By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Lynette Stant never expected her reign as Arizona Teacher of the Year to unfold like this.
Speaking events were called off because of the pandemic, “and every time I received a cancellation it was heartbreaking for me,” said the Grand Canyon University alumna, who in October became Arizona Education Foundation’s first Native American woman to be given the honor.
But she quickly found her voice in online sessions for educators, including a guest spot in April on GCU’s Canyon Professional Development weekly YouTube webinar that helped teachers adjust to virtual classrooms.
Stant provided a unique perspective on the discussion – “Bringing Equity to Emergency Remote Learning through a Cultural Lens” — that may continue to be important as an uncertain school year looms in the fall.
“When the pandemic hit, we were all blindsided what to do next and many picked up by jumping to online learning, which was great,” Stant said. “But for Native Americans who live on a reservation, it was a whole lot different. We had to address connectivity issues and if they had devices.”
It’s not just an issue for indigenous students but for many in lower socioeconomic households. During the webinar by Canyon Professional Development, an arm of GCU’s K12 Educational Development, participants were asked how many had students in their classes who missed educational opportunities because of equity issues. Nearly 50% of 28 who responded said they did.
“When we moved to that online platform, we’re really teaching to privilege,” Stant said.
What can be done?
“That’s the million-dollar question. What is amazing about teachers is we are connected to the communities we teach in, so we are able to come up with plans that really encompass the community values and what they have available, and we are using that in our teaching.”
Stant grew up on the Navajo Nation and remembered how engaged her mother was with her during daily tasks, doing chores or making tortillas.
“I didn’t realize it, but she was teaching me math concepts,” she said.
To overcome potential equity issues, her third-grade students from Salt River Elementary School, whose curriculum honors the O’Odham and Piipaash cultures, were given learning packets that she printed and mailed to each student for remote learning, employing some of those same tactics from her own life.
“Teaching fractions from a packet provides some challenges, so we had to ask what kids are doing at home,” she said. “One of those things we knew happens in every home here — they are cooking tortillas, so we used that to introduce fractions.”
Others were beginning planting season, so a teaching platform in science could be incorporated. In northern Arizona, where there are more livestock, activities could include matching tags on cattle, for example.
It was all about “honoring where we are.”
“What I wanted people to walk away with is for teachers to really get the idea to know the community in which they teach and use that to their benefit,” said Stant, who earned her Master of Arts in Teaching from GCU in 2006.
She said that teachers learned a lot from what she called the “first round.” While hoping there isn’t a second, it’s important to plan for it by focusing on identifying standards in distance learning and how to achieve them.
“I will be honest, it fizzled out in mid-April, and we were hearing less and less from families, which leads us to wonder how we can do better, what we can learn to rev up parent involvement,” she said.
“As a teacher it was draining, with four or five Zoom meetings in a day. And I’m an adult. Imagine as a student having to be online that long with parents not working and at home, sharing a laptop, or they might not even have one to share.”
Yet the Teacher of the Year was heartened to hear the stories of teachers persevering during her conferences with them online.
“The common thing I’ve heard through all the platforms I’ve been on is that teachers are really trying their best and want to do what is best for students,” she said.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 602-639-6764.
UPCOMING WEBINARS: Canyon Professional Development has moved to monthly webinars for the summer. Upcoming sessions include “Summer STEM Activities” on June 10 and “Problem Based Learning” on July 8.