniment for the middle and high school choirs.
Following the announcement, Mrs. Blackford took a moment to reflect on what she enjoys about teaching and how the pandemic has just continued to help her grow.
- How have you been adapting to teaching in a new way during these times and continuing to connect with the students?
Although it was a bit stressful last spring when the changes all happened very quickly, in many ways, this has been a good challenge for me. I am a little over halfway through my teaching career at this point, and it is easy to fall into a rut of only using the programs that I know work, but going remote last spring forced me to keep trying new things. The focus last spring, in addition to continuing to teach academics, was making sure that everyone was doing ok emotionally and could in some way still connect with their friends. When I assigned my first video in Flipgrid, I had the students just do a check-in video. They could put forth whatever message they wanted to their friends in the class. I recorded my own video, which is not my favorite thing to do, and reassured them that even if they were not overly comfortable with trying it, that we were all learning together. During that time I also tried new-to-me programs that encouraged students to hold discussions virtually regarding topics from our reading.
This year my team and I have continued to stretch ourselves to use technology that will be helpful when/if we go remote again. We have designed lessons that allow us to find out the students’ comfort levels with the technology so that we can make sure they are confident and comfortable if the need arises to use it. We have taught them how to send an email to their teachers and have used Google Classroom for assignments on a weekly basis.
- What has been the most meaningful moment in your teaching career?
It is really hard to pick just one moment! I have taught a variety of grades over the years and since I do accompanying for the Middle and High School choirs, I am able to see former students from time to time. One moment that sticks out is when I was in the Performing Arts Hall waiting for the concert to start when a former student came up and sat beside me for a moment. We chatted for a little bit and I asked him how he was doing that year. He had experienced several struggles beyond the classroom the year that I had him, and I was hoping that he was having a better year. He told me that he was working hard and had worked through some of the anger that he had had earlier. He said that he was working hard to do a good job now. I was really happy to hear that, as I had tried to have heart-to-heart conversations with him the year I had him, but wasn’t sure that they made any difference.
- What is something you look forward to doing with your students every year?
I love getting to know each and every student and the unique personalities and perspectives that they bring to the class. Each year is different and some years are easier than others, but making connections with students is something that I work hard to do. I try to build community in my classroom every year and help them work towards thinking of the class as their extended family. Children at this age are naturally still egocentric to an extent, but it’s really cool to see them learn to think of others and accept others who are different. In many ways we, as adults, need to learn these lessons too!
- What is a way that has stood out in which you were supported or learned from your fellow teachers and how important is that support system especially in these times?
I have been blessed to teach at Sandy Valley for my entire career, including my student teaching! I have loved working with different teaching teams throughout the years. Many, many people have helped to guide and shape me in my early teaching years. The team that I am working with right now has been together for five years. I have learned so much from them about new technology tools, ways of leading and strategies for working through challenging times. We make decisions as a team and encourage everyone to feel comfortable with sharing their opinion. Not everything is easy, but we support each other well. It is so important in these times to make sure that we are working for the greater good rather than feel competitive about test scores, class scores, etc. Sandy Valley has been a wonderfully nurturing place filled with teachers and administrators who genuinely care about our students. I am so happy to have my place in the Sandy Valley teaching family!