Nfld. & Labrador

Small Talk at Smallwood Academy: Teacher creates a virtual talk show to engage students

Gambo educator Jo-Anne Broders developed a way to engage her isolated students. Their talk show has booked guests that include a nurse in a pandemic hot spot, and Health Minister John Haggie.

Jo-Anne Broders found a way to keep isolated students connected

While the classrooms are empty at schools across the province, a teacher at Smallwood Academy in Gambo is taking online learning to a whole new level. She and her Grade 8 students have developed a virtual talk show. (Jo-Anne Broders)

Like many educators in this province, Jo-Anne Broders is grappling with ways to virtually connect with her students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While physical distancing has forced schools to close and lessons to go online, Broders — a teacher and vice-principal at Smallwood Academy in Gambo — knew she needed to do more.

"I think every teacher in the province now is trying to reach out to students in a different way with the online platform," said Broders. "I think everyone's challenging themselves to try and do something creative that students can look forward to."

The idea began as a story reading at the end of each daily lesson with her Grade 8 class. While her students certainly connected with that idea, Broders decided to fully embrace the Google Classroom platform.

It wasn't long before teacher and students decided on a weekly virtual talk show called Small Talk with Smallwood. The show concept was simple: find interesting people with interesting stories and invite them to class.

During the pandemic, Google Classroom is a leading learning tool for students in this province. Jo-Anne Broders uses the platform to connect with students and to produce Small Talk with Smallwood. (Jo-Anne Broders)

"So I asked the students and kind of asked myself too who can we get that would be interesting to students," said Broders. "Minister [John] Haggie has graciously agreed to join us ... I also have a best friend who's a nurse in a New York hospital."

That nurse will bring "a great perspective of what's happening in New York and in the nursing world ... and that's something that students are very interested in."

'They're doing well with it'

Broders admits that producing the weekly show is challenging but the need to keep her students engaged is her motivation. The biggest complaint from students, she adds, is of boredom during isolation. She acknowledges there is a gap left between socializing on platforms like Google Classroom and in-class, in-person connections her students miss.

"It's not the same as connecting in real life but they're doing well with it," said Broders. " As educators we're certainly focused on their social and emotional well-being."

Broders, a teacher and vice-principal at Smallwood Academy, knew the need to connect with her students during isolation was essential. (Jo-Anne Broders)

"We recognize that there are stresses with them staying at home and that's our No. 1 goal to ensure that they are physically, emotionally and mentally well."

Like with any good talk show, the need for good approval ratings is key. Broders says so far the reviews have been glowing.

"So I'm very pleased with reaction from students and I think you know for parents ... they're just pleased to have their students and their children occupied."

While the show is enjoying rave reviews from students and parents, Broders says the show offers more than just entertainment. For students, it's a chance to explore the world outside their "bubbles'" and gain a better understanding of the changing world around them.

"One of the benefits of having visitors come on to Small Talk with Smallwood is that they offer connections between the world that they are living in and that students are living in," said Broders. "Those visitors have different experiences that students like listening to and they certainly learn from that."

The classrooms at Smallwood Academy are empty now. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the school, like all others in the province, to close. Now students and teachers use virtual learning tools. (Jo-Anne Broders)

Broders says she will continue to produce Small Talk with Smallwood as long as her students are isolated. She adds she is always on the lookout for interesting guests.

So far her invitations have been accepted by a school board official and a member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 


Martin Jones co-hosts CBC Newfoundland Morning each weekday from Gander.