School Online – Journal – Days 19, 20 and 21

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.