Teacher Appreciation in the Time of Coronavirus

Teaching is a complex and demanding job under the best of circumstances. Even when teachers are equipped with best-practice teaching strategies and supportive leadership, the wide range of student needs and structural inequities pose consistent challenges.

“While e-learning has always been a backdrop for what we might do in future public schooling, all of a sudden it is front and center in the daily lives of teachers. We know that principals are trying their best to rise to the occasion.” - Matthew Clifford, AIR principal researcher who focuses on education leadership

The coronavirus pandemic and school shutdowns have forced schools to go remote, creating a whole new set of extra difficulties for teachers. In addition to maintaining students’ attention through devices and teaching the planned curriculum, they also have to adopt new technology and tools, accommodate students’ different home environments and varying access to resources, and create a safe and supportive learning environment in spite of widespread uncertainty and fear.

“We see teachers meeting student needs in unprecedented ways,” Lisa Lachlan, an AIR principal researcher who directs projects on educators through AIR’s Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, adds. “Because some students are not joining traditional learning platforms, teachers are quickly meeting students where they are at—learning new technology to connect with students in student-friendly forums—sometimes on social media platforms. The level of flexibility and ingenuity we are seeing from teachers during this time attests to their continued value as an integral pillar in the foundation of our society.”

This Teacher Appreciation Week, we are honored to showcase the ingenuity, creativity, and care that teachers are bringing to their virtual classrooms, and to families and communities, as shared by AIR’s experts.


James Colyott, technical assistance consultant: At one of the pre-k schools where I consult, families really struggled with remote learning concepts. Most of the students, who are between three and five years old, can’t read yet, and their parents are largely low-income and unemployed. The principal encouraged teachers to film themselves reading books together in English and Spanish and send those video links to parents every day, so that students could stay engaged and excited about reading and learning. The staff’s videos will ultimately result in a free digital library for families and other pre-schools to use.

Tad Johnston, senior technical assistance consultant: A Rhode Island high school English teacher produced and posted short videos for his classes to replace in-class lectures on The Great Gatsby, preserving time for student discussion during scheduled class time on Google Meets. This way, students could use the full class time to ask questions, share impressions, and even disagree about the book. During the unit, the teacher collected data on student participation, student perceptions about his videos, and student achievement on quizzes and tests. He will use these data to improve the learning process for the next book and share his findings with fellow teachers.


Cheryl Patterson-Menckowski, senior technical assistance consultant: One school in Illinois realized that kids without devices and internet were relying exclusively on worksheets to help them practice their math skills. The teachers knew how effectively games can motivate kids, so they sent home dice, cards, and instructions for math games that the students could play with their siblings or parents.

Tad Johnston, senior technical assistance consultant: In a Rhode Island high school math class, students are completing assignments using Google Quiz. The application immediately lets students know which answers are incorrect once an assignment is submitted. The teacher has enabled unlimited attempts, so students can act on this feedback to review their work and fix their mistakes, or decide they need extra assistance for that type of equation. Then, students complete an online survey and their responses set the agendas for class discussions during semi-weekly Google Hangout “office hours” sessions.

Social and Emotional Learning

Dawn Dolby, principal technical assistance consultant: An Illinois high school realized that students missed connecting socially with their peers. In addition to scheduling class times, the district reserved meeting times on Fridays for school clubs to meet and opportunities for students to “gather” in more informal and social settings.

In addition, a school district in Michigan has focused on strengthening trauma-informed environments and practices across all of its schools. To continue caring for students’ social and emotional well-being, schools in the district created “caseloads” for each staff member, including paraprofessionals and other district ancillary staff. Staff reach out to their assigned families, ensuring that every family in the district receives a weekly check-in call of support.

Mara Schanfield, senior technical assistance consultant: The teachers of a Minnesota elementary school launched a “T-Shirt Tuesday” virtual campaign, where they wear t-shirts with positive messages on them, like “Be kind,” and “Simply learn.” They send the art teacher photos of themselves in the t-shirts and she creates a montage-style video each week to send out to families. Students have also started to participate, by sending positive chalk messages to create a responding video.

Alicia Espinoza, senior technical assistance consultant: A high school English teacher in Rhode Island is consistently emailing parents of students who came to mind that day or week, to share positive news about what that student had accomplished. Especially at the secondary level, parents tend to hear more about their child’s negative behaviors or performance. Instead, this teacher is sending messages like, “Thank you for everything you’re doing to keep [Student] ready and excited to learn.” Praise and validation for both parents and students can go a long way. Positive communication with parents also helps to build trusting relationships, and research indicates it encourages and motivates student learning.