“Terry sends a lot of emails, so I am including her on this too.” This was my chuckle this morning, as I was copied on an email to one of our admin teams.
Emails, MS Teams meetings, and SIS (Student Information System) queries are my life. And again I am thanking my grade 9 typing teacher (and grade 10 math teacher) Dale Watson, from Kincardine DHS, for helping me develop such strong skills. I just counted (as of 5:00 today), and today I composed and sent 110 emails; some in response to those I received, and a few that I sent proactively. So, it’s been a lighter day than many in the past two weeks.
We discovered that we hadn’t included Computer Science in our organizational plans. Some schools group it with Tech, some with Business, and some with Math. The course code begins with “I”, and there are only a few codes, so it’s easy to miss. I think it’ll end up with us, in MST, but I am awaiting word from our Coordinating Principal before I reach out to include these teachers as well.
Our biggest roadblock now is the processing of paperwork in HR, and then the subsequent provision of rights through our various information systems. Managing our online school is new to everyone, and we are hiring so many people, it’s not surprising that it is taking time.
However our teachers are being very creative, and making it work despite delayed access to all the tools they need. We have a couple of people who are struggling and may not stick with it. But 99% are learning and growing.
I really need a break from the keyboard, as I have an online event tonight that I am excited to join. LearningForwardOntario is hosting a series of conversations with five amazing educators. It’s a sold-out event, presented online after the April event was cancelled.
So, I’m going to pull together a meal, and then sit down (again) at my computer to learn!
On August 13 of his year, the Ontario Ministry of Education released Policy/Program Memorandum No. 164, referred to by the short form: PPM 164. It defines “remote”, “synchronous” and “asynchronous” learning. And it addresses seven areas:
minimum requirements for engaging students during remote learning
minimum requirements for synchronous learning
process for exemption from synchronous learning
protocols for delivering remote learning
access to remote learning devices – such as laptops or tablets – and the Internet
standardized suite of synchronous learning platforms
cyber security, privacy, and online safety
It requires synchronous learning any time a student is at home more than three days in a week, and specifies the length of time that teachers should be providing synchronous instruction:
Grades 9 to 12
The higher of 60 minutes for each 75-minute class period** or 225 minutes per day for a full course schedule
And it specifies that “synchronous learning platforms should include live video, audio, and chat features and be fully accessible”.
While many of our teachers who were teaching in the spring have developed facility with our synchronous learning platforms, Brightspace or Google Classroom with MS Teams or Google Meet, many of our long-term occasional and short-term occasional teachers have not. Most found themselves unemployed during the shutdown. So they are beginning this school year with workplace demands that they have had neither training for, nor experience with.
Having accepted a position they are now working from home, without the support of “the teacher in the next classroom”, and are struggling. There is an option to have them work from a local school, but there are few spaces available as we spread out our students in our “bricks and mortar” schools.
Our challenge now is to ensure that they are supported, and that they don’t become overwhelmed. I have begun this by connecting each teacher with others who teach the same course. I have shared our Empowering Modern Learning resources, created by our central staff. And I am now brainstorming ways in which will be able to provide professional learning opportunities that will work for our teachers, within the intense, draining workday they are experiencing.
If you are one of our online teachers, and have any suggestions for how we might provide this professional learning, please connect with us and share your ideas. You are working differently, and so must we.
This should have been only Day 19, but both Saturday and Sunday were filled with work, attempting to connect new teachers to class lists so that classes could begin today. We were partially successful – but there are still many classes without a teacher, despite efforts by our team over the past two weeks, without break.
On Friday we met to define admin duties, and it was decided that I would take on half of the Principal role, in support of MST. So I spent Saturday pulling data from our files, and grouping teachers by the subjects they are teaching in these first two Quadmesters. I then emailed groups, introducing them to each other, so that they could connect to plan and share the work.
On Sunday it became apparent that many teachers were still to be assigned classes, and another team was busy throughout the day doing so. My groups are now inaccurate, but at least most of the teachers are able to access the expertise of one or more others.
