Priya Parker, Brené Brown, and how a Return to Work relates to K-12 Return to School

My morning walk is my time to listen to podcasts, and one morning last week I was captivated by a conversation (part 1 of 2) between Brené Brown and Priya Parker entitled “How We Return and Why it Matters“.

Priya Parker is the author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters“. In this conversation, she and Brené Brown discuss how the world is going back to work, and what that might look like.  As a K-12 Principal, it’s also been a topic at the forefront of my thinking, and I was struck by how similar our concerns are.

Access and Equity

Priya Parker and Brené Brown discuss the possibility that a return to in-person work might inadvertently be punishing those who choose to continue to work from home. Priya Parker suggests that “if not everybody is in the room, is it important to have two facilitators or two hosts, an in-person host and a hybrid host?”  She recommends that in order to not exclude those working from home, perhaps everyone has to take the meeting through their computers in separate rooms, so as to not limit power and access.

In our K-12 educational context, this is exactly the concern of our educators, who worry that a hybrid model with a single teacher will shift the focus to the teacher from the students. And they share a concern that students at home and students in the classroom will not have equitable access to resources, to the attention of the teacher, and to opportunities to collaborate and learn together.

Vaccination

Priya Parker shared a story about a parent who tried to protect guests to her child’s party by providing t-shirts that indicated their vaccination status. In an effort to allow her guests to make informed choices, she was inadvertently creating a caste system.

As our children ages 12 to 18 begin to be vaccinated, we will be entering our middle and secondary schools in September with both students and teachers who may be fully or partially vaccinated. I know that there will be students who will use this as an argument to push back against cohorting, masking, social distancing, and use of sanitizing processes. And I fear that those who still do not feel safe heading into our schools due to personal or family circumstances will run the risk of being excluded, both socially and physically.

Physical Distancing

In business we shake hands, and in schools there is often a culture of hugging and other forms of physical connection. Elbow bumps, bowing, and air “high fives” may need to be developed as a form of connection when we meet in person. There is a risk of “micro-moments of perceived rejection” as we develop our sense of connection, and consider physical proximity as a measure of how much or how little we are “liked”.

When working online we are glued to our seats, not moving. We cannot be moving around the room and still able to maintain connection through our cameras. Will a year of inactivity result in students who are no longer comfortable moving around the classroom, interacting with each other? Will teachers be driven to return to the 1960’s model of the teacher at the podium, lecturing to the class?

Principles and Policies

The principle behind the the t-shirts was caring, but the policy of providing shirts served to exclude. In order to get to meaningful policy we need to aim for policy that reflects people’s “deepest experiences”, through a participatory process so that people “feel that the policy is the best way to coordinate their work”.

As I write this blog post, some Ontario school boards have communicated an intent to deliver program through hybrid classrooms for the 2021-2022 school year. This policy decision has been made, often without any experience of the hybrid model. And for boards where hybrid models are in place, little attention may have been paid to the genuine experiences of the teachers, students and their families.

Policies provide the “handrails and guardrails” that Brené Brown says need to be designed from “power with and power to, not power over”. However a policy of hybrid instruction provides neither handrails, which would be created through successful models and exemplars, nor guardrails, which could only be formed from the experiences of our teachers.

Rather than impose a policy, we need to consider ourselves to be “in beta”, and continue to be creative and innovate as we remain in this period of great transition. Imposition of policy as an act of power can only be destructive to our education system, and to our students.

Next Steps

I look forward to listening to Part 2 of this podcast, and to continue my thinking about how we gather, be it online or eventually in person.

I am also interested in how the plan for hybrid learning will be framed by some of our school boards as anything other than a power and money move. In the long run, I cannot see how we can defend a system that creates worse outcomes for all participants. Will we hear from parents who want in-person-only classes, so that the teacher can provide individual attention to their children? Will parents begin demanding “paper packages” so that they don’t have to deal with technology at home?  Will teachers leave the profession, burnt out by the demands of teaching two different groups at the same time?

As a Principal of a fully virtual school I have seen how effectively each of the three remote models: fully synchronous instruction, asynchronous instruction via an effective Learning Management System, and remote learning with well-design print materials, can be for different student needs. But I cannot imagine how a teacher can do their best in all three models while simultaneously providing a rich, in-person classroom experience. We have the potential to develop the “handrails and guardrails” that we need, but not with an imposed policy based upon money and power.

