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!

No Longer School Online

As our administrative oversight duties for our Online Secondary School have dwindled, I’ve begun to consider what might be our next challenge. It was exciting supporting teachers as they shifted to a fully-online model, but I am less excited about supporting them as they return to an adaptive or hybrid model in their home schools for Quadmester 2. So, I have chosen to conclude my duties, and reserve some of my remaining available work days for the next exciting challenge.

I am very proud of the online school that we have built, and of the teachers who have made it such a success. Here are some of the reasons why I think that this model has worked:

Online Teacher Networking

Our online teachers have been drawn from more than 30 different secondary schools and from our long-term occasional team of teachers. They have come together, most never having met each other, and have built course and department teams that have shared resources and supported this new model of instruction. As they return to their home schools, they will bring with them a rich toolkit and strong connections to their colleagues.

Online Student Agency

Our online students have been guaranteed that 25% of their program is self-regulated. They see their teachers for 3 full periods every two days, and have one period in which they work at their own pace utilizing materials from their LMS. This has provided them with some flexibility, while developing their self-regulation skills.

Online Consistency

The timetable for our online school has allowed for consistent sequencing and scaffolding, so that teachers who teach two classes of the same course can proceed with both in the same order. In the current adaptive model, teachers see one cohort in the first half of the week in person, teach synchronously in the afternoons, and then see the second half of the class in the second cohort in the last half of the week. This means that any hands-on activities are either conducted in advance of the theoretical lesson, or afterwards, but rarely will they encounter the cycle of theoretical and hands-on in the same order.

Our online teachers have been able to establish routines and norms and consistently reinforce them in each class. This creates a safe environment for learning, and minimizes frustration for both students and teachers.

Online Tools

Our online teachers have developed facility with either MS Teams or Google Meet, and with Brightspace/D2L or Google Classroom. They have added Padlet, Mentimeter, Pear Deck and Bitmoji classrooms, and experimented with other online tools to enhance their instruction and assessment. With these tools, students can easily access class materials while in class, and when completing homework tasks. They do not need to shift from digital to paper, nor from screens to in person.

Online Efficiency

Our online students can sleep in, and arrive in class on time in only minutes. And when they conclude their class, they can immediately move to their chosen activity. Those attending in person are spending time in transit, in sanitizing activities, and dealing with interruptions that come along with in-person group activities. Other than technological failures, interruptions to class flow are rare online.

Online Organization

Because course tools and materials are organized by the teacher, students who struggle with organization are better supported. There are no more crumpled papers at the bottom of backpacks!

Online Professional Learning

Our online teachers have risen to the challenge, shared best practices, and sought out new strategies. We enjoyed several teacher-led workshops, entitled “Log and Learn”, over the past two weeks. Their modelling of their classroom practices provided our teachers with inspiration. I was impressed by each teacher’s presence online, their strategies that enhanced their students’ engagement, and with their positive approach to online learning.

Online Student-Student Connection

Our online students benefit from teachers’ support of collaborative activities, through the use of breakout rooms, threaded discussions, and other digital tools. Because they know that their students may not know each other, they have added activities to support connection and building of community. And while the lesson is in progress, students can utilize Chat functions, or other back-channel tools, to connect with each other without distracting the entire class. No more side conversations, or passed notes!

Online Student-Teacher Connection

Within their digital environments students see their teachers’ faces and class materials clearly. Most of the time the teacher’s face, or the tools they are manipulating, are the sole focus on the screen. Their focus can also be directed by the teacher to others in the class as they contribute to the lesson. Chat serves to provide in-the-moment connection, and email is a necessary tool between classes.

Online Success

At midterm, we saw instances of high achievement in many classes. We questioned this, and challenged teachers to share their assessment data, and to explain how they determined midterm marks. They reported that they had students who were able to fully explain concepts, and make connections and apply their learning. They had triangulated their data, and it indicated that many students were achieving much greater success in this online environment than they had been in person.