In the evening I was contacted by one of our Vice Principals, who was concerned that she was hearing from teachers who did not have access to our Student Information System, and did not have class lists with which to contact their students. So, because I was in transit from my mother’s to home, she agreed to email each of the teachers, asking them if they were ready for Monday. The negative replies were addressed throughout the evening by the two us, with my taking A-L, and her taking M-Z.
My evening even included a couple of phone calls, walking teachers through several of our processes so that they could email their students. Some of these teachers are bravely stepping into an entirely new way of teaching, and with little support.
Today I began with my university class, learning about how we support Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students from staff in our Provincial Demonstration Schools. It was new learning for me, and a wonderful experience for our about-to-be-teachers. We had an hour-long class together afterward, and we shared concerns for student with hearing impairments in this new online reality. My students have chosen to have me teach with my camera on, but with their cameras and microphones turned off. It’s eerie talking into the void, with no feedback either through facial expressions or chatter. I make sure I ask questions that can be responded to with emojis, and I invite them to speak when they have a question that isn’t easily written into chat. It’s awkward, but we are managing, mostly due to the fact that I have known them for a year, and so it’s akin to talking on the telephone with old friends.
When I returned to my computer at noon my inbox was at 163, and it took me until dinner to work my way through. The requests now seem to be focused on students, rather than on getting classes together. And so I was finally able to begin to delegate some of our concerns to our VP team.
Our teachers have been informed of the alpha groupings for VP issues, and subject groupings lead by Principals. So I believe our communication will now be more efficient and accurate, with faster responses.
So, what have we missed? Well, no one knows how to do attendance twice in a day. We have yet to determine duties during the asynchronous support periods, for those who are teaching only one course this Quad. I am gathering counsellor information so that our teachers can consult with their students’ community school guidance counsellors, and that will be communicated shortly. We have yet to plan for professional learning; and there is a great need among many of our teachers to develop their synchronous instruction skills. Parents don’t yet have a system to let us know when their students have been absent with permission. And, with Markbook no longer available, all of our teachers are having to figure out how they will gather, record, and track assessment data.
As I write, I am hearing that Brightspace is down. I can’t imagine how frustrating that is for teachers who have to squeeze lesson prep between dinner and bedtime. And our students who are catching up on the day’s work will be equally frustrated. I hope it’s just a short “outage”, and that everyone will be back on soon.
I am also still hearing that teachers are confused by our timetable. On Day 1 our teachers see their period 1 class synchronously, and then provide work for their students to continue working on asynchronously in period 3. Their period 2 class is synchronous, and then they return in period 4 to continue synchronous work. This is to be in compliance with the Ontario Ministry of Education requirement for 225 minutes of synchronous instruction each day, while still meeting the OSSTF contract requirement for a full preparation period. On Day 2 this switches, so the period 2 class is seen in period 1, and then asynchronously in period 3, and the period 1 class is now synchronous in periods 2 and 4. Confused? Well, hopefully not for long. I have had teachers who think they can just do asynchronous all the time, and those who want to spend their prep assisting individual students. While the latter is a personal choice, the former will get some of our teachers in trouble, so I hope they revise their practices.
Tomorrow we meet as a full admin team, and afterward with our MST team. We will work out priorities for each of us, and processes whereby we will collaborate, and play to each of our strengths. We are fortunate that we have qualifications in all of the three areas, and so should be able to be a help to most of our teachers. I’m still not sure when I will actually have a .5 day, or even a .5 week. But for now our priorities remain our teachers and students, and so shutting down email at noon, or ignoring it for a day, cannot happen.
What do I think we’ll see this week? I imagine that as classes settle, teachers’ focus will shift to some of the larger issues that remain unaddressed. Our students will begin to test their boundaries, and we will be hearing of those who are less compliant, and pushing the boundaries. At the same time I hope that teachers will begin to find time to experiment, and to stretch their skills by trying new things in this new teaching environment. I am looking forward to hearing their stories; both their successes and dismal failures. We will have both, but it’s the only way we will learn.
It’s Friday, and our fourth day of Online School. There are still classes without teachers, and teachers without timetables, and students and families who are awaiting emails. With more than 11,000 students and more than 500 teachers, there are few processes that successfully make the transition from traditional secondary schools to our mega online school.