Preparing our New Teachers

It’s mid-December, and I know that the Teacher Candidates who began our pre-service program imagined a very different reality than we know today. They were promised a program of teacher-preparation, with placements with Associate Teachers which would prepare them to enter classrooms upon graduation.

Instead, they’ve had to pivot their university courses from face-to-face, to Adobe Connect and Zoom. They’ve missed their second placement entirely, as it was to begin the day that lockdown began in March. And now they are in placements in secondary schools with teachers who have limited experience with Google Meet, PearDeck, Brightspace, and all the other tools of their new remote/hybrid/online classrooms.

It’s one thing to “train” for a job; and it’s another to figure out the job while doing it. Both our Associate Teachers and our Teacher Candidates are in the middle of a steep learning curve, and boy, are they learning!

Some boards have asked teachers to teach fully online.  This is the simplest model, and one which our Teacher Candidates have experienced during their third term as students.  They have developed a strong toolkit, and have had excellent models in their university professors, and so they’re doing a good job when they land in these classrooms. Their students, however, are novices with the technology, and so they’re having to teach both the course content, and the tools with which to learn.

Some students are in traditional classrooms, but the students are physically spaced, wearing masks, and attending in person for only some of the classes. These students also have synchronous online classes, as well as asynchronous assignments where they work from materials within their learning management system (LMS), such as Google Classroom or Brightspace. Building community, supporting social learning, and monitoring individual student progress is a new challenge.

Many students are in hybrid settings: the teacher has some students physically in the classroom, and the rest of the students online, both at the same time! This requires accessing two very different set of tools, and trying to deliver them simultaneously. Some of the students are able to provide real-time, valuable feedback throughout the lesson, and others are merely muted names on the screen.

The most challenging scenarios I’ve encountered are physical and health education classes, with as few as two or three students in person for a 2.5 hour block, with the rest of the class at home without equipment.  They signed up for “phys. ed.” and they’ve ended up having to do a lot more reading and writing than they anticipated.

This move to larger blocks of time was designed to minimize the overlap of cohorts within schools, but they have created learning sessions that are far longer than most teenagers can manage without distraction.  I hope that reflection on the part of school leadership might result in new models that permit facility-dependent programs such as physical education, nutrition, construction, etc. to bring more groups into the school to use the space, throughout the day. 

I’m hearing from my students that these learning teams of teachers are having to experiment, reflect, and problem-solve every day, to try to meet the needs of their students. Teachers are questioning the use of traditional assessment tools, and worrying that the challenges of slow internet, lack of access to technological tools, and limited support within their students’ homes might be roadblocks to their students’ learning. They are finding new ways of teaching and assessing, and I hope that they will soon begin to share their successes and support their colleagues to adopt these new strategies.

As I conference with my students, viewing them either live in Google Meet, or recorded in their classroom, I am hearing that they are working harder than they ever have.  And they are learning more than they could ever imagine.

We are graduating an amazing group of young teachers this December.

Coming soon to a classroom near you!

School Online – Journal – Days 35 to 41

In my last post I wrote about “gradual release of responsibility”, and now it applies to me.

Last week was mark reporting, and so we were busy supporting teachers to enter marks, and ensuring that report cards were distributed via email to our students. Among our teachers are some with years of experience, alongside those who have never determined midterms marks. So it was a busy time, with many emails back and forth as we supported and educated.

We’ve now had three teacher-led workshops: each one providing our teachers with new tools to bring to their online classrooms. I am so appreciative of the efforts our teachers have made to share their expertise.

While not nearly as experienced, I’m going to be co-facilitating a workshop later this week, and again the following week, working with another instructor from Ontario Tech University to share best-practices in online secondary school instruction. Her work is based upon that of Garrison, Anderson & Archer (1999), which was developed in a text-based online environment, but applies equally well to our multi-media synchronous environment. We will be engaging with secondary school teachers, making connections between this theoretical framework (see illustration at top) and their daily work.

If you’re interested in this, or other workshops, please check out https://ote-shareconf.weebly.com/.  Each session is 90 minutes in length, facilitated by Ontario Tech University instructors and friends, and costs $10.00.

