Faces of the Pandemic: Teaching teachers how to teach online
Kim Zimmer works to keep Aspen School District classrooms connected
Since the pandemic broke in March, Kim Zimmer’s job has been getting hundreds of Aspen High School teachers and students on the same screen.
“High school is high-stakes time for students,” said Zimmer, Aspen High’s technology integration specialist. She also teaches broadcast journalism. “We have kids that really want to achieve and kids that are in the IB program and students that really have been dedicated to being successful, so I didn’t want us to lapse in the quality of instruction.”
Before the virus jolted the spring semester at schools across the country, remote learning had not been put into practice at the Aspen School District. New to teachers’ professional development was their having to learn fast about online instruction. Students also felt the pressure.
“Going back to March and April and May, it all seems like a blur,” Zimmer said. “We were all trying to survive.”
Zimmer, now in her second year at the high school, had a background suited for challenge. She had worked in educational technology for 16 years. As well, she had experience in broadcast journalism — and already had helped Aspen students launch a news program — so working on deadlines was nothing new.
“I had to step up,” she said. “I knew I had the skill-set and the experience to take on the role and help the high school transition to remote learning.”
Her job also was to arm teachers with the confidence they would get through remote learning in spite of the frustrations and challenges it spawned, whether brought on by technical difficulties — an internet outage, for instance — or deciding whether to use Zoom or Google Meet for online classes.
“We were trying to keep teachers comfortable every step of the way,” she said.
A year-end series by The Aspen Times taking a look at the people behind the masks who helped our community get through 2020. To read more profiles, go to aspentimes.com/faces-of-the-pandemic
Principal Sarah Strassburger said Zimmer has the right makeup for the job.
“Kim Zimmer‘s enthusiasm and tech savvy, not to mention her good sense of humor and approachability, have set the stage for teachers to try new things and to take risks to elevate their craft in this new remote reality of education,” she said. “Everyone has been stepping up and trying new tech tools and Kim is always there to lend a helping hand. We are so fortunate to have her.”
Zimmer said a supportive principal team has been key to her role, as well as other people who work in IT.
Assistant Superintendent Tharyn Mulberry was the high school principal when the pandemic broke out, with Strassburger his lieutenant. Strassburger has since been promoted to principal, while Becky Oliver is the assistant principal at the 500-plus student high school.
“Encouragement from the assistant principal and principal at the time (the spring) was important,” said Zimmer, adding she also had to help teachers keep up their heads.
“I did a lot of talking teachers off the ledge,” she said.
The second half of the spring semester was fully remote for the high school, and Zimmer wanted to begin the summer by building on what had been started in March and April. She held virtual meetings during the summer with teachers, parents and students to help them better grasp remote learning. The participation rate was in the 90% range, she said.
“Instead of using paper planners,” Zimmer said, she introduced students to Rocketbook, a reusable electronic notebook that can upload handwritten notes to places like DropBox or iCloud.
Zimmer has worked from both home and on campus during the pandemic. The high school is scheduled to return to online learning Monday and will likely continue that way through the spring semester.
Younger students — from pre-K through sixth grade — are scheduled to return to school Monday. The fifth- and sixth-graders also are on a cohort system.
Zimmer said she believes the high school is well situated to continue remote learning through the upcoming semester. At this point, consistency is tantamount, she said.
“There is definitely a chance we will be in remote for the rest of the year,“ she said.
Even so, Zimmer said she has missed the face-to-face interactions that come with daily campus life.
“The one thing I’ve noticed is there are still conversations being had,” she said of faculty members. Only now they are wearing masks and practicing other safety measures. “I deeply miss the hallway chats and water-cooler chats where you see a teacher and it reminds you to ask them a question because you saw them.”
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Katie Fox said the work required to earn the certification was equal to that of earning a second master’s degree, all while holding down a full-time teaching position.