School Online – Journal – Day 23

“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!



School Online – Journal – Day 19

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.

School Online – Journal – Day 16

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!

School Online – Journal – Day 15

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!

School Online – Journal – Day 6

Well it’s almost bed time for me, and I’m having to think hard to remember what my day looked like today. It started out slow, and then ended like a freight train!

As I mentioned earlier, our teachers don’t yet know what they will be teaching next week. So, a survey was designed to be sent out to our more than 400 secondary teachers, to request their input as we begin to assign teachers to classes.

Since we are a new school there are no distribution lists. So, I hand-keyed all the names, and hoped that our Outlook email system would find them accurately.  It did, for the most part, but there remain about 20 teachers whose names on our list don’t quite match their email names, and so they won’t have received the request to complete the survey.

It took me a couple of hours to copy and paste both the subject line and body text, and then to BCC each person. When it was done I breathed a sign of relief…. until I received the “gentle” email pointing out that I had identified this year as 2020-2012!  I must have copied that at least  10 times without noticing.

All I could do was laugh!

The survey will be due at the end of the day tomorrow, and then I’ll work with the resulting spreadsheet to create lists for each of the courses we offer, so that we can do our best to match requests to available classes.

That matching will take place on Saturday (no choice but to work the weekend), so that we can get the information out to teachers.  Fortunately the plan is to begin teaching on Wednesday, so they’ll have a bit of breathing space at the beginning of the week to plan, and to reach out to their students.

In my last post I talked about the challenges I anticipate. The one that is preoccupying me is how we create community for our teachers, so that they don’t feel isolated as they embark on a full year of distance learning.

I find that I do my best thinking in the middle of the night. So, it’s off to bed.

I hope your “school start” is going well, or at least as well as it can in these unique times.