Social distancing. Zoom classes. Virtual graduations.
It’s safe to say that 2020 has thrown just about everyone for a loop. Like many educators, Sharon Cutler, a 15-year DECA chapter advisor and teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, has been looking for unique ways to engage her students through distance learning.
Since DECA is co-curricular in Florida, Cutler has been holding two live Zoom classes per week for each class. One of her biggest challenges, like many teachers, is trying to hold students accountable while being flexible at the same time in this new realm of learning.
“I had this epiphany,” said Cutler. “What can I do as a teacher to capitalize on the fact that we’re using online learning and do something I couldn’t normally do in a physical classroom?”
From there, Cutler had an idea to invite guest speakers to her Zoom classes, specifically her finance classes, and combine classes so more students were able to take advantage of the guest speakers. She began with a local attorney to present on estate planning and then invited Yanely Espinal, a YouTube personality and financial educator.
“My students loved it,” said Cutler. “I show some of her videos in class. I had kids say [to me] ‘that was so much fun, thank you!’ It made me wonder who else I could invite.”
From a connection from her neighbor, she ended up scoring Miami Dolphins executive and guest shark on Shark Tank, Matt Higgins.
“He was amazing, and I would have never been able to get this done if we hadn’t been doing distance learning,” said Cutler. “Now that we’ve done this, why can't I use Zoom in the physical classroom when we’re back?”
As a school with a large DECA chapter, online meetings aren’t always an option for the entire group logistically, but Cutler holds officer meetings each week where they plan activities and come up with creative chapter ideas.
For example, the officers wanted to do something for the DECA seniors who are graduating so they organized a parade of cars to drive by each senior’s house where they presented them a DECA graduation stole.
“We’ve had to think outside of the box and get uncomfortable,” said Cutler.
While her chapter recently held virtual officer elections, a whole other challenge on its own, Cutler says the new officer team is meeting weekly to plan ahead for what next year could look like if learning is still virtual.
“Now that we’ve done this for a while and even though we weren’t prepared, it was on-the-job training,” said Cutler. “The experience has given me the training on what worked and what didn’t work.”