Of course there were also the other extremes. Most of these were challenges of attendance and of technology, both of which are “fixable”. We need to know more about those who have not succeeded in this environment, and how we can better support them as they move back to a hybrid model.

I am very worried about this new hybrid model, and concerned that it will lose the benefits of the current F2F classes AND lose the benefits of the fully online model.

But I am hoping to be proven wrong!

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 26

Today we began week three of our online school, and the nature of my email inbox is shifting.

Student Attendance

Our teachers are now pursuing students who haven’t yet arrived.  We ask them to reach out to parents first, then guidance counsellors, and finally to connect with the VP responsible for then student (as determined by their surname). To accomplish the first, the teacher must have access to our student information system, and know how to query it to locate each student’s record. So I spent time today sharing the documentation on our system, and then troubleshooting access to the documentation and/or steps within our information system. Then I shared again how teachers could find the name of the guidance counsellor, and the list of alpha VPs. With some teachers only now gaining access to our information systems, it’s a jagged front, and each query requires an individualized response.

We now have office staff who can assist with corrections to student attendance, and with verification of students who could not be verified by their teachers.  I am not sharing the names of our staff broadly, as I do not know the impact on them of what is essentially a school that is an order of magnitude larger than any other school in our board. I will play “gatekeeper” until we figure out how they will be able to handle the deluge.

Teacher Absences

The past week has been spent letting teachers know how to apply for approval of absences such as holy days or family responsibility.  Although they are still attached to their home schools, we must do the approvals.  And we need to ensure that they enter the absence into another system, and that they do NOT request a supply teacher for the first few days of absence.

Communication

Although we have divided our students into groups by surname, and our teachers into groups by subject area, there are still hundreds of questions each day for each of our teams.  And the master list of “who does what” has traveled down in everyone’s inbox, and needs to be sent again to most who need it.

Professional Learning

Having shared the student information system documentation, I then received a beautiful email from a teacher, offering to provide a workshop for our new teachers.  I know that if I offered a workshop many teachers would see it as a “demand”. And I don’t want to pressure any of them, as they plan assessments in order to have data for next week’s report cards. So this teacher has offered to communicate directly with her colleagues, and I am hopeful that some will accept her offer, and learn the skills they need to work efficiently and effectively with our system.

Technology

While I pride myself on my facility with computer technology, I really don’t have much experience with the tools our teachers need to use.  And as an administrator, I can’t even try some of them out! I really am going to have to practice with both Google Meet and MS Teams, as this seems to be the area of least experience for our teachers as well.  Wish me luck!

Teacher Education

I accepted this role as a half-time Principal, but haven’t yet had a half day.  I teach a couple of classes in the Faculty of Education at Ontario Tech University, and this morning I managed to listen to our guest speaker (an elder, visiting and explaining the Seven Grandfather Teachings: Love, Respect, Bravery, Truth, Honesty, Humility, and Wisdom) while screening board emails. 

When my class met, following this amazing presentation, I had opened the wrong virtual classroom, and only nine made it there.  We figured out my error, emailed the rest, and they finally all arrived.  Then they informed me via chat that I had not enabled their microphones, and a little later that their cameras were also not enabled.  Thank goodness I have been working with them for a full year, and they are giving me the benefit of the doubt as things do not go smoothly. I comfort myself that I am modelling flexibility and a positive response to failure!

They are very anxious about completing the necessary practicum hours to graduate in December.  I have offered to connect them with teachers in our school who might appreciate their support in planning, creation of course materials, and in developing new skills within their asynchronous and synchronous tools. They can log hours as volunteers, without having to complete the paperwork necessary for a full placement.

Time Management

I am priding myself on getting my inbox to zero by the end of the school day.  I scan for emergency emails to ensure I don’t leave anyone hanging for too long, and it’s a positive sign that I managed to avoid working throughout most of the weekend. I know that our teachers will likely find time to reach out to me in the evenings, not during the school day, so I return to email a couple of times each evening, to respond to issues that will impact teachers and students the next day.

