Thriving Online

By Chrissy Roe, 2020 AWLA Teacher of the Year

We as teachers have recently found ourselves in the new world of online education. Day by day we are surviving but surviving is not our goal. Our goal is to help our students thrive. 

As a Spanish teacher, I have taught virtual classes for about 10 years and have learned a few tricks along the way. For my virtual students, nothing has changed but this is not the case for my traditional students. They are accustomed to the unspoken help we offer daily.  These students rely on me to read their thoughts and restate something when I see a confused glance. They know that I will rescue them by quietly pointing to key vocab when they can’t think of what to say. They appreciate that I anticipate their questions and they find comfort in my circling the room, offering guidance as they work. Here are a few tips to ensure we offer the same inviting environment while in the virtual world. 

  • Find your routine. Students are looking for structure in today’s chaos.  Be consistent each week with the organization of your presentations and how students turn in work.  Like the start of the school year, it takes about 3 weeks for students to accept your new routine. Once they learn your pattern, it will be easier to take risks and tackle advanced tasks.
  • Remember their faces.  Convert speaking assignments to video assignments. In the virtual world it is easy to lose the compassion you feel when you see students struggle in the classroom. Seeing their faces, rather than just avatars and files will help you stay focused on your students as individuals. If you are unable to meet face to face online, include your own instructional videos so students are constantly reminded that you are human too.
  • Focus on quality over quantity.  Teaching online can quickly become a 24 hour job. Instead of grading lots of single assignments, focus on one key production activity each week. Be thorough in your feedback of this assignment while individualizing comments. Students will appreciate one in depth, personalized conversation over multiple impersonal statements.
  • Keep faith in your students  It is very easy for students to rely on translators in the virtual world and even easier for teachers to get frustrated with such work. Make your job easier by adding one requirement to all assignments: state that all work must exhibit mastery of the current topic/topics covered in class. If you find something questionable simply tell your student that you can’t award points for work that doesn’t show off the skills covered in class. Ask them go back and incorporate specific skills from your current unit.  This avoids confrontation while maintaining respect and high expectations between you and your students.


Hopefully these tips will help you fine tune what you are already doing in your new classroom so that you and your students can finish the year thriving rather than just surviving.


Rising to Meet the Challenges of Distance Learning

By Elena Kamenetzky, 2020 SCOLT Teacher of the Year

In my Japanese classes, when I need to call on a student, I always make a show of utilizing what I call The Hand of Fate: a fistful of identical round wooden chopsticks, each with a student’s name written on it. I always make sure to dramatically look away from The Hand of Fate while I grasp for and then pull out a single chopstick. This is so that the students can never claim that I biasing the process in any way. The Hand of Fate is truly random, but also inescapable. I only use it for situations when I am calling on students to use language which we have already practiced, to respond to prompts or questions for which there is no wrong answer, and always with the understanding that if they need help saying something they can absolutely ask me for help right there on the spot with no penalty.

The only thing that is verboten when I use the Hand of Fate is if a student refuses to respond at all. When that happens, I try to lighten the mood by extremely over dramatically quoting a (slightly modified) line from the film Princess Mononoke:

Darenimo unmei wa kaerarenai daga, mizukara omomuku kadouka wa kimeraru.

“You cannot change your fate, but you can rise to meet it.”

The word fate gets thrown around a lot in my classes. The Hand of Fate and the accompanying quote from Princess Mononoke were things that I started doing as a way to hold my students accountable while also appealing to their silly “nerd” sensibilities.. But fate has since become somewhat of a meme in my classes. The students will jokingly debate about which of them is favored by fate (definitely NOT the student who was called on to answer the warmup two days in a row). The students also love to laugh at me when The Hand of Fate blows up in my face. Sometimes I use the chopsticks to pick conversation partners, and sometimes the two students whom I usually have to separate because of their incessant talking end up paired together. “Unmei wa kaerarenai,” I will sigh dramatically while the students laugh. You cannot fight the forces of fate, especially when two students are apparently destined to talk to each other.

