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.


  • 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.

School Online – Journal – Day 12

Today was a whirlwind.  Our guidance counsellors in all of our “bricks and mortar” schools were given the list of “conflicts” and began to resolve them to ensure that all students had timetables.  Our communication team had announced that the timetables would be sent to students today, so there was a hard deadline.

I was given the task of ensuring that the details of each teacher’s request was noted next to their name in the master list. I wrote their course preferences, and then indicated if the department or subject into which they had been placed differed from what we had learned from them via last week’s survey.  I believe the subject designations were decided near the beginning of the process, based upon qualifications and input from their schools.  I also believe that teachers were also informed of these department placements at that time, so there shouldn’t be too many surprises.

However, with student timetables a priority, the entry of teachers next to courses didn’t begin until near the end of the day, and is ongoing as I write.

To complicate matters, Principals were given discretion to transfer students to the Online School, where remaining in F2F settings put them at risk. These additional, more than 200 students, made it a challenge for conflicts to be resolved, and resulted in many students without complete timetables. I know that this has created stress for counsellors, who always do the best for their students, and will head home today without resolution.

And, as of the end of this day, there were still LTO positions which had not been filled. So, the suggestion that more teachers be added to the school has merit, but will be difficult to achieve.  I believe there will be many conversations over the weekend, with our leaders working to resolve this dilemma.

Having completed the teacher preference summaries, I was then given the task of timetabling all of our developmentally delayed students into their programs. There are more than 100 students, and each timetable entry takes me from 5 to 10 minutes, so this will be a task that stretches out over my weekend. Yes, this could have been done by each of the schools, but we weren’t ready to begin the task until the end of the school day. And our counsellors have had a busy enough week, and a busier Friday, without having to stay late. We missed the student timetable email deadline, so I have until Monday afternoon to have all of them in place.

I am anticipating hearing from many of our colleagues, concerned that they don’t yet know what they are teaching.  With the hiring of LTO teachers incomplete at this time, I know that a close review will be necessary to ensure that we have teachers matched with classes for Tuesday. So I have no idea when we will be able to share specifics with our teachers.

It is my hope that our Online School teachers will plan their first day as a community building day.  The students will need to learn both the synchronous (MS Teams or Google Meet) software, and the asynchronous learning management system (D2L Brightspace or Google Classroom). The students will be from schools throughout our school board, so few of them will ever have met.  And getting to know new people online is not going to be as simple as it is face-to-face.

One advantage of the Online School is the sheer number of sections of each course.  The odds are that most teachers will have two classes of the same course, and will be working on a course team with several others.  With so many hands, there should be light work.

It will be unusual for some of our teachers to have the support of a colleague, and getting to know each other will be as challenging as it is for the students to get to know each other. I know that there have been Facebook and WhatsApp groups formed, and I hope that this will continue. Our teachers will be stronger together.

So, it’s back to the two computers I have running: one with my spreadsheet of students and their courses, and another with our student information system. I will be thinking of my two colleagues who are now on day seven of timetable building, without a break. They likely have at least two more days ahead of them. We should thank them for their dedication; without them we would have no chance of opening school next Tuesday!

School Online – Journal – Day 11

It’s Thursday, and I know that our teachers’ anxiety is growing. We will see students next Tuesday, and no one in our Online School has yet been told what they are teaching.

This afternoon a virtual meeting took place with the guidance counsellors from all of our “bricks and mortar” schools.  They’re getting ready to resolve all the “conflicts”.  That means the timetable is done!  Well, at least for the students.

The next task, and not a trivial one, is to match up teachers with classes.  We sent out a survey a week ago, and I coded all the results. So, we have lists of who is qualified for what, and what they prefer.  They could just assign teachers based upon our OCT records, but this will be better.  However, it’s not going to be faster.

What is it they say? Go slow to go fast?

They’ll likely use the strategy that we use each year when staffing: fill the most difficult first, and leave the easier ones to the end. In this case they will likely start with single courses, and end with those where there are 40 to 50 classes.  And then when it doesn’t work, backtrack and re-do.

Who knows how long this will take? No one has ever done this before, so it’s almost impossible to predict.

In the meantime I’m doing some “action research”, and figuring out how teachers will do daily attendance with their various flavours of computer hardware.  Our Student Information System was designed to run on PCs, and its interface requires Java. There is a workaround for Macs that involves clicking on a series of options, ending up at our attendance interface (though some people have not been successful making it work with their older Macs).  No one has tested it on Chromebooks yet, so I am awaiting emails back from the two teachers who volunteered to try it out.