When a communication is sent out to everyone, there is always a potential that it will be misunderstood. This past week we sent teacher timetables out via email, and did not anticipate the confusion that resulted. Where teachers did not yet have courses there were placeholders printed, which made little sense to them. And at the bottom of the timetable was an explanation about our Careers and Civics courses, which are half-credits, explaining that Careers classes would begin with the even numbered sections, and Civics with the odd. This was needed because the printing of timetables in Quadmesters left no room to indicate first or second half for these two courses. So, many of the teachers with no courses appearing made the assumption that this message was for them, and that they were teaching Careers and Civics. Not the confusion we needed!
A secondary school of 1200 students would have a Principal and two Vice Principals, one office manager, and three other office staff. Ours of 10 times the size has the equivalent of five Principals, seven VPs, and as of yet only a handful of office support, most of whom have yet to gain access to our information systems.
Today marks the beginning of three schools within schools, plus a special education team. So we will have groupings of P and VP, organized by groups of subject areas. I, as .5 P, will work with another .5 P, one full VP, and a .5 VP. Our team is the largest, responsible for MST, or Math, Science and Technology.
Almost all of us are retired administrators, so once we complete our 50 days allowed by our pension board, we will need to be replaced. My .5 agreement has in practice been 1.0 for almost all the days since we began on September 1. So it won’t be long until I, and my retired colleagues, will need to transition to a new team.
The days aren’t like the ones I experienced in the past as a Principal. I can’t see teachers F2F, so I’m using email and phone (and calls through MS Teams), and everything takes twice as long. I didn’t participate in the hiring of our staff, and haven’t had the pleasure of meeting very many of our teachers. So each interchange requires much more time, to ensure that communication is clear and that my “need for speed” doesn’t offend.
As I write there remain more than 100 emails in my inbox, arriving this afternoon as I was on the road heading back to Sunny Slope. I responded to the 20 or so that arrived after noon, but will only return to the remaining emails in the morning. I know this will frustrate the senders, but there is little action that they will be able to take on a Friday evening, so I’m hoping that tomorrow morning will suffice.
I am looking forward to having our smaller team. I think that teachers will appreciate it too, having a fewer number of possible contacts. We should be more responsive, and be able to play to each of our strengths as we smooth out the path for teachers and students.
Tonight relaxing. Tomorrow email. Sunday planning for the week.
I hope all of you manage the first… and leave the other two for next week.
It’s day 3 for our online classes, and there remain several classes who don’t yet have teachers assigned. We have no system to communicate to students and their families, so as their anxiety grows, so does my inbox.
My morning was spent teaching online: two classes of 38 students each, with a 10 minute break between the two-hour classes. Near the end my webcam failed, and so I was a disembodied voice to bring the class to conclusion.
There was a theme of similar “technology fails” throughout my afternoon correspondence. And this has me thinking about how this new “classroom” is so different from what most people think of when they think “school”.
Rather than hallways, where students wait to enter the class at the bell, we have “waiting rooms” for our MS Teams or Google Meet class. A login gets a student in easily, but there are students who have forgotten their passwords, and so they request to enter as a “guest”. Most are supposed to be there, and gaining entry allows them to join their classmates. But occasionally a student has shared the class link with a friend, and he or she enters anonymously and creates chaos. When the teacher shuts down the class, and reopens a new session without the intruder, that might be the end of it. But, if the friend sends the new link, the “guest” arrives again. A wise teacher refuses to allow them to enter. So the “guest” changes his name repeatedly to profane or racist words, which pop up as messages like “F…Y… is requesting to join”, or worse. Were this a student in a physical hallway we could address the behaviour, but on the Internet they act with impunity.
In the digital classroom we have tiny images of faces, or nothing at all if the cameras are off. We speak without seeing reactions, and can only trust that they are listening. The students, by contrast, have no choice but to see our faces, up close. Or maybe they’re not watching or listening? But how would we know?
Rather than a show of hands, we ask them to “react” with a “thumbs up”, or “applause”. Not quite as revealing as a facial expression, but immediate and clear. If they aren’t paying attention we get no reaction at all.