I’ve been thinking about that quote a lot during the past few weeks. I am no longer in my classroom. I no longer get to see my students every day. I can do my part to support my students, to support my community, and to try to be one less link in the epidemic chain. But there is only so much that one individual can do. If given a choice between continuing online learning or being back in the classroom, I can tell you emphatically that I would rather be back in the classroom. But whenever I get overwhelmed with confusion about new district policies or frustration with the limitations of technology, I have to take a deep breath and tell myself the same thing that I’ve been telling my students for years: You cannot change your fate, but you can rise to meet it.

Online learning has forced me to scrap many of my favorite activities and assessments, and come up with wholly new ways to teach and evaluate standards that I have also been forced to radically re-prioritize. When you cannot change your fate, you can rise to meet it. Online learning has forced me to put myself “in my student’s shoes” moreso than ever before, not just in terms of anticipating problems they will have with new technologies, but in terms of

understanding that many of them are scared and grieving, and that while they may welcome the social connection of online classes they may also not be in the right frame of mind to learn new content. When you cannot change your fate, you can rise to meet it. What I CAN do to rise to meet my fate is to be supportive, to be understanding, and to dedicate my time to helping students who need even more personalized attention than before. What I CAN do is be willing to adjust my standards and expectations as the learning environment changes from week to week. What I CAN do is to laugh at my frustrations instead of stew about them. What I CAN do is model patience, positive attitude, and compassion as I interact with my students, in whatever form those interactions may take.

None of usnot teachers, not students, not parents – none of us chose these circumstances. These are challenges that we did not ask for. But we can still all do our part to rise up and meet those challenges.

How Do You Find Your Voice?

How Do You Find Your Voice?

The Journey To Find My Voice

By: Heidi Trude, French Teacher at Skyline High School in Front Royal , VA and  FLAVA Teacher of the Year, SCOLT Teacher of the Year


When I was a student at Liberty High School in Bealeton, Virginia, I was a very quiet and reserved student. I excelled in my classes, but only spoke in classes when I needed to. I was afraid that what I would I say would be wrong and not valued by my classmates. This fear of speaking continued all through high school, but I knew that deep down inside of me, there was a voice that needed some nurturing.

In the fall of 2003, I entered Sweet Briar College, a small private liberal arts college for women, located near Lynchburg, Virginia. At Sweet Briar, my professors started to nurture my voice. By the end of my first year, I was not only starting to speak up in my classes, but I was also taking on leadership roles within clubs. My voice was starting to grow and little by little, I was developing more self-confidence. My French and History professors continued to challenge and push me through my remaining time at Sweet Briar. Who would have thought that the shy and quiet student who entered Sweet Briar back in 2003 was now the president of several clubs, serving as the French and History department tutor, and working as an Admissions tour guide? It was because of the constant support of my professors that I was able to blossom and come out of my shell. At Sweet Briar, I truly found myself and my voice. I was encouraged to share my thoughts and opinions. At Sweet Briar, I had the chance to think about who I was as an individual and who I wanted to become. Having that supportive environment not only helped me to find my voice, but also to develop as a leader.  While my voice was not completely developed at that point, I at least had a start and knew who I could become.

As I started teaching at Skyline High School in Front Royal, VA in 2008, I continued to focus on finding my voice and developing as a teacher. When you start out teaching, it is overwhelming and even scary at times. There were days when I would revert back to that shy and quiet person that I once was. However, I realized that in order to make a difference in my classroom, my community, and in the field of education, I needed to continue to develop my voice. It was then that I got the courage to start presenting at conferences and telling my story.

The first time I presented at FLAVA, I was so nervous. The morning of my presentation, the sound on my computer decided to malfunction and that caused my nerves to increase even more. I then wondered if anyone would even attend my session. To my surprise, the room was packed. Other teachers actually wanted to hear what I had to say. There was a brief moment where I thought I was dreaming and wanted to run, but then I realized that my voice is important and these teachers were here because they wanted to learn about global connections. I survived the presentation and realized that my voice could be used to inspire others. From that moment on, I realized that I needed to keep sharing my voice.