Today I had another taste of what our teachers will experience next week when taught my Ontario Tech University Education Law class online.  I had 36 students out of 38 attend, and we were working in Adobe Connect for two hours. I needed two screens to juggle between our interface, shared Google docs, and our Canvas course. Perhaps my students will be able to manage better than I, although the one student who connected via phone was likely unable to see all that they needed to see. We also learned how important it is to have a headset or earbuds.  One student with speakers on created a dramatic echo when I was speaking, so they had to mute almost 100% of the time.

The same challenges are being faced by our “bricks and mortar” school teachers when they are working synchronously in the last period of the day. And to make it even more of a challenge, our Internet dropped in the last 10 minutes of the period. Not a great way to end a long day.

But, tomorrow is Friday! Actually every day this week has felt like Friday, without the reward of a weekend.

I hope that our teachers are able to find some relaxing time, where they are able to distract themselves from the concerns of the week. It promises to be sunny, in the mid teens, so I’m hoping that everyone will get out, get moving, and enjoy this beautiful Autumn weather.

School Online – Journal – Day 10

This morning I met via MS Teams with my Principal colleagues, in our monthly association meeting. The meeting was structured around questions we had for our Associate Directors, System Leads, and others with central responsibilities. Many of the concerns will also be relevant for us when our students begin online next week, so it was time well-spent.

Cohort B arrived today, for their “bonus” Period 1 day.  They will also be in attendance tomorrow, with an identical schedule as today, and then will return on Friday for their Period 2 class. They were new, but the teachers are pros by now, and the day went very smoothly.

The issue of transfers to the online school is a contentious one, with both technical and ethical roadblocks. The deadline was last Thursday, but there are many families who missed the deadline and are now appealing to school staff, Principals and even Superintendents. Not only is this an issue for the timetable, it could potentially impact all of our schools when reorganization takes place for the next Quadmester.

One of the challenges today is the list of 74 vacancies that have yet to be filled.  These are long-term-occasional positions for those on leaves of various types. We are “cold calling” in seniority order, and inviting these teachers to join our school. However, the list that we have does not indicate who among them are already committed to similar positions in our bricks and mortar schools.  Several have taken this as an opportunity to change their assignment for the year, neglecting to recognize that they are obligated to fulfil the duties of the position they originally accepted.  So, some of our Principal colleagues are understandably upset when these teachers inform them that they’re switching jobs.  Thankfully there is a consistent message that this is not possible, and they must honour their agreements.

Our numbers are now more than 10,000, and so the timetabling process involves lengthy “simulations”, and is moving slowly as a result.  One glitch today was where there were 10 classes of the same subject in the same period, but the program was putting twice the number of students in five classes, and leaving the other five empty.  No idea why the program might do this, but thankful that there are software developers able to jump in and remedy the situation.

I am anxious to hear which group will become my “school”. We will be dividing into subject-based groupings, so that we can better support the teachers for whom we are responsible. And I am looking forward to being able to respond to emails about teaching assignments with more information than “we’ll be able to let you know once the timetables are built”.

In the meantime, I hope our teachers are working their way through the Brightspace training materials, reflecting on changes they might wish to make to their courses, and anticipating a year of learning and growth.  I hope that the opportunity to work on course teams that could be as large as 10 to 15 teachers will result in stronger connections, better courses, and improved student achievement.

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 7 and a half….

Well, you know we are in a “new normal” when emails are sent out at 4:37 on a Saturday, to respond to changes since Friday.

Our teachers received an email, ahead of the posting of a letter to parents on our board’s website, letting them know that our online population has grown from 54,000 to more than 64,000 in the past week, and so additional time will be needed to build a new timetable, to ensure an equitable and successful start for all staff and students.  For our secondary folks this means that their students will work on a cross-curricular independent inquiry project aligned to our core subject, which can then be reviewed by teachers as a pre-instruction assessment, to gauge where students are in their learning.  Students will have access next Tuesday, will receive their timetables by the end of the week, and will join their classes the following Tuesday.

I’m hoping that this additional time will provide a respite for them, following four days of COVID orientation in their community schools.  And knowing that they will have some time to prepare before launching their synchronous classes should offset the anxiety that this uncertainty might be generating.

I’m thinking that, if this trend continues, we should change our language from “excessed” from the community school to “seconded” to the Online School.  I’m also imagining that for some teachers the fully online will have some appealing features missing from the hybrid community school model.  They will see their students every day.  They will be working with a full class each day, rather than half. They will be able to create a scope and sequence and then follow it in a cycle between synchronous and asynchronous. And they will be able to refine their online processes, and develop expertise.

And those in our community schools, where they see half a class on Monday morning, and the other on Thursday morning, with asynchronous between, and a synchronous session on Tuesday and Friday, will have a more challenging planning task ahead of them. Three different learning environments within one class, and not always in the same sequence, will require that they abandon their linear approach.  It’s likely to be unsettling, but I think it will break down some of the routines, and promote creative solutions to better serve our students.

