The 2020 school year was like no other, proving that no matter the challenges and obstacles, teachers will do whatever it takes to engage their students in learning. As the COVID-19 crisis turned kitchen tables and living rooms into classrooms overnight — teachers, students, and families grappled with the challenges of remote learning. In the process, educators learned more about what works and what doesn’t for students. Everything needed to be rethought, as Ridgefield, New Jersey middle school math teacher Jamie Rifkowitz attests.

“When the pandemic first hit, I, as many other teachers in the country, had to change my approach in every aspect of education,” Jamie reflects. “I have always been a firm believer in building relationships with students and their parents. However, the pandemic taught me that while I had the means to reach all students, I had to be creative in how and when I could do so.”

Jamie is a Google Certified Educator and a Google Certified Trainer. Her remote teaching strategy used online tools to plan and schedule student assignments (and if needed, alternate assignments) on a more flexible timeline, “to meet students where they were and when they could complete their assignments.” She kept regular online office hours to keep the personal connection alive. “Students needing extra assistance were provided with exactly what they needed just as if we were in the classroom,” she says. Jamie and a fellow math teacher, Jackie Vitagliano     even made fun-themed videos, such as “Pajama Day” or “Crazy Hair Day,” to draw students into their remote lessons. Notes Jamie, “That meant finding a creative way to have them open their computer each and every day, and it worked!”

Mickie Mueller, an EdTech facilitator in Norfolk, Nebraska, agrees that keeping teacher-student communications flowing was critical during remote learning. “We learned that some students really thrived in an online environment,” says Mickie, a Google for Education Certified Trainer. “Teachers heard more from some students online than they ever did in the physical classroom. Using the chat function or creating discussion questions really gave teachers a new window into what students were thinking. I believe that teachers will find a way to use online discussions in face-to-face classrooms going forward because they found it so helpful in a remote environment.”

The Anywhere School: Transforming the Future of Education

These are just a few examples of how educators adapted their teaching style during the pandemic — discovering new ways to engage students and make learning more inclusive and exciting, inside and outside the physical classroom. School can now happen anywhere, with the right tools in place to support administrators, teachers, students, and families.

Teacher Jamie Rifkowitz, who starts a new job as District Technology Facilitator in Kenilworth, NJ, this fall, sums it up best: “There is no doubt that there are pieces of teaching in a pandemic that we would like to leave behind. However, there are many positive shifts in education that we have been able to see as well. My colleagues and other district stakeholders have come to realize that leveraging technology to help best support our students’ needs is something that will continue.” Jamie is excited about what’s to come: “Technology has shaped the last year of everyone’s life. In the future, technology will allow us to personalize learning, target specific skills, and allow each student to reach his or her greatest potential.”

Like the teachers featured here, YOU are a part of the future of education!

On June 22-23,  Google hosted the The Anywhere School 2021, a free, global virtual event to discuss what we’ve learned, and to provide education leaders, IT administrators, and teachers product updates and tools to prepare for – and rebuild – the future of learning. If you missed it, you can watch on demand right here.