The chat tool is a step above having everyone shout out an answer. And they can carry on side conversations with each other in chat without disturbing anyone else.
Rather than working on chart paper on a table, they’re working in Google Docs or Slides. And if they each have a slide, we can see what they’re working on in real time. Their “bubble” appears in the slide sorter, so it’s easy to see if a student is on the wrong page, or missing. At the end of the session everyone can move from slide to slide, together. The entire slide stack remains as a record, with 24/7 access by everyone in the class. (Unlike all the chart paper I would roll up and stack at the back of my classroom.)
While they’re working, they’re in breakout rooms. They can speak as loudly as they wish, and with much more privacy than in a regular classroom. The teacher can pop in and out, sometimes without them noticing, but most times with camera and microphone on.
Bringing the entire group back together results in a cacophony, that ebbs quickly. Rather than a shouted “5 more minutes”, they will have seen a message pop up on their screen with that message. As a teacher, it is a relief not to have shout to get their attention.
What is missing from an online classroom is the chatter as they leave class at the conclusion. It’s a rather abrupt ending, with almost no time needed to get to the next class. The casual conversation that provides a mental break between intensive work is not easy to recreate online. There is no “app” that can connect people without deliberate action, so it’s unlikely that new friendships will develop outside of class.
While teachers in physical classrooms might place independent work high on their priority lists, that now needs to change. Online we need to create deliberate opportunities for social connection; our classes are the only place they will meet new people and develop new relationships.
If we want to nurture our students’ mental wellness, we need to ensure that social-emotional learning is a priority. And we will need to learn and develop new classroom routines for our new digital classrooms.
Please share here what’s working for you. How are you making your classroom a place of connection as well as learning?
Finally, a day when I managed to get to the end of my inbox, and step away for a moment or two! I am hoping that this means that our teachers are settling in as well.
There is still confusion about our timetable, from both teachers and students. And our system doesn’t allow for two attendance entries on the same day, so the period 2 classes who meet again in period 4 are not tracked accurately. The period 1 classes are working asynchronously in period 3, so we don’t record attendance then.
We are slowly matching up teachers on leave with their long-term occasional replacements, although the transfer of online LMS components is much slower. And there are still a number of teachers to be hired, so interviews will be conducted tomorrow.
Our community school guidance counsellors don’t have the ability to manage our waitlists, so that’s a challenge that will have to addressed soon, in order to get students into the last available seats in our very full classes.
But I am hearing as many successes as failures today. Hurrah!
Let’s see if I am as successful tomorrow when I will be teaching two classes back to back for two hours each, with only a 10-minute break. My classes are large: 37 in one, 38 in the other. And so I’m giving them lots of time to work in smaller groups, sharing information in a Google Slides stack. The first group I met last week, and the second are a new group to me as their instructor was asked to take on another class. So they will have missed our icebreaker, community-building activity. I wonder how this will make a difference in how we work together.
One of my university students went to the other section of our course on Monday, and stayed. And now she wants to be excused from our class tomorrow. While it makes some sense, with only nine classes and lots of group work, she really needs to be with our group. It was tough to say “no” to her.
Tomorrow is a Day 2 for our secondary school, and we’ll see how many teachers and students end up together in the correct space when our periods 1 and 2 flip. I really hope that everyone is re-reading their Staff Handbook, and reminding their students of the schedule. It’s not quite the same as standing in the hallway, waiting for your class to arrive. If you’re in Google Meet, or MS Teams, and no one shows up……..
I think it’s going to take teachers some time to get used to the sequence of classes: Synchronous, Synchronous, Synchronous, Asynchronous in a repeating pattern over two days. Once they get in the rhythm, I think it’s going to work well. Having a “work period” is a common practice in F2F classrooms, and this builds it into the cycle.
I’ll be interested to hear how our teachers are feeling in a week or two! Let me know how you are doing, in a reply to this post.
Today was the first day of school for our students. As they were online, we really don’t have a good idea of how many showed up. Since our student information system hasn’t yet been modified for our schedule, we have only paper records with each teacher. So I think they showed up, but I have no data.
