As the Oklahoma City community rang in 2020 one year ago, we had no idea how our education system would be turned on its head as we navigated life in a pandemic. While the burden on all families in the metro has been great, teachers have navigated extra challenges as they pivoted to teach in ways they had never considered previously, all while many also care for their own families.
Spouses, parents and educators Danielle and Andre Daughty have chosen the mantra “grace and space” during these unprecedented times, reminding each other and their two high school kids that each of them, and everyone around them, has never experienced anything like this pandemic.
“All parents are trying to figure out how to work from home and get kids online for school,” said Andre, who says wife Danielle is a beautiful example of offering grace and space as she’s put in longer hours than ever educating Edmond second graders both online and in person and checking in regularly with their parents.
While none of the Daughtys has ventured far from their Edmond home since March 2020, their visions for the future of education in Oklahoma have soared, both in spite of the pandemic and because of it. From the longterm benefits of virtual school and greater parental involvement in students’ educations to a call for race equity and celebration of diversity, the Daughtys’ forward-thinking vision for the continued advancement of our state’s education system sparks hope and optimism for this new year and beyond.
For the love of teaching
Andre has worked in education for 20 years, earning his undergraduate degree from Langston University and teaching at the elementary and middle school levels. He earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Central Oklahoma, served as an adjunct professor and now works as a consultant and keynote speaker for educators around the nation.
Education is a second career for Danielle, who majored in journalism at Langston. Inspired by her husband and kids, Danielle went back to school to earn her master’s degree in early childhood education from UCO and has taught second grade in Edmond for the past seven years. With her school district on an A/B schedule since the fall, Danielle has double the workload creating in-person and virtual lessons, in addition to her teacher team being reduced by half this year.
“I love teaching and the kids, but this is a very heavy load this year,” said Danielle.
Sometimes Danielle doesn’t get home from work until nearly 7:30 p.m. after finishing her school day and then compiling and uploading lessons for the next. Because Andre has been working from home since the beginning of the pandemic, and because he knows the physical, mental and emotional toll of working as a classroom educator, he tries to keep their home as stress-free as possible for his wife, making sure dinner is ready, their kids have completed virtual school assignments and the house is picked up.
“The traditional roles of marriage have never worked for our family anyway,” said Andre.
With so much time spent at home and the added anxieties of the pandemic, racial injustice and a polarizing election, self-care has become critical. Andre works out every morning, sets a clear end point for work on weekdays and prioritizes time for just he and Danielle, void of conversation about work.
The Daughtys are intent upon teaching their kids the value of self-care, too, with Taco Tuesdays, movie nights, family walks, intentional time away from devices and space to laugh and joke with each other high on their lists. This school year especially Danielle has learned to step away from work over school breaks to focus on her family and herself so she can be recharged to go back to the classroom.
“There is a lot of stress on everybody in education,” said Andre. “Burnout is more elevated now, so we all — educators, parents, students and administrators — have to take time for self-care.”
The Daughty kids opted for virtual school for their senior and freshman years, and while it’s been an adjustment all around, Danielle is grateful for Andre’s many years in the education sector to help guide them. The kids were given the option to return to activities like marching band and choir, talking out the pros and cons as a family.
“My freshman misses being with her friends and the high school experience, but they both have adjusted well,” said Danielle. “They would rather be safe at home and wait for things to get better.”
Open communication is paramount in the Daughty household, especially as they’ve watched the pandemic unfold since that fateful March OKC Thunder game was called off before play began and led to the NBA shutdown.
“We have continued to tell them that this isn’t normal,” said Andre, “and we don’t expect them to act like things are normal.”
That conversation is ongoing, as are dinnertime discussions about current events, the pandemic’s toll and what they are each reading on their respective social media feeds, and how messages differ based on who they follow.
“We want to teach them how to think, not what to think, and this is the perfect season to do it,” said Andre. “We are all pivoting and adjusting to the best of our abilities.”
In many ways, the pandemic has forced educators and administrators to get back to basics, focusing first on student safety and security.
“That is the foundation of education,” said Danielle. “If your basic needs aren’t met, there isn’t going to be any learning taking place.”
