Of all the topics to blog about, this one feels like the most relevant blog that I need to invest my time on. When I attend this class and do the weekly readings or listen to the podcasts, I feel like I am a sponge! I am taking it all in, just as Kate Gaskill mentioned in this podcast with Kareem Farah. I spend every moment thinking about how useful all of this information would have been in March when the pandemic hit and we found ourselves knee-deep in remote learning or “emergency learning” as many refer to it.
Last year was my first year as a vice principal, so my experience was much different from that of a classroom teacher. I did not have a class of my own to manage, but I did have an entire staff and a community of learners who were dealing with an array of feelings. Some felt comfortable handling online teaching as they had experience using technology in their classrooms and others were certainly not. Suddenly the mental health of many of my staff and students was impacted immensely. I was officially in crisis management mode! Those that were comfortable with using the tech were feeling pretty good about their job and themselves and they knew exactly how to get many of the kids engaged. Others were left feeling lost and not knowing where to start. I tried my best to steer them in the right direction with resources that I was aware of and if I didn’t have the answers, I tried my best to find them or at least someone who could help. I knew that I had very little knowledge in the area of today’s technology options, so I spent my days putting out fires and being the calming force for many, and my nights were filled with my own pd to ensure that I knew what the heck I was talking about when it came to Google Classroom and Seesaw! These were the main platforms that we used in our classrooms at my school. I quickly had to become familiar with both as I needed to field questions from both staff and families in order to keep everyone calm. As this was a division directive, Kindergarten and Grade One teachers had the paid version of Seesaw and Grade Two and Three teachers used the free version. In class, we have discussed on many occasions how some tools cost money and others are free. Let me tell you, there is definitely a huge difference!
Just as Kareem Farah mentioned in his podcast, teachers (including myself) were feeling frustrated with the lack of pd that was accessible and felt like they needed to figure out so much on their own. I feel like nobody is to blame for this, as everyone (teachers, admin, division office personnel to name a few) were living day by day, trying to sort out what would come next. I am not sure that anyone would have expected that this could be a long term situation. As time went on, our division knew that communication was key and that they needed to empower their staff to move ahead in this new world of teaching. Not only did we need to empower our staff, but also our students. Many had become so disengaged and struggled to feel connected to their learning community. If there is one word I can use to describe the staff at my school, it would be fun. The students always knew they could count on us to raise their spirits with our shenanigans! Soon we decided that this was even more important in a pandemic. We decided to have weekly challenges that we put out to the families on our social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Usually, they included some insanely crazy Tiktok or You Tube videos, or photographs that I am sure will come back to haunt me one day!
Fast forward a few months and now we were all just getting in to the swing of things. Our staff and students were settling into a great year of face to face learning. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before our school was infected with the Coronavirus and now our the staff found themselves dealing with what was deemed an “outbreak” in our school. At this moment, I felt grateful that my staff had a much greater sense of confidence to be able to teach online. They had the time to become familiar with the tech tools that they had started to use in the spring. I believe that we all came back to school this fall with the belief that we would one day need to use them again. Our staff began the year by ensuring that all students and parents were familiar with the online platforms that we are to use in our school division. The teachers have done an amazing job of keeping their “online classrooms” up to date with the content that they are teaching face to face. However, I have heard from many that they are feeling like they just aren’t doing enough for their students. I think we all need to understand that we can’t expect things to look like it did pre-covid in our classrooms. It is important to look at what we can do to embrace the future evolution of learning both in the classroom and online.
This leads me to the necessary shout out to last week’s presenters. Thank you Amanda, Catherine, Kristina and Nancy for sharing your wealth of knowledge and ideas in the area of distance learning. I have often felt overwhelmed thinking about all of the tools available out there and the time it takes to seek them all out, nevermind knowing for certain which ones will be the most beneficial to our learning. I absolutely loved the resource they shared with us that allows for a one-stop shopping experience for teachers who are educating online. I cannot wait to share this with my staff! It clearly lays out each area of distance learning and the resource that one could use for each. Amanda’s videos that she created for the reading strategies were fantastic! As a learning resource teacher, I teach these exact strategies to my students. I have spent a lot of time and money finding stuffies to relate to each of these animals, but never have I thought about making videos! I think for me, I need to spend more time learning how to use another video making tool other than Adobe Spark. I just started learning about WeVideo with my group members in the past few weeks. I think it can be daunting at first, but with a bit of practice, I just may become excited to use it to engage my students with their learning if I need to provide support to my online learners in the future.
After learning more about Synchronous and Asynchronous learning in last week’s presentation, I realize how important it is to provide our students with the opportunity to play instructional videos at a time that may work best for them and their families. I find this to be especially true at my school as we have had had many families identify that they only have one device to share amongst multiple children or that they need to work during the day and therefore must do the schooling in the evenings and weekends. Whatever the reason may be, we need to look at the dynamics of our students and families as we create a learning environment that will be optimal for all!
I believe that we are all doing the best we can on any given day. Not just us, but our students, their families, and even our school division leaders. We are all making the necessary changes in the way we do things to assist us and our students not just in the present, but for the long run. This pandemic may have brought us a lot of chaos that we had hoped would be short lived, but perhaps it has also taught many of us to open our minds and embrace the learning of the future……