Small Talk at Smallwood Academy: Teacher creates a virtual talk show to engage students
Jo-Anne Broders found a way to keep isolated students connected
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.
"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."
"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."
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.