School districts statewide are trying to focus on students’ safety and security, even with growing pressure to return to “normal.” Districts and administrators have requested Andre present workshops on meeting kids’ social and emotional needs. Many schools are offering free breakfast and lunch programs, and metro nonprofits are stepping up to provide families with food.
Danielle and other classroom teachers have implemented regular check-ins with their students’ parents or guardians to ask how the school can provide support. Danielle has excelled at over-communicating with parents during this strange school year, ensuring parents have the information they need to succeed during at-home learning days and reinforcing her mantra of grace. As part of Danielle’s preparation of online lessons, she and her colleagues have created a parent landing page, showing parents how they teach lessons and helping them understand how to navigate the online learning management system.
“I feel like this pandemic has opened a lot of parents’ eyes as to what school is, the role of the teacher, role of the parent and role of the students,” said Danielle. “Everybody should be working together as we are building a community of learning rather than just dropping kids off.”
Between school closures last spring and varied school schedules in the fall, the concern of students falling behind academically continues to rise among parents, but it’s a concern the Daughtys encourage everyone to let go.
“No one is ‘behind’ because as an educator, I can always take you from where you are and help to develop you academically,” said Danielle.
Andre adds that because this global pandemic has affected all school-age children in some way, everyone is in the same boat.
“There is still an emphasis on academics but in the grand scheme of things, we’d rather students feel safe and secure,” said Andre. “Maybe we’re behind academically, but socially and emotionally, we’re excelling. It all depends on what lens you’re looking through. There will be a great return on this investment when we look back and analyze how our community felt loved, acknowledged and respected during a global pandemic.”
From their time in classrooms and as parents, the Daughtys know there is great value in parents simply engaging with their kids, teaching life skills or just spending time together.
“No matter what level your child is on, parents are their child’s best teacher,” said Danielle.
While the effects of 2020 on the Daughty family have certainly not been without consequence, the duo is skilled in finding joy, contentment and silver linings. They believe in taking lessons from the situations life presents, and they have found plenty of positive changes to the education system from the pandemic.
“When school goes back to five days a week, I don’t see teachers going back to business as usual,” said Andre.
Andre hopes teachers will continue a focus on mental wellness, like practicing mindfulness exercises and incorporating check-ins with students throughout the day to gauge their emotional health. He also believes the shift to offering virtual learning is a change that should and will stick for most school districts.
“There are a lot of students who have blossomed in this style of learning and who have discovered freedoms they didn’t have before,” said Andre.
Within their virtual learning mode, the Daughty kids are using the opportunity to prepare for college, learning to self-manage, develop relationships with their teachers and incorporate work, exercise, community service or extracurriculars as time allows. The kids have a set time each day that their work must be turned in but otherwise are free to determine what works best for them.
“It’s cool to see them both evolve into this college-career mindset,” said Andre.
Andre also sees more college professors teaching the next generation of Oklahoma educators the ins and outs of content management systems for virtual learning, which he believes is another key step in improving the state’s education system overall.
When asked what they are proudest of each other for in their respective education careers, both Danielle and Andre point to the other’s work in pushing for race equity in schools and the industry as a whole. Through his consultant work and keynote speaking gigs, virtual for now, Andre reaches educators and organizations around the country, helping them address the issue of equity through culturally-relevant teaching and learning.
“Dre is revolutionary,” said Danielle. “He is a voice for taboo subjects in education, things teachers normally wouldn’t talk about with their students or each other, he gives the green light and teaches how to tackle topics without being offensive and also helps educators be aware of how events affect their students and colleagues.”
Danielle carries on those same equity priorities in her classroom. For many of her students, she’s their first Black teacher, and for her Black female students, she can relate to them deeply. Danielle is intent on teaching history from the Indigenous and Black perspective and inspiring other teachers around her to do the same.
“I love that Danielle is unafraid to say let’s teach real history; she’s a trailblazer,” said Andre. “Let’s talk about where history got white-washed, in a developmentally-appropriate setting.”
From sharing her culture with her students to encouraging them to do the same and incorporating Black authors into her classroom, Danielle gives a voice to her students and teaches them the beauty to be found in diversity.
“Students gain empathy from learning about and understanding other cultures,” said Andre. “When schools become more diverse in their staff, everybody in contact with that school is better for it.”