I do know a significant number of our teachers began the day without timetables, and will only now have the information available to connect with their students. And their students will have been waiting at home for their teachers to reach out. I hope that has happened.
Our teachers have the choice of Brightspace or Google Classroom, and MS Teams or Google Meet. Many will have had little experience with either, so I would imagine today has been very stressful for them. Their Brightspace shells are generated each night from our student information system, so they would not have been available today as we matched teachers to classes. Some will have accessed class lists, contacted students by email, and met them online. Others will have found themselves without the necessary information to do so.
Tomorrow will go smoother, as will each day from now on.
Our work will then shift to our families, and addressing timetables that don’t match choices. We are also going to learn a great deal about “fit” between students, teachers, and technology.
Behind the scenes our team is calling occasional teachers, offering them positions, and then completing the paperwork to have them signed on. All this has to happen before they can be added to the student information system and be assigned classes.
So what did I do as a Principal? Lots of emails. From 5:00 a.m. this morning, until I signed off at 6:30, with a two-hour break in the middle to teach. The teaching was fun; helping a new friend learn how to sew with a sewing machine. And the return to a chair, not so much fun.
One challenge for us, responding to questions, is that our class records are under the name of the original teacher, while classes may be instructed by a long-term occasional teacher. We must match the teacher on leave with the LTO teacher, in order to provide our LTO teachers with course and student records.
Our teachers are all working from home, so we are limited to phone and email communication. It’s never as easy problem-solving when we can’t meet face-to-face. And I can only imagine their frustration waiting a response that could have been almost four hours in some cases today.
I never did get to and “empty inbox” between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., but in the final half hour I did it! I then put an “out of office” message on, promising to respond in the morning, and enjoyed a meal, an episode of “Maigret”, and hopefully a soak in our hot-tub after I finish writing this.
I know that we have wonderful teachers, and they are doing their very best. I hope they find joy in their classes, knowing that they are creating a brand-new world for their students. And I hope that I can ease their way on this journey.
Tomorrow I will be up bright and early, hoping to allay concerns and support our teachers. I could not have imagined the school we have, when I began teaching in 1983. Had we a pandemic then our students would be alone at home, with only mailed packages and a phone as our tools. Now we have the Internet, multimedia tools, and the ability to bring a class of 31 together online to interact. What a world!
So, this post will be short. Not because of lack of material to write about, but because I am exhausted after almost 14 continuous hours online. The logarithmic curves in my quilt reflect my past couple of weeks. Today was where the curve accelerated “north”.
This morning I checked in with my email, to see that my invitation to have teachers share their names and courses had resulted in more than just entries in our database. I became the point person, in the absence of any other contact, for each of our teachers, many of whom did not yet know what they will be teaching tomorrow.
I worked my way through my inbox, set up an “out of office” message that I thought would explain why I would be absent for several hours, and then headed online for my morning of teaching.
Unfortunately there were TWO “out of office” options, and when I turned it on, it reverted to my “Retirement” message. Not what I had intended.
So, after a staff meeting, then three hours with my Foundations III class, I returned to 91 emails in my inbox.
I loaded up the current data I had on teacher timetables, and began to work my way through my messages in order of receipt. Most of the time I was confirming that there were not yet courses in teacher timetables. Other times I was communicating to them their courses and their time in the schedule. And much of the time I was hoping to reassure, without any solid information about when their concerns would be resolved.
I took a 15-minute break for dinner (my wonderful husband prepared his speciality – I won’t tell you what it is), and returned to my computer. When I finally stood up at 8:00 tonight I had managed to respond to 309 emails, and sent an additional 40 to our course teams, connecting teachers with others who will be teaching the same courses.
Thank goodness for Grade 9 Typing! Mr. Watson at Kincardine District High School, with his manual typewriters, is responsible for much of my career success.
I only left my seat at 8:00 pm because I could no longer access our student information system, and my inbox had ceased to grow.
I know that those who are inputing teacher names are putting in much longer hours than I. It must be so frustrating to work so hard, and know that the task exceeds the possible time.
So, I will check in with my email and our student information system when I awake in the morning. I will connect with as many as possible before our scheduled class start at 8:30 a.m.
