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Thousands of teachers joined Facebook groups to strike. Now they're revisiting them for support and guidance as schools remain shuttered and classes continue online.

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  • The "Red for Ed" wave of teacher activism swept the country over the past two years, with teachers asking for higher wages, better funding, and increased support staff.
  • The fight for better pay led to Facebook groups of teachers — one group, "Kentucky Teachers In The Know," has since turned into a coronavirus support network. 
  • "It's really a place for educators to share information," said Allison Slone, its creator. "My ultimate goal is to really make sure teachers stay involved."
  • It has more than 20,000 members looking to connect, answer each other's questions, and address concerns about online learning and closed classrooms.
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For teachers in Kentucky, 2020 was set to be the first normal school year after a few turbulent terms.
The state was part of the "Red for Ed" wave of teacher activism that swept the country over the past two years. Educators from West Virginia to California rallied by the thousands, protesting for measures including higher wages, better funding, and increased support staff. Online, their grassroots movements gathered in Facebook groups, which served as hubs of information, strategy, and support.
Ashley Hensley Bird first joined the "Kentucky Teachers In The Know" Facebook group to stay in the loop during her state's budgeting battle. In the time since, the Berea-based high school English teacher has come to rely on the group as a source for news about politics and education. Now, with classrooms empty for the rest of the school year due to coronavirus concerns, she said the group has once again proved crucial in helping her navigate a complicated situation.
"All of us are having a brand new experience of distance learning," shared Hensley Bird. "This group helps to foster a community of teachers so that we can receive information and ideas that are innovative."

The group's founder said it was always meant to inspire and educate teachers 

Allison Slone created "Kentucky Teachers In The Know" in the fall of 2017, just around the start of the new school year. The Morehead-based special-education teacher wanted a space to share news about relevant tools, conferences, and webinars with her "teacher friends."
Then, as Slone tells it, "Bevin happened."
She's referring to former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who provoked the ire of teachers during his tenure by calling for significant cuts to school funding and teacher pensions. As Slone shared articles about these proposals in the group, it started to grow, swelling to more than 20,000 members as teachers began organizing rallies and walkouts.
"It's really a place for educators to share information," Slone said of the Facebook group. "My ultimate goal is to really make sure teachers stay involved."
Kentucky Teachers in the Know
Even after the protests ended, posts in the group remained regular, particularly as dozens of educators in the state ran for political office. While Slone stressed the group is nonpartisan, it has become a place for teachers-turned-candidates to share their platforms and seek support. In a nod to her influence as the group's administrator, Slone was recently appointed to Kentucky's State Board of Education by Governor Andy Beshear, who narrowly defeated Bevin last fall. She's the first current teacher to hold that role.
Slone believes her leadership success online and in real life comes from establishing guidelines that encourage respect and open conversation — "a lot like my classroom," she added. "Just building that rapport and level of trust, and always trying to give them the best communication."

With classrooms closed, the 'In The Know' network became a 'go-to resource' for teachers and parents

In mid-March, Kentucky joined the slew of states shuttering schools to observe social distancing as the coronavirus spread across the country. The several-week shutdown has since been extended through the end of the school year.
"It was kind of a surprise to all of us," Slone said. "I was in my classroom one day, and we'd heard little tricklings of this coming, but then the next day, we're done."
She said the early weeks of online learning were marked by countless requests for help in the group — everything from technical questions to teachers struggling to balance their class lessons with those for their own children. But by the end of the month, she noticed a change.
"The progression has quickly went from that, 'Please help me,' or 'I need help,' to 'Hey, I've done this, and it's great, you've got to try it,'" she explained.
For Owensboro-based special-needs teacher Heidi Givens, pivoting to online learning has been a process of building confidence, as it's challenged her typical methods of instruction and tracking student progress. Through the group, her "go-to resource," she called it, Givens said she's now found websites and apps to enhance her teaching, as well as ways to connect with students despite the distance. She references posts from teachers using Zoom or even stopping by students' houses to offer instruction from outside.
"I was inspired by that last idea and have visited my deaf students at home and taught them through their glass doors," Givens said. "I just went to visit my preschool student today and was able to assess various pre-academic skills since she will be in kindergarten next year. The moment I walked up to her door and she saw me, a huge smile came to her face. I admit, I did tear up seeing her reaction."
With her own two children at home, Lexington-based teacher Jessica Rose has been dealing with their lessons on top of her regular classes. Already a member of "Kentucky Teachers in the Know," she's since joined "Kentucky Parents in the Know," another group founded by Slone. While it was originally created to counter negativity during the teacher protests, Slone said it "hadn't really taken off" until the coronavirus closures.
Today, it has more than 9,000 members, a mix of teachers and parents — and, like Rose, people who fit in both categories — looking to connect, answer each other's questions, and address concerns. Slone has also organized a slate of live teacher lessons for group members, which she said typically receive more than 300 views.
"I was able to teach a lesson on the area of a figure — triangle, squares, rectangles," Rose said. "I was able to use a lesson on fractions that another teacher posted to help my third grader."

Across the country, teacher groups have become a support network during the crisis

Similar groups exist in many of the states that saw large-scale educator activism.
In "Arizona Educators United," members stay connected with weekly "Red Report" catchups to share pertinent local information on closures and legislative activity, as well as calls for action. In "Parents Supporting Teachers (Padres Apoyando a Maestros)," a Los Angeles group formed in support of the district's 2019 strike, members have shared resources for finding free meals and supplies for those in need. All have a number of deeply personal posts from teachers and parents seeking comfort, turning in their time of need to a community that has already proved its ability to weather uncertainty.
It's not all serious, though. A quick scroll through any of these groups will turn up a number of jokes, viral videos, and memes. As Hensley Bird explained, "It's a place where we can post educational humor and get a little comic relief during such a stressful time, which is surely appreciated."
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