Things took a dramatic change on September 13, 2016, when I learned that I was named the 2017 Virginia Region IV Teacher of the Year. This was a huge honor in and of itself and with the honor came the opportunity to speak at conferences throughout the state, as well as with Virginia legislators. I could no longer be the reserved young lady that I used to be, instead I was now a strong and confident young woman with a message to share. My voice was being used to advocate for teachers across Virginia, as well as being used to inspire teachers across the state. I now realized that my voice was powerful – I could inspire others, advocate for educational policies, and could help teachers and students to find their voice.

The last two years have been such a blessing for me being both the Virginia Region IV Teacher of the Year and the FLAVA Foreign Language Teacher of Year. I have had the chance to share my voice and story with so many educators, and also be inspired by their stories. The small voice that was deep within me had finally blossomed into a vibrant flower. Finding my voice was indeed a journey, but it was a journey that I do not regret.

In the film, The Dead Poets Society, Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) states, “Strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all”. Today I challenge each of you to find your voice and to encourage your students to find their voice. If we do not use our voices to tell our stories, advocate, or inspire others, who will? Your voice and your students’ voices are powerful and deserve to be heard.


Voices of SCOLT

Voices of SCOLT

SCOLT is pleased to introduce a new blog for its members.  Welcome to The Voices of SCOLT. This monthly installment will highlight posts from the region’s Teachers of the Year, scholarship winners, and other SCOLT sponsors and patrons as they share their respective journeys.  Get inspired, learn strategies, and become part of a collective voice.

All The Levels

by Carmen Scoggins

A teacher’s life is full of levels.  Levels of joy, frustration, exhaustion, student-ability levels, levels of languages, proficiency levels, levels of wine :), and on and on and on.  Keeping up with all the levels of elements of our lives can be challenging, but when we use the levels to move us forward, levels become our salvation.

I started teaching elementary and middle school Spanish twenty-four years ago.  I did that for nine years and then moved over to our local high school where I have been for the last fifteen years.  I also started teaching Spanish and methods at Appalachian State University fifteen years ago. So, needless to say, there have been many levels in my teaching career!  In my experience with all these different levels, I have come to a few conclusions:

  • Planning is key no matter the level!
  • Students are basically the same.  They have individual needs and want to be cared about.
  • Teachers must connect with other teachers.  No one needs to go through this journey alone.
  • Maintaining personal balance is a MUST!

Level 1: Foundation – Get it together

Planning is the basis of all that we do in the classroom.  It sets our students up for authentic experiences, opportunities for collaboration, and the hope of creating lifelong language learners.  Think about what you are already doing in your classrooms to help your students be successful. Do you plan for the varying student levels in one class?  How do you support students at their current level? How do you challenge students who are ready to level up? Planning takes lots of time and energy, but having a good plan for a unit, lesson, or activity can make or break how our students learn.  I always rely on backward design so that my students and I have a destination in mind before we head down the path. Maybe you use the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-do Statements as a road map or perhaps you have created your own “I can” statements.  Whatever you use, make it accessible to students and be ready to provide lots of roadside assistance!  Do you have one lesson that you absolutely love to teach? Why is that? What makes it hold such a prominent place in your planbook?  How often do you let yourself experience a lesson plan makeover? Keep the things that worked; drop what is out of date or unsuccessful; reflect on how you can make a lesson better; rework old and tired ideas.  It might not be like winning a fashion makeover on the Oprah show, but I promise you that you will feel more alive and in style if you give yourself a personal lesson plan makeover.

Level 2: Scaffolding – Personalize it

Our students need us – on so many levels!  In today’s world our students should feel safe and empowered to learn.  They need to know we care about them so that they will trust us and what we are are teaching them.  How does this look in your classroom? I want to establish a comfortable environment where mistakes are welcome and laughs and smiles dominate the space.  My students and I cheer together and we cry together. We support each other and share experiences that connect us.