And I hope I sleep tonight, and that our teachers can as well!
It’s Sunday, and I’m thinking about how I would prepare for Tuesday, if I were one of our Online School teachers.
I have now experienced an online “first day of classes” three times in my own teaching. My classes were all with pre-service teachers, so they were students who were a little older than ours, but I think the general principles still apply.
Create a student email list, and send a welcome message. Be sure to use BCC for privacy.
Post a welcome announcement in your course.
Have the students reply to your announcement, or within a discussion
This semester I used my Spotify account to create a collaborative playlist. I could then “share” the code within my announcement so that they could add to the playlist and play the music from there. I asked them to reply to the announcement, to explain their choice of “first day” music. I modelled this by adding “Dynamite” by BTS, and explaining that I loved the beat and their dancing.
Remind students that they cannot use their speakers, so they will need earbuds or earphones in order to avoid echo for everyone else.
Connect with the other teachers of your course. In our Online School there may be more than 10 teachers for a single course in each of our Quadmesters. Dividing up the work, and then sharing, will be a lifesaver!
Build Your LMS Framework
Prepare your online materials so that they make sense to you, and so that you can explain them to your students.
Provide a summary page, or pages, so that students can easily find their upcoming assignments, or task lists.
Create PDF versions of important information, so that students can access them offline.
Hide most of your online content so that your students can only see the key information they will need. Don’t overwhelm! Most LMSs allow you to set dates so you don’t need to remember to publish every day.
KISS – Keep it Simple…..
Practice with your Synchronous Tools
Run a practice class with family and friends.
Set up your computer facing a window, or with a good light from behind your screen. Otherwise you look like a dark blob, and students cannot see your facial expressions.
Get comfortable earbuds or earphones, and possibly ones with a mic built in. (If you use your speakers they will feed into your microphone and create an echo that will distract your students.)
If you are using a tool that permits breakout rooms, practice moving students into groups manually, as well as using random allocation.
Consider the layout of the screen for your various purposes: seeing student faces, monitoring their chat, checking attendance, sharing your screen. If you can create multiple layouts it will make it easier as you move from direct instruction to collaborative work.
Plan to Build Community
Plan to co-create class norms:
Who has camera on?
How do we speak without interrupting?
What do we do if we need to step away?
Plan to create opportunities for students to connect with you and with each other:
Use the “reactions” to get quick responses from students, much as you would F2F: thumbs up, agree, etc.
Create simple polls to gather information, or come to a class decision.
Encourage use of the chat, both with everyone and person-to-person.
Create multiple channels:
Live in Google Meet, Teams, Zoom, Adobe Connect, etc.
Discussions in your LMS
Email distribution lists
Backchannel: WhatsApp, maybe even text?
You need a way for students to let you know if they get kicked out of your live sessions, or if their technology is not working.
You also need to discuss class norms regarding their use of backchannels, particularly regarding side conversations that might be hurtful or destructive.
Design activities that provide students with a “home” group, but let them interact with others as well. They need to get to know each other, and that takes time.
When presenting or when sharing a video, put a chat window beside it so that they can discuss what they are seeing and hearing, can ask questions, and you can interact with them.
Create a Google Drive, and have students work collaboratively within documents or slides.
Create a slide deck with one slide per group. While they are in breakouts, working in the slide, you can easily see who is “there” and can monitor what they are writing. Then groups can present from the deck, and everyone can move from slide to slide themselves while listening. The deck then becomes notes for the students to refer to later.
Create individual docs for each group, in the same fashion as described for the slide deck.
NOTE: Do not assign too many individuals to a single doc or slide. The movements of the others in the group will be distracting, and may cause significant lag.
Have students create an online portfolio, shared with you, in which they will present evidence of learning. This will assist you with materials management, and make determination of final marks easier than if you are depending on your own system to track all your students and their work.
Use threaded discussions rather than individual emails for your students to ask, and for you to respond to student questions between classes. That way you are creating a FAQ as you go, and students can refer back to them as needed.
