Toni M. Poling

I’m a list person.  I love lists.  Each morning, whether I’m working at school or at home during quarantine, I sit down and make a list of goals to accomplish that day.  There is something so rewarding about crossing something off my list when I finish a task.  As a matter of fact, I’ve been known to write something on the list that I’ve already done just so I can cross it off.  Anyone else do that?  No? Just me then…

To Do list

The first two weeks of remote teaching were some of the most challenging of my career.  I felt like a juggler who was having more and more items thrown at her to keep in the air.  Eventually, something was going to come down.  Then, I saw a post by my wise friend, Wendy Turner, an elementary school teacher, leader in the realm of social-emotional learning, and 2017 Delaware Teacher of the Year (you should definitely check her out on social media!).  Wendy posted a checklist she had designed for herself to use to make sure she was engaging her students.  A list…my love language!  I immediately got to work designing a checklist of my own!

Wendy's check in

In order to fulfill some of the items on my checklist, I have had to learn some technology.  Admittedly, this has not been without its challenges, but the reward has been big!


Mrs. Poling’s Quarantine Engagement Checklist

  1. Did I schedule or create a way for my students to see and/or hear me?
    • A video message or greeting
    • A TEAMS meeting or video chat session

In order to do this, I usually video a message to my kids on my phone and upload it to YouTube.  Since my county doesn’t have an established online learning platform other than LiveGrades, I post the link to the video in a LiveGrades message to the students.  I try to do this at least once a week so they can see and hear me while I give a rundown of the week’s assignments, and just let them know that I’m still here and still thinking of them.  For me, this goes out on Monday.

On Friday of each week, we do a video chat/lesson.  While Teams is the platform that comes with Office 365, I’ve found Zoom to be easier to use, plus I love that we can all see each other during our sessions.  While this was originally designed as a way for me to deliver direct instruction for the upcoming week, it quickly turned in to a platform for the kids to ask questions about anything school related and a place for me to reassure them that everything is fine.  I leave those Friday sessions feeling better, and I hope they do, too.

  1. Did I reach out personally to students who have not engaged with me?
  • An individualized video message
  • Reach out on social media
  • A postcard, letter, or note mailed home
  • A phone call


  1. Have I considered the reasons a student may not have engaged with me?
  • Some students are nervous or anxious
  • Some students don’t want to be on video in front of their peers

Reaching students who have not engaged with me is probably the most challenging and time-consuming part of my week.  Phone calls go unanswered, LiveGrades message are not returned, and social media is touch-and-go.  Instead, I’ve been mailing notes home.  I’ve set a goal for myself to write each kid a note by the end of the year.  It’s a lot, to be sure, but getting cards and notes during this quarantine has made me smile; I want to do that for them, too.  In these super stressful times, it can be easy to make a judgment as to why students aren’t engaging, but the truth is that I don’t know what’s happening in their homes or in their lives.  All I know for sure is that they all need to know I’m still here and I still care.

  1. Have I made space for reflection?
  • A journal entry or prompt
  • A free-write
  • A metaphor check-in
  • Google or Microsoft Form check-in

During the past 54 days, I’ve given a lot of thought to the type of assignments I want my students to do.  The one assignment that has remained truly consistent from our time physically in school through distance learning are reflections.  I want my students to think about their learning and how it, and they, have changed.  My students have written journal entries and free-writes.  I’ve done Google Form check-ins.  The students have enjoyed these, and they have quickly helped me gauge the amount of time students are spending on their schoolwork, how well supported they feel, and what assistance they need.

We’ve also continued to do our metaphor check-ins, a favorite for my kids.  A metaphor check-in is just a fun and quick way for me to check on my students’ social and emotional wellbeing.  In the classroom, we do them a couple of times each week.  During distance learning, we’ve done them via Teams, LiveGrades, and as part of our video chats.  I simply pick a random category (a piece of furniture, a song lyric, a piece of art, a movie title, a color, etc.) and I ask students to use it as a metaphor for their emotional space.  For example, with furniture, I might get responses like “I am a bright lamp” or “I am an unmade bed.” I don’t require that students elaborate beyond the metaphor and it only takes a minute or two, but it gives me a lot of insight to how they are feeling at that moment.

  1. Have I provided meaningful feedback in lieu of a grade?
  • Written comments
  • Voice memos

The final item on my checklist has been about feedback versus grading.  During this time, I don’t think its a “grade” that students need from me, but they do need feedback on their wok and their learning.  I have, of course, done my standard written comments on their work, which is actually easier when I can use the ‘insert comment’ feature on Word or Google Docs, but I’ve also been using voice memos.

I’ve been using the voice memo app on my laptop to record me talking through the assignment, just as I would if I was working with a student at his or her desk.  The voice memos offer one more chance for students to hear me, but it also offers an opportunity for me to talk through my comments.  It’s not the human connection the kids and I are used to, but it’s the closest substitute I have at the moment.

For those that are interested, you can access a copy of my Quarantine Engagement Checklist here.  Friends, this has been a game changer for me.  It has provided a clarity to my lesson planning and delivery, and it helps me to know I’m doing everything I can for my kids, even when I can’t be with them every day.


WVCTE want to know how you are engaging your students through distance learning?


Toni M. Poling is an award-winning, National Board Certified English teacher in Marion County.  For the past 16 years, Mrs. Poling has worked diligently with both student and teachers to improve English Language Arts instruction.  Mrs. Poling is the 2017 WV Teacher of the Year.



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