Donna Guerin

Middle School Teaching and Learning during COVID-19: An Interview with Donna Guerin

Donna Guerin teaches at the Renaissance Secondary School in Castle Rock, CO. A lifelong learner and teacher for 20 years, as well as a United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Global Ambassador, Donna believes in building strong relationships with students and involving them in design thinking and changemaking based on their individual passions and interests. This past year she brought four student groups to Rome for an international youth conference where they presented their work on the SDGs. Donna is also part of a global team of educators working with Innovation Lab Schools that serve students in rural Africa.  

IHE: How are you and your students managing during this pandemic and the challenges of home-learning? 

Donna: My students and I are doing really well. We are connecting on a daily basis and are using these changes in school as an opportunity to do some virtual field trips as well as inviting guest speakers. We have been lucky enough to virtually visit Luvin Arms Sanctuary, a place of refuge for abused and neglected farm animals, and to get to know their residents. Some students also read to the animals via Zoom. We have also had musicians, filmmakers, authors, and other experts from various fields visit our virtual classroom and provide us with an in-depth look at many issues facing the world today. Some of the issues have included pollution in our oceans, poverty, and electronic waste. The students were able to ask questions and dive deeply into the issues they were introduced to by these speakers.


IHE: What were the students’ responses to Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary. How did meeting the animals impact them? 

Donna: The students enjoyed it so much that it has become a weekly trip! Every Friday we have new readers for the animals, and the students have appreciated interacting with both the animals and the staff. My other class, comprised of middle and high schoolers, have also gone on the Luvin Arms compassion tour. The students have been able to learn more about the animals and their journeys to the sanctuary. For example, in learning about the chickens, the students were able to find out about the conditions that egg-laying hens endure, how they are confined in crowded cages, and the toll this takes on them. One of the students decided to adopt six chickens and has built a chicken coop for them to live in. 

IHE: What concerns you most about school closures? What ideas do you have about how we can address them? 

Donna: My biggest concern is around the social-emotional wellbeing of students and maintaining relationships that have been built throughout the year. It is difficult for some educators to stay connected during this time, either due to their own limited knowledge of technology or the availability of technology in their students’ homes. As a society we need to be cognizant of this struggle and provide opportunities for students to connect with their classmates and teachers. This could be through letters in the mail or regular phone calls. 

IHE: Just prior to your school closing, you had started to bring humane education to your students and to teach them how to be solutionaries. What inspired you to do this, and what unfolded in your classroom once you began doing solutionary work? 

Donna: I had the pleasure of being introduced to Zoe Weil through Twitter and had the opportunity to meet with her via Zoom. I introduced my class to IHE’s work by showing them Zoe’s first Tedx Talk. Then she was able to visit my classroom via Zoom to speak with my students. My students were inspired by her words and decided they wanted to pursue projects to become solutionaries themselves. Since we started this solutionary work before the school closures, my students had enough of a background that they have continued their work at home. We are planning a virtual solutionary fair in May during which the students will present their projects.

IHE: That’s wonderful to hear, Donna! When schools reopen, what changes would you like to see in schooling? What potential positive shifts might we make that have been sparked by the pandemic?

Donna: I believe that although this is a difficult time in our history, it will spark a positive change in education. It is making teachers and students around the world aware that we are all connected, and together we can make a difference. I think that it will also allow everyone to see the importance of relationships, and how motivating students to learn means getting to know them and tapping into their passions. I believe (and hope) that the future will bring more connectivity, more critical thinking and problem solving, and more emphasis on student-centered learning.