A New Normal

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Last week all of my classes spent their time at home.  They participated in “eLearning” by  visiting a district website, picking their grade level and choice board activities.  Most of the feedback from the community was very positive.  The kids were engaging in content and the choice element was a bonus.  This week we have spring break and I’ve spent a good amount of time outside and away from school work.  I went on a walk outside this morning and ran into many different chalk drawings.  The kids can’t wait to get outside and return to something normal.

As we’re mid-week now, I’m noticing a couple trends.  We still don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last.  Right now school is supposed to resume on April 8th, but that doesn’t seem feasible.  Some districts have closed their doors for the entire year and have gone straight to eLearning.  I’m looking at you Virginia and Kentucky! State testing has been abolished (okay, more like canceled just for this year). Some states have pushed their soft opening date later down the line even closer to the end of school. More will probably follow, but that’s the current status until we get more information from the state of department of education.  The stock market continues to wildly change and the ticker at the bottom of the televisions indicate the new pandemic numbers.  It’s stressful.

Looking forward there are some things that have become apparent.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that as a country, I don’t think we were prepared to teach solely online with eLearning (more like emergency eLearning). Many districts scrambled to get devices into students’ hands in order to send them home for a prolonged period to time to be determined later.  Immediate etrainings and putting together lessons/resources were quickly slotted on agendas and superintendents sent out mass communication emails indicating safety and learning.  For the most part and from what I’ve observed, administrators have done a stellar job in keeping staff and parents informed of what’s happening even though the news is changing so frequently. I’m finding that updates are pushed out and emails are read a bit more critically nowadays.  A “high importance” email has become more of the norm lately. Next week my district will begin it’s second week of eLearning.  It’s not all rainbows, but I believe the first week was a success and I believe we’ll build on that and offer more ways to transition instruction online.

Teachers are often expected to be flexible and pivot as needed.  Fire drills, assemblies, loud speaker interruptions, weather delays, and many other instances highlight the flexibility that teachers often exhibit as they pivot their instruction and make decisions  quickly.  The type of pivoting is now different.  Teachers are now sent into this online world where the expectations are different. Some teachers take to this better than others, but it’s different than what most are used to.  Instead of using educabulary like essential questions and mastery objective, teachers are figuring out how to use Zoom and SeeSaw. Teachers are relying on each other to figure out how to make this situation work. The learning curve is high and teacher are rising to the challenge. Right now differentiation and feedback look different and priority is given to issues regarding access and opportunity. We don’t know how long eLearning will last this year, but I’m fairly confident that it has added to our skill set and has made us better educators in the process.  Ideally, I’d rather be in the classroom and be with my students as we explore pre-algebra concepts together.  I want to be able to see them as we explore functions and algebraic expressions.  I’m a bit anxious even thinking that school might be online for the rest of the year (hoping that doesn’t happen) as I wasn’t able to say goodbye to the students that I’ve looped with over the years.  Regardless, the cards have been dealt and educators and school are working for the best outcomes. We need to make the best of it whether it’s online or in person.  I’m optimistic for the next transition as we reach students through a different medium.

eLearning, Questions and Equity

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Last Thursday night news reports starting mentioning that schools in my area were closing down because of the COVID-19 virus. Early Friday morning teachers in my district participated in a two hour eLearning training. This was brand new to teachers. We’re not a 1:1 device district and technology tools are used, but it’s use is inconsistent.  During the training coaches introduced a landing page that K-5 students will visit (starting Monday) during an elearning day.  Students will visit the page, select their grade, subject area, and pick a certain amount of tasks to complete each day.  A lot of work went into creating the landing page. Coaches and administrators helped create the page and also made sure it aligned to the state expectations so it counts as an official school day. After introducing the page and the expectations for staff and students, teachers were left to ask questions. There were so many questions and anxiety was running high.  t was stressful, but I felt more comfortable after the training than before.  As the training went on the presenters started to briefly discuss issues relating to equity and eLearning.  I thought this was interesting and am going to write down a more than a few questions that come to mind regarding these topics.

  • What about students that don’t have internet access at home?
  • What about students that receive free/reduced meals?
  • What about childcare?
  • What about students that aren’t familiar with the technology tools that are used?
  • What role do school libraries play with ensuring all students have books?
  • Can students make up multiple days in one?
  • What happens if a teacher needs to take a sick day at home?
  • What about the social aspects of learning?
  • Can individual teachers post activities for their students to complete
  • How do you know that students complete the tasks?
  • How does differentiation look with eLearning?
  • How are students assessed with eLearning?

These are just a few questions and some of them were addressed during the training.  Childcare, access to internet and free/reduced meals are such important issues and I think they could be discussed even more.  I’m wondering how many families that are in need will reach out and ask?  Honestly, I’m not positive.  Being proactive is key here and this is uncharted territory.

Later on that Friday teachers and students were informed that school will be closed all next week.  Some students were excited while you could tell others were crushed.  The realization that they won’t be able to see their friends, their teacher, work together and be part of the established routines was challenging for some kids.  As they left I gave them a fist bump and told them I’ll see them after spring break.  I’ll miss working with them and the social aspect of learning is a big part of my classroom.

Over and over again on Friday I was told that we need to be flexible.  The key is that we’ll need to pivot (seems to be the key work of the year) with eLearning and make changes as needed. It’s not going to be perfect and there will be bumps and redirections. I’m optimistic and am glad that students have the opportunity to still engage in content, but it’s significantly different than what they’d experience in the classroom.