School Online – Journal – Day 4

After the long weekend, we teachers expect to head back to school, meet our students, and embark on the new school year with excitement and optimism.

This year is different.

Teachers in “bricks and mortar” schools in our district are spending this week orienting students to the new reality of COVID-19. Today they welcome Cohort A of the grade 9’s, and tomorrow it will be Cohort B of grade 9.  Thursday and Friday will Cohorts A and then B of grades 10, 11 and 12. They won’t be together as a class until next week, and then it will be the start of the “Quadmester” rather than “Semester”. Students will be enrolled in two courses, and they will be at school for two mornings, and working both asynchronously and synchronously at their computers at home for the rest of the time. So, teachers will be doing icebreakers and syllabus review for their four groups on Monday, but some will be F2F, some will be asynchronous, and some will be synchronous. No longer can they plan one “Day One” lesson.

But these aren’t even the School Online teachers. These are the teachers who are remaining in the “bricks and mortar” schools, to teach 83% of our secondary schools.

The School Online teachers don’t yet know what they will be teaching, have not yet been told who will be their administrators, and have received no training. They remain in their Home schools, doing primarily hallway supervision and directing the flow of students.  Not a very exciting or inspiring way to begin the school year!

So, today we meet as an admin team.  I am hoping that timetables have been built, and that teachers will soon learn their assignments.

Our “bricks and mortar” teachers can begin to plan their new repertoire of instruction, with some content provided F2F, some asynchronously, and some synchronously.  Since they have Cohort A and Cohort B of the same class, they are also going to need to duplicate the same content and activity in more than one mode, if they wish to follow the same scope and sequence. Or, they are going to have teach in lessons that do not have to follow a specific sequence, if they wish to use the same asynchronous content for both Cohorts. And since Wednesdays will be a “bonus” day for each of the four groups, as soon as we complete week 2 the groups will be out of synch. So many things to consider!

One of our district teachers has built a beautiful planning spreadsheet to help. Check out the twitter account of @miss_jtoor, and her Google Sheet at It’s wonderful to see teachers make sense of their new reality!

But our School Online teachers are in limbo, so their anxiety is growing. They don’t know what they are teaching. They don’t know who they will be teaching. They don’t know their schedule, beyond 8:30 to 2:30. And it is the first day of school!

Tomorrow I will share more details of both our hybrid “bricks and mortar” schools and our online school.

School Online – Journal – Day 3

It is still the traditional “week before school starts”, but this is one of those unusual years the occur once every six years where we need days before Labour Day in order to fit all of the school days between Labour Day and the end of June.

So today is Day 3 for our teachers, who are concluding all of the health and safety professional learning that is necessary to keep our students safe. It’s now mostly online, so many of them are completing it at home, and then heading into school to attempt to make their rooms safe. Many will be trying to achieve physical distancing that is mathematically impossible within their crowded classrooms.

So, perhaps those who have been declared excess to their schools, and who will soon learn that they will be joining our online school, will be relieved. I’m thinking a lot about how our new online school will be unique as we build it with teachers who were at the lowest on our seniority lists, and students whose parents fear for their safety in our “bricks and mortar” schools.

And it will be my job, as their Principal, to make it the best learning experience for students and teachers.

So, what did I learn on Day 3?

  1. When you are kicked out of your “class” you need a back-channel to let your teacher know. When I had to leave my Final Oral Examination (aka Defence), my advisor needed to reach me via cellphone to let me know to come back in. How will our students contact our teachers if their Internet goes down, or their device crashes?
  2. Sitting for 90 minutes in front of a camera is hard on the neck. Now, mind you, this was an exam. But for many of our students their interactions with their teachers feel like an exam. How can we support our students to sustain their attention, and remain physically healthy?
  3. When the class ends, so does the social connection. In a “bricks and mortar” school, the conversation continues as we head out of class, and out to the bus or car. That easing, and gentle shifting of focus, is important. How jarring will it be for our students to say goodbye, take off the headphones, and be back in their home world?

My online session ended with congratulations from my examining committee and a new title, “Dr. Whitmell”.

But the feeling when I closed my laptop, and took off my headphones, was a strong wish to be with people, not sitting alone in a room. I felt let both let down and frustrated, with excited and relieved. How will I, as one of our online school’s leaders, support my teachers and my students once our school day ends?

School Online – Journal – Day 2

Today’s Professional Learning began with my joining the staff of one of our “bricks and mortar” schools, working through a PowerPoint presentation in Zoom. With 100 staff in the room, and only about 20 with cameras on, it was an effective and somewhat relaxing way to begin the day. I thought a lot about how they might be feeling, connecting with their colleagues, but sitting at home.

They then headed out to do a training module that was not required of administrators, so I jumped into tomorrow’s package, and worked my way through a full-day’s-worth of PD over the next five hours. It was nicely put together, with several videos followed by reflections.

In between sections of the agenda I was checking my email (I now have six accounts I have to monitor between my grad program, school, pre-service teacher courses, and personal account) and getting set up for tomorrow.

Tomorrow I will be completing my PhD Final Oral Exam, via Zoom. I am at the end of five years of study, and very excited to have reached this milestone.

I’ll let you know how it turned out in tomorrow’s post…..

School Online – Journal – Day 1

September 1, 2020 was a day unlike any other since I began “school” at age 5 in 1965. While students remain at home, our teachers have begun the first of three Professional Learning Days. But, unlike other years where we have met prior to the Labour Day Weekend, this one began online.

We were all online, viewing a welcome message from our Director of Education. Then we completed COVID-19 training and WHMIS training, with choices of video, slide presentation, or text.

Those heading back to “bricks and mortar” schools were then permitted to attend a staff meeting… but only 50 at a time in a physically distanced space. Next week that all changes when our elementary colleagues welcome classes as large as 30 into very small classrooms! ….but I digress.

Our online teachers didn’t yet know that they are our teachers. They found out that they are “excessed” at the end of today, after they had already met with half the school staff, and then with their departments. And they know little beyond the fact that they will now be leaving their school as of Friday. We have 8200 students joining us, so you can imagine how many teachers headed home to share with family that all that they had planned for this fall has changed.

Those of us who do know that we are working online, along with those who are occasional teachers, then headed on for more online learning: Anaphylaxis, Concussion, and Asthma. The last two are provided by a central organization whose servers could not keep up. So I did that training before bed.

I am excited at the prospect of working with teachers to extend their skillset in this new online environment. I wish I could whisper “it’s going to fun” to each of the teachers who learned today that they are “excess”, so that they don’t spend their nights worrying.

And I’m excited that we will be working with new tools, in a new way, and will be learning together.

But, in the meantime we have to wait until timetables are built, teachers are assigned, and we figure out how we will work as a team to support them and their students.

So, I’m awake at night as well, imagining scenarios, and brainstorming ways to utilize our technology in service of learning, connection, and growth.

I’m hoping to document our journey in a series of blog posts: three this week, and then daily after the Labour Day Weekend. Please comment, or contact me directly, to add your perspective, or to ask any questions about the new path we are building for our students.