Mentor a Pre-Service Teacher
What? More work for me? Actually, no. Our pre-service teachers were ready to head out to their practicum placements at the end of March Break, and that didn’t happen. So, they are being permitted to work directly with teachers, planning for and designing course materials. They don’t need the paperwork necessary to work directly with students; they’ll be doing that in their official placements this semester. However, many of them need additional hours, and they are available to work collaboratively with you as you plan and prepare.
If you are an OCT, and would appreciate the assistance of a pre-service teacher who has extensive experience with online tools (they are in their second semester of online learning themselves), please contact me and I will play “matchmaker”. Our teacher-candidates will be qualified Intermediate/Senior teachers in English, History, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, General Science, and Health and Physical Education when they graduate in December, so they are well-prepared to assist you.
These are just a few of my ideas. Please suggest yours, or ask me questions in a reply to this blog. Together we are stronger!
Day 13? Saturday? For our timetable team this is now Day 9 without a break, and there will be a Day 10, and maybe a Day 11.
When I was offered this position it was described as a part-time role, along with five other part-time Principals and four full-time Vice Principals, under the leadership of a coordinating Principal. We had about 8000 students, and anticipated a staff of teachers drawn from our existing schools.
The first part is still true, but we are over 11,000 students now, and our staff includes more than 150 LTO, or Long-Term Occasional teachers, each of whom must be hired and the paperwork completed in order for them to begin teaching on Tuesday. So this was the task for most of our team today: figuring out how to complete the paperwork, and have it signed by the LTO teacher, then returned so that the approval signatures could be added for them to be hired. As part of the wellness initiative at our board is a recognition that we need our weekends, so we have a “no email” policy. This has made the task for our VP team much more complicated. They will likely be at it through Sunday into Monday.
There is also the issue of having enough LTO teachers to fill the positions. One of our neighbouring boards was in the news today, indicating that they did not have enough teachers to fill their virtual school. We are in the same boat, since teachers often work for both our boards. We just haven’t made the news…. yet.
I spent this morning completing the task of timetabling 137 of our students into their first two quadmesters. The process of searching for each student, entering the screen to input courses, and searching for each course, and entering it was not a speedy one. When done, I then was provided with the list of teachers, and began to organize their assignments within my spreadsheet. The challenge at this stage is that only ONE person can be working in the timetable at a time when changing the database, so we plan in a spreadsheet, and then one person types while the other person reads and proofreads. Given how long it took me to input four courses for 137 students, I can’t imagine how inputting six teacher names for six courses each will take!
And did I mention that each of us is working from our own space, remotely? So in between the work are the phone calls and emails that have had to take the place of a simple conversation from one desk to another. We can’t just be in the middle of a problem-solving session with one person, and invite another person in the room to join. We must phone them, send them the document via email so that they know what we are talking about, and then move our conversation to Teams in order to engage them in the process. So everything takes just a little bit longer, and has the potential for miscommunication when we take the shortcut of using only phone or only email.
Given this, I am amazed at the work that is getting done.
So, back to yesterday’s work. We didn’t have enough teachers allocated for the classes in the group I was inputing. Long-story-short: approval to hire five more was given, and now our VPs will have to cycle back, and begin the hiring process at the start for these five. I gave a “heads-up” to the coordinator at the board that we were going to need to put in place a plan to communicate with the students, should we not have a teacher in place by Tuesday. And that we would need to plan to prepare the teachers we do have, and possibly supply teachers, to work online.
Our contract teachers who are part of our Online School have had the experience of teaching online since schools closed in March. They come to these positions having experienced “Emergency Remote Teaching”. While they do not yet now their specific course assignments, they have had the past two weeks to prepare for teaching online this year.
Our LTO teachers have not had this time to prepare. They also only know the subject area, not the specific courses they will be teaching. And they are, for the most part, inexperienced, new teachers.
Professional learning was not in the job description for our administrative positions, but I think it is going to be a key part of mine moving forward. I am going to give it some thought, and tomorrow’s blog post will be my personal advice for our Online School teachers.
If you are going to meet your new classes online on Tuesday, and are interested in how I would prepare, please return to this blog tomorrow. I invite you to reply to this blog post, and let me know what you MOST need to know, and I’ll do my best to respond.