Teacher Spotlight: Shante’ Morrison

Shante’ Morrison is a Career and Technical Education Teacher for Grafton. She’s been working at the Richmond campus for almost 9 years, but the events of 2020 forced her to reinvent how she does her job. We spoke to Shante’ about her approach to virtual learning during Covid-19 and what she’s learned along the way.

What made you want to work with children with special needs?

I’ve always had a joy of helping. When I was in college, I initially wanted to work with kids in the criminal justice system. After doing mentoring and working in group homes, I eventually found my way into the mental health field.

What’s your educational background?

I have my bachelor’s degree in Sociology and my master’s in Special Education. I’m also a licensed teacher, and, in the near future, I plan to enroll in a Career and Technical Education program to further my education.

What was your job like before the pandemic?

It was good. In my role as Career and Technical Education Teacher, I did a lot of community work with the students in the program. My role is to help our students gain relevant hands-on work skills and volunteer opportunities that they can use post-graduation. We partner with many businesses locally that allow our students to come in and work. On any given day, we may have visited a local park, museum, department store, or restaurant—any place that welcomed our student volunteers. Unfortunately, all that stopped last March due to Covid-19.

What was the transition to teaching online like?

I had never taught online before the pandemic, and it was definitely challenging at first. As an educator, I always want to make sure I’m reaching the students at their level. When we shifted to online learning, I sometimes had sessions with students at different ability levels. The biggest challenge was differentiating the instruction to connect with everyone to create meaningful learning experiences.

Did Grafton offer any support to help teachers transition to online learning?

They did. The principal and assistant principal understand what we’re doing and have been extremely helpful. They have an open-door policy and are always willing to jump in and help us, whether it’s with materials or communicating with parents. The teachers here are also close-knit, and we help each other when we see a colleague in need.

How have your students reacted to online learning?

Overall, the students have reacted well. I think they’re excited to do the activities and see the familiar faces of their classmates, teachers, and therapists—it reminds them what it was like to be in school before the pandemic. I do my best to make the sessions fun, colorful, and exciting for our students. When the students are engaged and having a good time learning, it makes my teacher heart smile.

Do you have a sense of what online learning has been like for parents?

I also have a son with special needs, so I know from personal experience that virtual learning can be a struggle. I understand how it feels to adjust to these changes, so I try to put myself in the parents’ shoes. It is important for them to feel like their children are being engaged and gaining valuable learning experiences, whether in person or virtual. Some parents just want their kids to see a familiar face throughout the day, and that’s ok too.

What are some of your favorite activities to do in the virtual classroom?

I absolutely love reading to the students. I’m really animated, and you can tell the students are enjoying it, because they’re always engaged and smiling. We also do lessons using a technology called Boom Cards, which allows students to interact using their mouse. I still teach career-oriented lessons as well, which could include watching a video to learn a new job skill or filling out an online application.

How is online learning for Grafton students different from online learning for students who may not have special needs?

It’s different because our students already face their own barriers, even with in-person learning. Students who already have trouble communicating or sitting for long periods now have another barrier, because they can’t see us in person or engage in tactile learning. Instead of focusing solely on learning outcomes, I consider it a success to see my students engaged, happy, smiling, and interacting with each other.