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Colorado Teachers of the Year offer support during COVID-19

Colorado Teacher of the Year

Clockwise from top left: Sean Wybrant, Christina Randle, Hilary Wimmer and Meg Cypress

Colorado Teachers of the Year offer support during COVID-19

Colorado's current and former Teachers of the Year have advice for their teaching colleagues as they enter this unprecedented change in learning necessary while in-person instruction is suspended in Colorado:

You are not alone, try your best and don't take on too much.

"I would say the most important thing to do is give yourself grace," said 2017's Colorado Teacher of the Year Sean Wybrant. "Give yourself space to learn how to do this."

CDE reached out to the current and former Teachers of the Year who are also gearing up to teach their students remotely.

Hilary Wimmer, 2020 Teacher of the Year

Colorado's current Teacher of the Year Hilary Wimmer, a business teacher at Mountain Range High School in Adams 12 Five Star School District in Thornton, advised teachers to take it one step at a time when teaching their students.

"A lot of people are concerned about getting all of their curriculum done, but I want people to remember we are in crisis," Wimmer said. "You aren't going to be able to deliver 100% of your content. Try to think, what are the most important outcomes that kids need to know when they leave your school. It's more about a life education now. Take those essential things and focus on those."

Additionally, she says it is important to focus on your well-being and the well-being of your students.

"One thing for teachers to remember, give yourself the same care and grace that you give your students," she said. "For many of us, this is going to be like going back to your first year of teaching. Be prepared for that. Give yourself some flexibility. Be willing to learn and change. Be positive. This will be a good change."

She advises teachers to do relaxing exercises, go for a walk, do yoga, practice self-care.

"Just like in any crisis, you want to check in with the kids, make sure each one is OK," she said. "We really need to ground kids. Many are scared. Kids look to their teachers for reassurance. We are reassuring them that everything is OK."

Every year Wimmer teaches a lesson in what would happen to society and the economy if a zombie apocalypse occurred. Students are charged with determining how goods and services would work in the time of such a crisis. Well, here we are, without the zombies.

"I prepare kids, even in the worst moments of crisis, that there are great opportunities to be a great human being and great business leader," she said. "This is where you see the great beauty in human beings. A lot of times in crisis is when innovation occurs. Now, I am having my students look for the shining spots in these scenarios. How can you capitalize them and make the world a better place?"

For example, Ms. Wimmer is spending her spring break sewing facemasks. She plans on sending them to homeless shelters.

"I am focusing on what I can do for others," she said.

Meg Cypress, 2019 Teacher of the Year

Meg Cypress, a fifth-grade teacher at Bradley International School in Denver Public Schools, was the 2019 Teacher of the Year. She has experience working with video in her classroom. Every day she creates video lessons for her students, who watch them from home or in class. Her advice to teachers who are new to creating videos – don't fill up the lesson with too much information.

"My first videos were full of everything I wanted to say on the screen," she said. "The students weren't absorbing what I wanted them to get. They need the most important things only. Don't do too much."

She encourages teachers to go easy on themselves during this tumultuous time.

"Really, understand that you are going to make some mistakes," she said. "You don't need to be perfect. We are all learning as we go. Everyone is doing the best they can. Be patient for the families because this is new for them too. Remember, sometimes computers are going to glitch. That will probably bother you. But you need to just know when to laugh."

Teachers should know they are on a steep learning curve.

"Something will work today may not work tomorrow, but we are going to get through this," she said. "I just want to say, what a great job teachers are doing coming together. Celebrate that. We are all rolling into something new. We need to celebrate each other and say, 'Congratulations on doing a great job.'"

Christina Randle, 2018 Teacher of the Year

Christina Randle, 2018's Teacher of the Year who is a first-grade teacher at Soaring Eagles Elementary School in Harrison School District No. 2, sees the silver lining in the experience.

"If there is such a thing as 'good timing,' I would say this is the best time for something like this to happen," Randle said. "You have given your students three quarters of solid instruction. They are going to be OK; and whenever we get back together, we will meet our students where they are. Right now, let's make sure our students still feel loved and their families still feel supported. The rest will come together. Moreover, I hope everyone remembers that this is not a contest to see who does at-home learning best. It is not about outshining each other. Reach out to your colleagues for help: learn, share, and grow. We are all broken-hearted being away from our students, but I know our broken hearts will continue to lead and do right by students."

Sean Wybrant, 2017 Teacher of the Year

Sean Wybrant is a career and technology teacher at William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs District 11. He is working with other Teachers of the Year from around the nation who are all grappling with the changes from the suspension of in-person learning. They are holding webinars, sharing ideas on online bulletin boards and offering support.

"I would encourage teachers to know, No. 1, that you don't have to have all the answers," Wybrant said. "You don't have to know what this is all going to look like. It's OK to figure this out together. None of us are in this alone. There is lots of support out there. There's never been a better time to get online and fill that need."

Teachers also should let students know their teachers are there for them in this trying time, he said.

"This is a great opportunity for schools and families to come together," he said. "Families don't need packets and packets of school material now. They need to feel loved and feel connected to the school district. Students need to feel they are important human beings and that we care if they are scared and we are giving them supports they need."