Of the thousands of unsung heroes we could call out from the pandemic (and, seriously, there are thousands), some of the most valuable ones to moms are teachers. From adapting to virtual learning to their endless patience for our little ones ("Okay, I'm going to need everyone to mute...please?"), it's hard to imagine where we would be without the teachers who made learning—and progressing—during the pandemic possible. One of those heroes is Jenn Bell, a third grade teacher in Summit, NJ who came back from maternity leave to a job that had been thrown out of sorts by COVID-19.

While her district opted to allow any student who wanted to continue attending school in person for the first half of the day, teachers were also expected to accommodate any students who stayed home and the entire student body from home in the afternoons. There were even times when Bell was forced to quarantine after a student would test positive, so she would teach from home while an aide assisted students in the classroom. For many of us, it sounds like a near impossible task, but Bell rose to the challenge, learning a trick or two along the way that she says made her a better teacher overall. We caught up with Bell to learn how she made her year a success and all she and her students were able to achieve.

One of the biggest challenges she faced was one all too familiar to mothers around the country: working from home with small children. With its new virtual infrastructure in place, her district did away with snow days, instead declaring "virtual days" when inclement weather kept the students and staff from getting to the school safely. Unfortunately for Bell, though, her 3-year-old and 1-year-old's daycare would close, meaning she had to parent and teach at the same time. She says establishing and enforcing a consistent routine for her students was the lifeline she drew on during those difficult times. "When the students know how the day flows, it really helped those days when we were all home together," Bell says. "My students knew that, when my kids were home, it felt a little different, but I tried to keep as structured as possible. Then, even if we're going through our routine and I'm holding my one-year-old, that won't throw them off because I'm sticking to our routine."

Bell even found creative ways to incorporate her children into the lessons that engaged her students even more. "My 3-year-old can't read, but he can memorize books, and I would empower him to pick a book to 'read' to the students," Bell says. "And they loved it—they thought it was great to have him reading to them!"

Another challenge she encountered was simply the lack of proximity to students as she was teaching. "There's something to say for being physically close to students—it's easy in in-person teaching to be walking around the classroom and checking in with students and having that informal assessment," Bell says. "You can get up close to see where they are or even how they're feeling just from walking around. On the computer, you have to click into 23 different windows, and that takes a long time. Keeping track of all the students at the same time is really difficult on the computer." To adapt, Bell leaned into the technology available to her, mastering Google Meet features to create smaller group breakout rooms, finding engaging videos to share and using polls to get instant feedback and answers to questions when they met as a group. Because her lessons needed to be accessible to students in the classroom and at home, she also started incorporating more e-books and using digital charting features to help everyone reference the materials quickly and efficiently. "The students are very tech savvy," Bell says. "I give them a lot of credit for going with it and adapting and learning. They are way more comfortable than most adults. It takes some time [to get used to the new tools], but they can do it."

Despite the challenges, though, Bell's students always make her effort worthwhile. "I'm proud because they're still learning and they're making progress," she says. "I think it still goes to show that I'm doing something right, and they're still getting something out of me whether it's on the computer or in person." Bell also works hard to help her student keep a positive attitude, starting the day with a brief yoga practice and encouraging each student to pick a positive phrase of the week. She says this growth mindset practice has helped maintain a sense of community for her students, even when so much of their regular lives seemed turned upside down. "In the beginning, the accomplishments were small. Everyone can find the document! Everyone signed on!" Bell says. "But it got better! Now, everyone can follow the documents and see what I'm talking about. They're staying engaged through our lesson and participating. We're going to have good days and bad days, but we have to stay positive and know that we're going to try again tomorrow."

Looking to set up the perfect learn-from-home station for your child? Staples Connect can help. Besides offering nearly everything you could need to outfit your remote at-home workstation in their stores, they also offer a variety of services to their community to help you work or learn from anywhere. Visit Staples Connect at your local Staples store to outfit your space, or check our these three products that transform any room into a classroom and can help your little student focus and excel virtually this school year:

JLab Jbuddies Kids Headphones

Cut down on distractions with these headphones specifically made for kids. Comfortably designed for little heads, the headphones also feature built-in noise regulators to keep the volume at a safe level.

Office Star Desk and Union & Scale™ Essentials Chair

A comfortable seat can help boost their focus and keep them learning longer. We love the fun color and streamlined design of this mesh desk chair. Plus, the streamlined design of the desk will work with any home decor while providing plenty of storage for school supplies.

Select-A-Vision Kids Blue Light Glasses

If your child is spending more time on a device these days (and whose isn't?), these inexpensive blue-light-blocking glasses are a great way to protect their eyes from fatigue and help prevent headaches as a result of extended screen time.