I wonder if our families realize how close to 24/7 the job of a teacher has become?

School Online – Journal – Day 25

Day 25 was Friday, and Monday is World Teachers’ Day, so I have waited until Sunday to post this blog.  I have been recognizing World Teachers’ Day in many ways over the past couple of decades, but this year has me stymied.

How do we recognize how challenging this past year has been for our teachers? How their relationships with their classes were challenged when they pivoted to Emergency Distance Learning in March? How they rose to the challenge, keeping their students connected and learning? How they worked with their schools to bring computer hardware, connectivity, and support to families? How they had to learn an entirely new skillset, in order to continue as teachers?

In one of my previous roles I was responsible for supporting the use of Instructional Technology in our school district. When we considered the possible use of LCD projectors in classrooms we planned a 5-year process of pilots, assessments, and then staged implementation.  But this past March we compressed that entire process into a couple of weeks, and implemented across the entire system an entirely new means of instruction.  It wasn’t just the hardware that changed, but everything we know about F2F instruction had to be modified and augmented to meet the needs of our new reality.

Taking attendance? How to you record that a student was late because their Internet connection dropped? What if a student doesn’t actually own a webcam, and you’re only able to hear their voice? What if they have to share a computer, and so they might have to log in, find out what to work on, and then hand back the computer to let Mom or Dad attend a crucial meeting at their work?

Access to resources, while richer due to the Internet, is limited by copyright.  All those textbooks are still sitting on the shelves in classrooms, inaccessible by students.  Copyright laws permit reproduction of up to 10% of a text, or a single chapter, so teachers are having to choose carefully which resources they may use with their classes. Teachers are doing their best to share, but all resources require editing and clear presentation, in order to match the reading level needs of their students.

Interaction is limited by the platform.  While Zoom has been most prominent in the news, it is not permitted for use in our classes.  Instead teachers are having to learn how to function with MS Teams and Google Meet, both of which are structured for large group meetings, not group or independent work. Cooperative and collaborative learning is a challenge within a tool that is structured more for a single meet chair or instructor, with the rest of the participants limited to the use of “chat” to interact.

Organization of class materials requires significant writing and uploading on the part of our teachers.  In the past one might write on the blackboard or overhead projector, or prepare a PowerPoint presentation.. Now there must be a file uploaded, and in most cases it needs to be in a PDF format, requiring additional steps. While video has become a key component in our F2F classrooms, teachers are now limited by bandwidth, knowing that many of their students won’t be able to stream without lagging.

And building community has been a challenge.  Much of the time our students have their webcams and microphones off, so when we speak it is into a “void” of silence.  No nodding heads. No excited chatter.  And creating opportunities for students to interact with each other is a complex and time-consuming activity. 

And added to this is the anxiety related to the safety of our students.  We can no longer listen for signs of bullying.  We can’t see if our students appear tired or stressed. We can’t whisper in their ear, and ask if they are “OK”.

Despite all of this, our teachers are doing an amazing job.  They are juggling the demands of curriculum against the need to support the mental health of their students. They are working in isolation, and then reaching out to support each other through subject- and course-based networks. Social media is connecting teachers, and shared drives are allowing them to divide up the work, and reduce their load.

I am excited to hear what our teachers have learned through this process.  Will they adopt a hybrid approach, integrating more media and technology tools into their teaching? Will they choose to work online, having developed strong skills that support learning by students who need to work remotely? Will our models of “school” finally shift from desks in rows?

Tomorrow, please take a moment to recognize the extraordinary efforts of our teachers over the past seven months. And please continue to support them as we face the challenges of the months ahead.

Happy World Teachers’ Day!

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 17

The calm of the morning in Sunny Slope

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.

School Online – Journal – Day 14

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.

Connect Ahead

  • 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.

Share

  • 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!

School Online – Journal – Day 13

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.