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Teachers Are Heroes: SFM's Michelle Wilson thinks outside the box with virtual learning

Published on Monday, April 5, 2021

michelle wilson

Outside of Michelle Wilson’s classroom door is a sign that reads “Enter if you dare, there’s cameras everywhere.”

The sign does not lie – there really are cameras everywhere.

She currently has a unique setup inside the room. Instead of turning the lights, the room is filled with a soft glow from a strand of string lights. Most of the desks have been stacked onto one side of the room, but perched in the center of the class is a leather accent bench. Directly across from the bench is a teacher’s desk, accented with a couple of globes and a bulletin board.

Near the classroom door is a yoga mat where Wilson’s students recently challenged her to do a headstand (and she did).

The ongoing pandemic has challenged teachers to think outside the box when it comes to teaching, but Wilson, who teaches seventh-grade world history at Sedgefield Middle, has found a way to make the best of a tough situation and keep her virtual students engaged.

Basically, Wilson has a few “stations” in her class: she is either lecturing her students on camera while looking all comfy on the bench; doing her best to lead a quick yoga session on the mat from another camera; or sitting at her desk during independent learning – all on camera.

Wilson came to Sedgefield Middle in January of last year. Teaching is career change for her; she initially coached college soccer – her most recent coaching position was at the College of Charleston. She is still active in coaching club soccer with the Charleston Soccer Club.

The career change is a result of Wilson just wanting to do something that involved working more with youth. Her club soccer children are between the ages of 10 and 14.

“When I was thinking about career changing, I really liked that age group in teaching,” she said, adding, “The connection you make with youth was important to me. I found it rewarding so I just wanted to continue to do that.”

She studied psychology at Converse College, where she also played soccer. She has a master’s degree in sports management through Liberty University, as well as a master’s degree in teaching from The Citadel.

Her first full year at Sedgefield Middle has been an interesting one with the pandemic – this semester all of her students are learning virtually.

Wilson built the stations in her class as a way to benefit her online students as well as herself. Having all the cameras turned on enables her to move about the classroom while she is teaching.

“Sitting in front of a screen all day is not my forte,” she said, adding she would feel that same way if she was teaching face to face. “I was just trying to think of ways of how I could move.”

Wilson also wanted to find a way to keep her students from getting distracted while they work from home, so she started the stations to make it more interesting.

Wilson misses the face-to-face interaction, and said it was a hard adjustment – “but…throughout the school year we had to be open-minded.” The open-mindedness led to the success of developing the stations.

Wilson incorporates mindfulness into the start of class, where they do something like yoga, or maybe have a little “dance party”, or maybe watch a motivational video. Wilson does everything with them.

“The first three minutes of class are dedicated to mindfulness – ‘let’s get ready for this class,’” she said.

Wilson is actually not really a yoga person (“Soccer, yes. Running, yes – but not yoga,” she said) but she will put on a yoga video for the students to follow along to and she will try it with them, and the students enjoy it.

“Sometimes you just need this release, or just to get up,” she said.

Aside from teaching, Wilson is on the Renaissance committee at Sedgefield, and specifically serves on a subcommittee called Beautification, where teachers try to do different things around the school to beautify it.

The school is working on rolling out a program focused on rewarding students for positive behavior. Wilson said students can be rewarded with things like snacks, school gear, books, pencils – “fun stuff,” she said. This is harder to do with students working online, so she and Title I Facilitator Caitlin Murchie-Chapman have gone out a few times to personally deliver such items to students.

She said teachers receive a lot of support from the administration team to implement new ideas.

“It’s nice that if you have an idea, and run it by them, and they’ll pretty much be supportive or help you figure out how to do it,” she said, “and during COVID that’s been really helpful, because we’ve all had to think outside of the box.”

Her favorite thing about Sedgefield Middle is the bond between the staff/faculty members. Wilson is particularly close to her block – or her core group of teachers she works with.

“We are extremely close, in school and outside,” she said, adding, “I couldn’t have been as positive as I am now without them.”



Monica Kreber