It all started when a second-grade teacher in North Carolina came up with the kooky idea of putting a sticker on her face every time one of her students came up with a correct answer. The teacher reported she had never seen her students so completely engaged in a virtual math lesson. Her TikTok post went viral, the story was written up in the Washington Post, and next thing you know, a great idea turned into a countrywide craze. Teachers began looking for ways to bring joy to remote learning.
Virtual learning taking a toll
When Becky Knott, a teacher at Mountain View Elementary in Broomfield, Colorado heard about it, she felt inspired to put her own joyful spin on upping engagement. Her school district had gone back to remote learning and she could tell that her students were growing weary. “I’ve never seen so many kids be so weepy, so stressed,” she says. “Their worlds are so heavy right now. They can’t see their friends and many families are struggling.” In the midst of COVID-learning, she wanted to create a happy memory for her students.
Creating an alter ego
That’s when Knott came up with the idea of creating a few alter egos to change things up. She explains: “I told my students, I’m working too hard. I’m going to take Thursdays off and have my relatives come in and help me out.” The first week her “Grandma” showed up, resplendent in a curly grey updo, cat-eye glasses, and pearls.
“The kids loved it!” laughs Knott. “At first they were suspicious, interrogating me, and trying to trip me up.” But Knott was dodgy and stayed in character. Using her best old-lady voice, she reassured her students that learning would continue: “Don’t worry, I taught my granddaughter everything she knows.”
The second week, Knott’s “math genius Uncle Dave” showed up, decked out in a tight turtleneck, chunky gold chain, and a righteous mustache. Again, the kids gave the ‘sub’ rave reviews and participated enthusiastically. Knott plans to continue with her “Thursdays off” after winter break. “I love my students and I am a bit of a rebel. Oddly, having an ‘uncertified teacher’ sub for my classes satisfies both these parts of me.”
Bringing the joy
Known in her community as a kindhearted and generous mentor, no one is surprised that Knott is going the extra mile for her students. She not only teaches elementary students. She also provides respite care two afternoons a week for a former student with Down syndrome. In addition, she is a popular yoga instructor and is pursuing her second master’s degree. “It’s a lot,” she says, “but, for me, it’s a really good balance.”
Coming up after winter break? A long lost cousin (with long silky hair and a Russian fur cap), and a really distant relative (a Conehead). “I love doing little things like this to support my students—whatever it takes to get them engaged and bring them joy,” says Knott. “And the kids have been so excited and silly. It’s really been fun.”
Have you come up with a unique way to engage students and bring the joy during remote teaching? Share in the comments below!
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Plus, check out how school leaders are boosting morale with stickers for teachers.