Niskayuna school librarian becomes key resource for teachers grappling with online learning

Rosendale Elementary School's Shannon Thompson talks about the change in responsibilities
Shannon Thompson works from her Saratoga Springs home during the COVID-19 pandemic on April 16.
Shannon Thompson works from her Saratoga Springs home during the COVID-19 pandemic on April 16.

NISKAYUNA — Shannon Thompson is a librarian at Rosendale Elementary School in Niskayuna. She said the focus of her work has been to support teachers as they shift instruction to remote teaching, but that she misses face-to-face time with students the most during this time of closed schools. Thompson recently answered questions about what the change has been like.

Q: What was your role in helping transition teachers, students and families to remote teaching and learning?

A: Due to the fact that schools transitioned to virtual learning very quickly, there wasn’t a lot of time to prepare or learn about the different tools that we are using for distance learning. Many teachers were suddenly using tools like Google Meet or Google Classroom without having any prior training with them. As the librarian of Rosendale Elementary, I am in a unique position to provide technology assistance for teachers, and provide them with resources like ebooks and audiobooks that their students can use at home. I have been trying to assist teachers in this transition in any way I can. My role has been to answer their questions about these tools, as well as direct them to resources such as library databases that they can rely on during this time. Every time I get a question from a teacher and I think all teachers might benefit from the answer, I try to create a written or video tutorial to share with our whole school on that topic.

My goal is to make it as easy as possible for my teachers to provide at home learning for our students in a meaningful and fun way.


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Q: What was your work life like in the first week of that transition?

A: I think our first week was relatively quiet. We were able to roll out noninteractive work for students and we weren’t sure how long we would be closed. As it became clear that school closure would be longer, teachers began to reach out to myself and our computer [teaching assistant] for help using tools for virtual learning. By the end of the first week, I was answering concerned phone calls and emails from teachers throughout the day. My new day-to-day routine starts out every morning with answering email questions from teachers. Generally, by 9 a.m. I am in a Google Meet, meeting with faculty, helping teachers explore new technologies or meeting with other librarians to plan library curriculum for the closure. Now that we have settled into distance learning, I have been able to sit in on Google Meet sessions with classroom teachers and be their mystery guest or reader.

Sometimes teachers’ questions are too complicated to explain through email, and I can spend the afternoon working through problems with them on Google Meet or creating instructional videos or documents to share with the Rosnedale faculty.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Q: How has your work changed as you have settled into your new day-to-day routine?

A: In a typical school day, I might spend 70 percent of my time working with students and 30 percent helping teachers. Now that has flipped. I spend much more time helping teachers facilitate their teaching and have a smaller amount of face-to-face time with students.

I am still able to meet with students as a part of their classroom teacher’s group meeting, which has been wonderful. I am also offering an optional book club for students in fourth or fifth grade with plans to expand to other grade levels. Students and parents who have questions [about] accessing materials are able to contact me for help walking them through the features of Google Classroom and more. I may not be getting the face-to-face time with students that I would at school, but I feel that by helping the teachers deliver their instruction, I’m providing a valuable service to our student community.

Q: What do you think are the most important elements of effective remote education?

A: I think that consistency is key for at-home learning. Having a consistent platform for delivery of instruction and learning across the grade levels, as well as having a set schedule of meet-ups and a consistent amount of work per day, is essential to keep kids and families engaged. I also think that flexibility in what our parents and students need is very important. Some students may not be able to make every classroom meet-up or complete every assignment, and that is OK. Finally, I think everyone needs to remember that learning is fun. Having time at home might allow a student to research or tinker with something they are extremely passionate about. That is important learning as well.

Q: What has heartened you most about this experience?

A: Our Rosendale school community was able to collect photos for a virtual school spirit day. As the librarian, I had the opportunity to put together this amazing slideshow of photos. We have had such a great response to our school spirit day. Over 125 photos for the first video. It was amazing to see all of those smiling teacher and kid photos celebrating their Rosendale school spirit. It’s wonderful to see us staying connected even when we can’t be together in person.

Q: What have been the biggest challenges of helping set up an entirely new way of education?

A: There are certain things that are required of school districts by law, and sometimes this means that amazing products that seem like they would be the best way to teach remotely are not available to use. I think this is one of the hardest things for teachers to understand. Not every resource can be used because of requirements outside of the school district’s control.

Q: What do you miss most about in-person education?

A: The students. I miss seeing their smiling faces. Particularly I miss being able to read aloud to them. I have posted read-aloud videos for students to watch, but it is hard to replace face-to-face interaction with asynchronous interactions. I look forward to seeing all their smiling faces when we are back at school.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Q: What have you learned about education during this experience that you hope to keep as part of your practice when we have moved past the pandemic?

A: I feel that I have been able to bring some valuable technology knowledge to my school and I hope to be able to continue as a leader in technology. I think that many teachers will view me as a person they can come to with their technology questions, and that we will be able to work together to use technology in a way that it doesn’t just replace pencil and paper but creates an inquiry learning environment.

Categories: Rising to the Challenge, Saratoga County, Special Sections

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