The week of March 9th felt like a month.
- At the beginning of the week, the coronavirus still seemed at arms length.
- By Wednesday evening it became clear to me that we would need to shut down our school facility and support our students remotely sooner, rather than later.
- On Thursday morning, I explained the situation to our students and crafted a letter to parents.
- That Thursday afternoon, I held a staff meeting to flesh out the details of our remote learning. All week, staff had been bouncing around ideas. Our challenge? How to continue the same level of personalized educational support and guidance remotely. Fortunately, all of our students had laptops and were accustomed to doing the bulk of their work on a computer; and we were already on a google classroom platform, so we spent the next two days teaching students how to navigate google chat and hangout.
- On Friday, we sent students home with their laptops and a plan. I created a resources page that I sent to parents and students, to help guide students on how to keep up with work and access staff support remotely. I also gave suggestions on how parents could support their students at home.
Our Shift to Distance Learning
Monday, March 16th was our first day of distance learning. Overall, it went quite well. Staff and students had differing experience and comfort levels using google chat and hangout. Some students were using the google chat function to excess and needed to be reigned in. Others had difficulty figuring out how to access it. Teachers were figuring out which students could work more independently and which students needed closer guidance. Some teachers created small study groups, where students had a set time during the day to work with teachers. Other students scheduled remote check-ins. After a couple of days, most students were getting into the groove. Some students were even thriving, seeming to prefer asking questions through text, versus face to face. Teachers reached out to students if they weren’t recording their work on their daily logs; parents were contacted, if students were unresponsive. We held virtual staff meetings twice a week, to troubleshoot.
By Thursday, the honeymoon was over. Some students were losing momentum and needed more frequent check-ins. Some students were focusing solely on completion versus the learning process – “Can I just get the work over with?” We were also starting to get creative excuses of why students couldn’t meet with teachers virtually or work during school hours. Excuses included “There is construction going on outside our house, so I can’t hear you”, “It’s trash day” and “I have plans”! I had to explain to students that they were still in school and there were daily school work expectations. Meanwhile, some of our students were struggling with their anxiety and perfectionism. They want to do everything perfectly and are paralyzed. So, we are trying to help them take baby steps and be kind to themselves. Our messaging to each student is tailored to meet their individual needs and strengths.
On Friday, I held our first virtual all-school meeting. During a regular school week, we hold daily morning meetings to discuss current events, share school announcements, and go over events of the week. Students were used to having a daily morning meeting and we needed to connect as a community. It was really fun to see all the students, even if it was virtually, and to check in with them. I spent the first part of the meeting discussing the coronavirus and answering their questions. Students had heard about the drive-thru testing in Arlington but weren’t sure how it worked. I also took the opportunity to explain to students that remote learning was our new normal. I recommended that they stick to a daily routine that included doing school work between 9-3, when staff were available to assist them, to go outside at least once a day, and to regularly connect virtually with friends. We also spoke about silver linings. I asked students what positives had come out of spending more time at home. One student spoke about getting to spend time with a new puppy. Another spoke about having more time to work out and get in shape. We ended with a student favorite, Friday fails. Students get to share a failure they had this week. The idea is to normalize making mistakes and to learn from them. One student spoke about their cat bringing a salamander into the house and when he tried to get the salamander from the cat, the salamander got loose in the house.
On Friday, I had some exhausted teachers, who agreed that remote teaching and guidance was even harder than face-to-face instruction. Meeting the individual needs of each of our students is going to be a challenge. We will learn from what did and did not work well last week and implement changes as we go along. Just as we teach students learning is a process of trial and error, virtually learning for all of us is a process. I’m hopeful that we’ll settle down into a routine shortly. An unforeseen benefit of this experience is that, for some students, we are discovering new learning tools that work well for them and we can continue those strategies when we return to school. It has also underscored how fantastic my staff is, and for that I am grateful.
Looking to the Future
While it might be a stretch to say we are looking forward to week 2 of remote learning, we can say unequivocally we are committed to meeting the individual learning needs of all our students through this difficult time. We will continue to assess and adjust as the situation and individual needs change. We teach our students to be flexible in their learning and we must do the same.