Lindsey Shotwell, a special education teacher at Play & Learn Preschool Center in Marana Unified School District, has faced a lot of challenges with teaching her students during the pandemic.
Online learning has prevented the hands-on engagement that many of her students need and she’s had limited opportunities to giving special support and recognitions of kids’ milestones.
Despite the pandemic teaching struggles, Shotwell has adapted by getting packets of hands-on learning materials to children and their families, engaging in interactive games and activities with students, and even transitioning to video storytime.
Shotwell explained that even though virtual learning has created challenges, it has also enriched certain parts of teaching, like the ability to build stronger relationships with her students’ families.
“I can’t rely on just my kiddos to log onto the computer, which is hard, but it had built a huge and powerful rapport between myself and all of our families because we’ve really had to work together to make sure the kids get logged on, that they get to see their friends, that they get to see their teachers, and at least try to keep intact that social emotional learning,” Shotwell said.
Shotwell’s work with both students and families during virtual learning has not gone unrecognized. She’s the first preschool teacher to be awarded a Teacher Excellence Award from Tucson Values Teachers. The award is given to local teachers who demonstrate outstanding leadership, creativity and helpfulness in the classroom.
TVT just recently added pre-K to their mission after mainly focusing on K-12, according to nonprofit CEO Andy Heinemann. Shotwell’s win marks a milestone for not only herself but for TVT and their pursuit of greater support of pre-k teachers in southern Arizona.
“We believe that quality early childhood education is critical to set up a child for success in future schooling so when you have quality preschool teachers and they’re able to be recognized, it sets a tone for the rest of the preschool teachers in the community,” said Heinemann.
Shotwell was nominated for the award by the parent of one of her students, Laura Strickler. In a recent press release, Strickler said Shotwell has “taught me things about my son, and myself, and I am forever grateful to her.”
“She stuck out to us because I attended a meeting and she was sharing all of her challenges—can you imagine teaching special ed preschool kids who are 4 years old on the computer?” said Heinemann. “She’s been doing some very unique things with her kids on the computer and she’s making a difference with these kids and the parent recognized that, and I didn’t even hesitate when her name came across my desk—she was the perfect candidate for the very first pre-k teacher to be recognized.”
Shotwell’s advice to other teachers who may be struggling with virtual schooling during the pandemic: Avoid being self-critical and capitalize on relationships with students’ families.
“The most important thing for us as teachers to remember is to give yourself credit and grace in knowing that you are still working hard and doing the best that you can for our kids and our families, and lean into our families, use them as a resource,” Shotwell said. “The one thing that I’ve learned in my job in general is how important the relationship is with families with young children, and I can’t stress enough how pivotal it’s been to connect with families, have that relationship, and have that spread into how kids are approaching learning.”