Back to the “release”.  My work has been “dwindling”, and I’m spending my time responding to emails that could easily be managed by others on our team.  I have no exciting challenges on the horizon, and so I am preparing to head on. There are those on our team who will be continuing to support our Coop program through a full semester, and to manage the shift of some of our most vulnerable students into the new model. But I am seeing myself without any agency to influence our program and processes in Quadmester Two, and I am feeling useless.  

Our online teachers will be bringing a huge toolkit back to their “brick and mortar” schools, having instructed synchronously 75% of the time, with strong asynchronous content for the remaining 25%.  They have worked entirely online, both with their students and with colleagues and admin.  They have juggled new tools, with little training or support.  And they have thrived.  One teacher told me that he didn’t know why so many of his students were doing so well in his class. He was triangulating his assessment data with conversations and observations, and they were still exceeding all expectations.  He said “What should I do?”. I said: “I guess you celebrate!”

With the new demands to teach to both the students in front of them in the classroom, and those online at the same time, they are facing new challenges.  If the hardware and connectivity work, I know they will succeed. The challenge to connect students in all three cohorts, and build community, will be a greater challenge than that of instructing. Teenagers crave connection, and they have been starved since March.  Bringing online tools and expertise to the F2F classroom should begin to address that need.

I wish our teachers well as as they embark on Quadmester Two in mid-November.  They have proven themselves, and should be proud.

School Online – Journal – Day 30

I started Day 30 with my usual trip through my Inbox, addressing questions from our teachers before the school day began.

Then our admin team met with one of our teacher leaders, who has been working with us to prepare for next week’s planned staff meeting. About 10 minutes into this meeting I was feeling overwhelmed by the task of taking a slide deck created by someone else, speaker notes that were becoming too dense to read easily, and a new-to-me medium of MS teams to meet with my designated group of teachers.  My suggestion that we create a live event, rather than multiple simultaneous sessions lead by each of us, was thankfully adopted.  It’s still going to be a new experience for us, but we can focus our efforts and communicate a single, consistent message to our school of more than 500 teachers. We will also have time to do a “dry run” on Tuesday, so that we might encounter fewer glitches for the real meeting on Wednesday.

When I made it back to my inbox, and my daily check of Facebook and Twitter, the conversation had grown around the rumoured changes to our instructional models. I spent some time in conversation on the phone with one teacher regarding her concerns about the possible switch from fully online into a hybrid model. I was, again, reminded of our teachers’ dedication to their students; this teacher has accommodations to work from home, and so is guaranteed to remain online.  Her worries are for our districts’ students and teachers.

A few weeks ago I challenged Jennifer Gonzalez (@cultofpedagogy), author of the Cult of Pedagogy blog and podcast, when she asked for suggestions to improve teaching online and in hybrid settings. I was looking for ways for teachers to improve the student-to-student networking and communication, prioritizing it over the transmission model from teacher to student. She rose to the challenge, and her blog, How to Teach When Everyone is Scattered is a gold-mine for teachers faced with what appears to be an impossible task. I met Jennifer when she was a keynote at our board’s summer conference for teachers several years ago.

I am not going to repeat her content here, but I will summarize her key points:

  1. Create Student Cohorts
  2. Limit the Synchronous
  3. Chunk the Time
  4. Build Community Intentionally
  5. Experiment with Cameras and Screens
  6. Optimize Discussions

And she concludes with advice that I wish I had written:  “Consider teaching in a post-COVID world to be the most massive project-in-Beta ever. It’s going to be messy, but that’s how humans learn and grow and adapt. Continue to experiment, fall apart on the days when it’s your turn (because everyone seems to need a turn every now and then), ask students and parents for feedback, observe other teachers when you can, and most importantly, keep giving yourself and your students grace.”

As we head into our Thanksgiving Long Weekend here in Canada, please give yourself grace. My grandmother was “Mary Grace”, my mother is “Bette Grace”, and my husband and I named our daughter “Emma Grace”, and its meaning has become stronger to me in the past eight months of this pandemic. Merriam-Webster provides 17 definitions of grace. In its biblical roots, grace refers to mercy and forgiveness.  In its more modern definition it may be used to mean ease and suppleness. 

I wish our teachers grace in all its forms.

