My last post was on March 2, 2020…ten days before my school closed its doors due to COVID-19; eleven days before we had our first virtual staff planning session over Zoom and Google Hangouts; 16 days before we began the soft launch of our emergency remote learning program; 21 days before we launched Phase 1 of our emergency remote learning program; and 7 weeks before we will launch Phase 2 of our emergency remote learning program on April 20th.
Now that we’ve lived it, we know that it would have been impossible to explain or imagine what life would be like a mere 7 weeks in the future. Which is in and of itself the point of this post. The majority of my posts on this blog have focused on documenting learning, and supporting teacher and student blogging at my school. I am not the most avid blogger, and sometimes fall out of the groove. But as I am faced with the challenges of adapting my curriculum, thinking about the “what” and “how” of teaching, and deciding what important skills I want my students to learn and capture during this time, I am challenging myself to capture this moment as well. As I have read all throughout the news and on Twitter, we are living history right now. When this started, we prepared to be closed for a week or two, then 4, and now…? Will I remember all the details of what life was like to be able to tell my children? When my students talk to their grandchildren about living through this pandemic, will they remember the various phases they went through and adjustments made to their learning? Will it be important? Just as I couldn’t imagine what life would be like today back on March 2, it is impossible to know what information will be of value or what will be remembered. All I can do is document it here, and if nothing else, have something I can look back on proudly when this is all over.
Pride is the overwhelming feeling I’ve had in the last number of weeks. I am proud of how quickly my school responded to the emergency by closing its doors to protect our community. I am proud of how eagerly (albeit with anxiety and some frustration) my colleagues and I launched a full distance learning program. I am proud of how open, transparent and flexible the administration was to making changes and adjustments to that program, based on feedback from parents, students and teachers. I am proud of how calmly and responsibly my students jumped into this new learning environment to collaborate with their teachers and peers. And I have to believe that we were all able to do this because of the work we’ve done over the last three years. If we had not worked with NoTosh to figure out what we believed to be true about teaching and learning at OJCS, we would not have been able to continue that teaching and learning as seamlessly once the building itself was closed. If we had not worked with Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano around Now Literacies and documenting learning, we (and our students) would not have been able to so adeptly respond and function within a virtual learning environment. I am SO proud of all the work we have done.
Here’s a quick timeline of the last 7 weeks:
*It’s important to note that this past year we had a soft launch of our BYOD program for students in grades 4 – 8. When we launched our distance learning program, many students already had their own devices. The majority of our families are fortunate enough to have homes with multiple devices and strong internet connections. Through every phase, teachers and administrators have been in contact with families and have been extremely supportive and flexible in expectations. We have always come at this with the understanding that financial and health conditions will continue to change for families, and no student will be penalized for missing a meeting, or being unable to submit work. Communication is always made in these circumstances to make alternate arrangements.
March 12 – last day of in-school learning
March 13 – faculty meetings to plan and prepare over Zoom
March 16 – 17 – PD faculty planning days
March 18 – 20 – Soft Launch. Students checked into Google Meet at 8:45 and followed a schedule set by grade groupings, with each team of teachers making their own changes as they saw fit. Feedback: A LOT of screen time; families with multiple children found it challenging to have kids on different break schedules, younger students needed too much parent support and lost focus quickly. Teachers, parents, and students were exhausted.
March 23 – April 3 – Phase 1 – Return to regular schedule where all breaks are streamlined across the school. Teachers are “available” during all regular teaching blocks, but have a range of online vs non-digital activities, synchronous vs asynchronous teaching. We read, cooked, sang, created, connected, prayed, and celebrated – all online! Feedback: primary teachers are starting to find their groove and understand what their students can and cannot do within a specific time frame. Morning lessons are much more productive. Middle School schedule needs to be shifted to have longer blocks, but fewer classes in a day. Shorten the learning day with optional work periods and teacher office hours in the afternoon.
April 6 – 20 – Passover Break
April 20 – ? – Phase 2 – A new Middle School schedule was created and will be tested. Lower School teachers will continue to make changes as needed and have been encouraged to “lighten the load” in the afternoon by scheduling more flexible, independent work periods for students to be more self-directed (for example, Genius Hour, building challenges, Phys Ed. Art, etc.) and are also encouraged to adjust as needed. Feedback: TBD
What do I hope to achieve with my students over the coming weeks?
- I hope to inspire them to learn about things they are interested in learning about.
- I hope to continue giving them opportunities to interact and collaborate with their peers.
- I hope to create an engaging, inclusive, supportive online learning environment that they look forward to joining each day.
- I hope to support them in developing the skills they will need to navigate this online world, which will undoubtedly support them in the future as well.
- I hope to continue supporting them in documenting this unprecedented moment in time.
As we head back to school after our Passover break, we will begin to discuss common end-of-year events, like Sports Day, end of year trips, report cards and graduation. Just as we have worked through things as a team, we will continue to do with these events as well. We will continue to look to our colleagues around the world who are experiencing this with us. We will continue to make history.