CCV faculty member Katy Schonbeck was one of the many educators who had to quickly move their classes online this spring due to COVID-19. Amidst the change and uncertainty that came from shifting from on-ground to online, Katy stayed true to her values and teaching style. “My ethos, no matter what I’m doing, has always been to try and build community,” Katy said. Her students helped her do that. “I was in a real panic of how to create a sense of ‘here we are, we’re a group of people.’ I didn’t have a whole lot of faith that Zoom and discussion boards were gonna do it, but what I forgot is that it’s not me making the community, it’s us making the community.”
Katy started as a high school teacher right out of college. She went on to teach in the Upward Bound program, homeschool her son, tutor at CCV-Bennington and work with the Emerging Leaders program, and teach as part of the prison education initiative. She started teaching math at CCV five years ago after using the Bennington center for supplemental instruction for a group of students in her math class at the high school. Katy says that she decided to become a teacher because “it’s creative and it’s with people and you can do something of value to society at the same time.” She currently teaches at both CCV and Bennington High School. “It feels good…It feels like an extension of who I am, not just trying to fill in a gap in my paycheck,” she said of being a CCV faculty member.
For Katy, teaching at CCV is all about the students. As a former full time student, employee, and mother of two she understands the sacrifices her students make to commit to their education. She says that her students are a “real source of inspiration” for her and are her favorite part of being a faculty member. “I feel like it really matters that I’m there. I feel like our students at CCV are so grateful for any support that you offer…it’s very validating to work in a place that you’re so appreciated all the time by your students.”
During Katy’s transition to teaching classes in an online format, she worried about being able to build the same sense of community she was used to in her on-ground classes. So she has developed new approaches that still make this possible. For example, Katy starts with an introductory activity where students find a picture that represents how they are feeling about the class. At the end of the course, they come back to this picture and she asks the students what they would say to their “first week self,” and if they would change their picture. “There’s a sort of beginning, ending, and reflecting along the way, like here’s my online journey,” Katy said. “It seems to create a lot of meaning for students in terms of what I have I done and where have I gone.” She also utilizes discussion board posts, projects, and assigned readings to promote small group work. Additionally, Katy makes sure to balance synchronous and asynchronous meeting times and holds open office hours to stay connected with her students.
Though most colleges around the country have an online learning environment, Katy believes that CCV’s stands out. “I think online classes at CCV differ from other schools’ in the same way that all of our classes differ from other schools’. There’s a real emphasis at CCV on helping the individual succeed. So no matter what, there is going to be somebody, and several somebodies, in your court,” she said. CCV faculty members are trained to pay attention to how engaged students are in their online classes, so that they can recognize a struggling student and point them toward the resources that will help them succeed. “There’s a lot of support and safety nets and mindfulness of making sure that especially beginning students have the support they need to get their feet under them.”
Online classes at CCV are positive educational experiences for both students and faculty. “It’s not secondhand education, this is top notch education that we offer at CCV and that’s pretty amazing,“ Katy reflected. She is able to engage with her students on a daily basis, while also allowing them and herself space and time to understand the topic in a way that fits their learning styles. Katy has also been a student at CCV and taken classes online. “As a student I really liked the flexibility. I liked being able to get up and walk away. I liked being in my own environment when I was learning.”
Katy uses her position as a CCV faculty member to help build thriving communities and urge students to succeed. “It’s a high value of mine to build and participate and maintain community wherever I am, and I feel like we have a real opportunity to do that as a college community within our individual college courses. I feel like it’s definitely my responsibility as an instructor to create the opportunities, but it’s also the responsibility of the students to take those opportunities. Whatever it is you’re doing in a class, I think if we can all remember that at the end of the day it’s really the community that matters, that’s the point.”