 

Photo by Cleo Vermij on Unsplash

School Online – Journal – Day 29

After more than a week of delays, then finally a memo outlining our reporting process, there is now an entire “about face”.  I can’t share it, because I’m not the official “messenger”, but I know it is making the rounds in Facebook and Twitter.

And yesterday’s post seems prescient: many of our Ontario school boards seem to be ready to opt for the worst of all worlds: a hybrid model where a teacher has to teach TWO groups at the same time, one in front of them in person while at the same time juggling the other group online within MS Teams or Google Meet.

I am seeing wonderful learning happening in our fully online model.  And I saw tired, but happy, students in their double-periods in face-to-face settings.  Both had the benefits of some asynchronous learning, and synchronous lessons with the full class of up to 34 students.

Now our successful online model is at risk of being downgraded, with teacher attention having to be split.

I need to go watch more Murdoch Mysteries…..

School Online – Journal – Day 8

Days 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 will be spent in a real “bricks and mortar” school, filling in for a Principal who will be working to build our School Online timetable.  With more than 10000 students and more than 400 teachers, this is an unprecedented task.

That word “unprecedented” is on my list of the top word for 2020. It seems to apply to everything.

Today was the first day that I wore a mask continuously, from 7:30 to 4:30.  I am gaining an appreciation for my healthcare friends, and for the crocheted “ear savers” that I made last night.

In the school, today is the first day of classes, following a week of orientation. The first 150 minutes of day were scheduled as Period 1, Cohort A.  Students were met at a limited number of entrances to the school, applied hand sanitizer and ensured that they were suitably masked.  Most teachers were instructing up to 15 students, physically spaced, F2F. Some were also streaming their instruction to Cohort B, in order to keep both halves of the class in synch, rather than having them complete asynchronous work.

As teachers began their classes, I was in a Teams meeting with the Online School team, getting updates from the timetabling team, and discussing how we might define our roles as we move forward.  In the absence of department heads, we will be supporting subject-specific groups with a designated Principal or Vice Principal. Not sure if I will end up in the Arts, Technology, Math or Business.

Students departed at the end of their double-period class, returning home to resume work asynchronously online until the last period of the day, when they would meet their Period 2 class online.  Half of them will then continue with this group tomorrow morning, while the other half will have another online class before they actually attend class at school on Friday.  Our students will attend school two mornings per week, plus every other Wednesday morning for one of their two classes.

At lunch most teachers left to enjoy some fresh air, many “dining” in the parking lot. I am thinking that there might be many creative solutions appearing in the next couple of weeks, given that the other option is to eat alone in a classroom.

Then teachers returned to work, preparing asynchronous materials and setting up their LMS classrooms. In the final period of the day some were able to provide additional synchronous activities to their Period 2 class. The limiting factors appeared to be access to computers with webcams, few document cameras, and sometimes a quiet space to work. I think we’re going to need to post a message in the office during this period, reminding us not to call into classrooms or use the PA system, so as not to interrupt online teaching.

I managed a couple of circuits of the school’s hallways during the two afternoon periods.  With no students in the school, and teachers at computers either preparing of instructing, it was an eerie place.  I managed a few conversations, both with teachers I knew from past schools and those new to me.  They seem optimistic, and happy to be back with kids.

Our communication over the past couple of weeks has not used the term “hybrid”, but it seems to be an apt term to describe the teaching methods being used, with many more online tools than perhaps parents realize. Our teachers have a choice between Brightspace and Google Classroom for their LMS, and between MS Teams and Google Meet for their synchronous classes. They are experimenting, and learning, and will be experts very soon.

At the end of the day was the monthly staff meeting.  All teachers were in the school, but were meeting via MS Teams. With several interruptions where the network dropped the meeting, one VP lead the meeting, while the other monitored the chat and managed questions from those who raised their hands.  It was fairly effective, with some use of chat for clarification. As supply Principal I was able to listen, and hear the excellent responses from the Vice Principals to the teachers’ concerns.

Tonight I am getting prepared for tomorrow by reading the emails I didn’t get to during the day, writing this daily journal, and crocheting more “ear savers” to bring to school tomorrow. I’m looking forward to spending more time in the halls this week, and peeking into classrooms to see how our physically distanced classes are working.  I’m sure that by Friday my musings tonight will be replaced by new perceptions, and I look forward to this process.

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 bit.ly/338150a. 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.