As teachers we must create a level playing field with multiple paths to be successful.  In my classroom I expand learning opportunities for my students by offering them choices.  They get to demonstrate how they want to showcase what they know, are able to do, and understand.  They choose activities they want to work on which puts them in the driver’s seat. All high school students look forward to the day when they can drive, so capitalize on that idea in the experiences you offer them.  I evaluate my students frequently and make them think about what and how they are learning.  I conference one on one with each student which shows them that I care about them as an individual and how they can contribute to the bigger picture.  I encourage my students to reflect on where they are and offer suggestions to help them along their path.

Then I elevate my students to build up their courage and to sustain the ties we have created.  My students help each other through challenging tasks, work on projects they care about, and reflect together.  We celebrate everything in my classroom! Just show the students that you are human and smile all the time! It’s truly all about attitude!  Expanding, evaluating, and elevating my students leads to the best “E” – empowerment! I empower my students to take ownership of their own learning, to be confident in their abilities and to become lifelong language learners.  By teaching a language we have an awesome opportunity to create empathetic and global contributors to our future.

Level 3: Connections – Ties that bind

Teachers need each other!  Very often we have to fight to keep our programs alive, to be treated as an equal to STEM, and even to have the supplies we need for our students.  And how does all this happen? We do it together! We follow each other’s blog posts, get inspired through tweets, and attend conferences to learn together (and maybe to feel like a human being again!)  You are part of something bigger and you need your village around you at all times. Being a part of SCOLT, ACTFL, and state organizations is a fabulous way to remember that you are not alone. We are all at different levels in our careers, but whether we are a beginning teacher or a veteran, we MUST support each other and stay strong together.  And world language teachers are a different breed! Maybe it’s because we come from diverse backgrounds and countries and we have a broader view of the world. Maybe it’s because we get to talk about people and connections and culture everyday. Whatever the reason, we all seem to have an infectious energy about us which transfers to our classrooms.  There is no doubt that the world language hall at my school is bouncing everyday! As world language teachers we offer a certain level of life to our students because what we teach is all about life. Remember how important YOU are to establishing this life, this culture for our students. Keep learning, listening, and leveling up! Stay connected, present at conferences, and be open to learn from each other.  Teachers need each other!

Level 4: It’s personal – Gut check

Alright.  Now it’s time to get serious.  It’s time to look in the mirror.  What do you see? Who do you see? I see someone who is optimistic, caring, creative, and really short!  I see someone who loves to smile, adores learning new things, and is passionate about giving back. But the levels of what I see change everyday.  What I have to remind myself is that I need to take care of me. First. And foremost. I cannot be anything to my students if I am not taking care of myself.  There’s a reason we put our oxygen masks on first before helping others. We have to be good to ourselves! On every level! How do you put good into your day? Maybe you spend time with your family, take a walk, read for an hour, exercise until you feel strong, sit at a cafe with friends, or just sit quietly on a mat and breathe.  It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do YOU! Find the right level of joy and happiness in your life so that you are powerful enough when the levels drop a little. Make time for yourself – time to reflect, time to be grateful, and time to rest. As amazing as teaching is, it can be equally draining, so create a work/life level that puts you first.

Always go back to the modes

A teacher’s life is full of levels.  Workload,s emotions, connections. All kinds of levels.  So when you feel overwhelmed, want to get back on track, or need to feel level, just remember to always go back to the modes:

  • Interpretive mode – Listen to others; listen to your students; listen to yourself
  • Interpersonal mode – Create a dialogue with students; discuss strategies and ideas with anyone who will listen; share ideas with others
  • Presentational mode – Use backward design to plan your lessons and units; be yourself; be prepared for anything!

And remember these words from a wise person, “Life is short. Take the trip. Buy the shoes. Eat the cake!”  Love all your levels!