In both settings this promises to be a year of growth and learning, for both teachers and students.

School Online – Journal – Day 7

Isn’t technology fun? Maybe, or maybe not.

Here are some snippets from my Friday:

Welcoming new pre-service teachers to Ontario Tech University

  • Adobe Connect was new to them.
  • Several didn’t have earbuds or headphones, and so any audio from their speaker went back out their mic, creating a disconcerting echo. I’m hoping that they’ll have them on when classes start next week.
  • With almost 30 students, our thumbnail faces were literally “thumbnail” size.
  • This was the FIRST orientation activity where they were actually asked to speak to each other.  All previous had been webinars…. three days’ worth!
  • Result?  We had a great time getting to know each other.

Picking up a new laptop

  • I had to sign in and out at the board office.
  • I had to wait to be escorted, rather than heading to my meeting.
  • There were two of us in a huge room, both of us masked.
  • We were almost finished when I mentioned that I would be in a school next week, and found out that they then needed to add more to the setup so that I would be able to access Wifi.
  • Result? It works well…. except that you must be on the Internet to use many of the new tools.


  • As mentioned in a previous post, our ISP “up north” has disappeared.  And they billed me twice for last month, so I’m out a rather large sum of money.
  • So, when I made the trip up the 400, it was to a place with no connectivity.
  • Thank goodness for my personal phone and its data plan: I was able to tether to download, and send email.
  • Result? Headed in to town today, signed a contract with the ONLY LTE provider, and am now back online.

Data Tools

  • I was able to download the results of the Google Form survey of our online teachers, and bring it into Excel.
  • We made the survey simple for the teachers, but that made the data much more complex.  For example, when asked what courses teachers were assigned this year, some replied with course codes, and others with text descriptions.  And we asked one question, but received up to 8 data points.
  • I created columns for each subject, and then hand-entered the first letter of the subject (M for Math, E for English), as well as a few more specific codes.  What is the logic of having GLE as a special education course, and GLC as careers?
  • Once each record was coded, I was able to sort.  I then created a new worksheet for each subject area, and copied the teacher information to the new worksheet. 
  • Within each worksheet we may need to create more columns, in order to sort by specific course codes.  However, for many subject areas it may be sufficient merely to scan to pick out who wants to teach BOH4M0 or BTA3O0.


  • The building of the timetable is ongoing, and a gargantuan task with more than 9000 students and about 400 teachers.
  • Most of our most experienced timetabling Vice Principals are either retired, or have been promoted to Principal.
  • So, my contribution next week will be to fill in for one of the latter, who will join our School Online team in order to ensure we timetables for classes to begin next Wednesday.

It’s the weekend.  I finally have Internet again, and am capturing yesterday’s experiences before they disappear.  I’m looking for clothes to wear next week. It’s been six months since I wore my “Principal” costume, so I’ll have to dig.

On Monday I’m looking forward to experiencing our new hybrid secondary school model, where 50% of our students will attend for the morning, and then return home for both asynchronous and synchronous learning.  I’m going to learn all about PPE and distancing with teenagers!  And I would imagine that my afternoon will be spent trouble-shooting with our teachers who will be teaching synchronously for the first time from their classrooms, after working from home in the spring.

Because I also teach, in the morning I’ll be meeting my pre-service teachers, with whom I worked throughout the 2019-2020 school year, but this time it will be in Adobe Connect rather than at Ontario Tech University. I’ll be behind closed doors in the “Principal’s Office”, and if I’m interrupted by school staff it will just be a learning opportunity for my students.

I hope everyone is taking time for themselves this weekend, and doing something that relaxes and refreshes.  There are going to be a lot of new experiences next week for our students, for our F2F teachers, and for our Online School teachers.  I’ll be listening, observing, and learning along with all of you! I’ll let you know what learned in my next blog post.

Photo credit: Hans-peter-gauster-252751-unsplash.jpg

School Online – Journal – Day 5

Day 5 for both our “bricks and mortar” schools, and our new Online School!

In person, our teachers are welcoming Cohort B of Grade 9 students, combining COVID training with our traditional welcome to secondary school. I can’t imagine what it’s like for our teens, heading off to “high school” in such a time.

Online, we are still awaiting creation of our timetable for almost 9000 students.  Did you know that software developers have never considered this eventuality? So, there have had to be a lot of last-minute software tweaks, and many tasks have had to be “redone”.

Since we have no solid timetable, we haven’t yet been able to assign our teachers, so they are out there in limbo.  As an administrative team we are working to define our jobs.  We need to support our students and our staff, and ensure that the needs are met by a team of Principals and Vice Principals, some of whom are working part-time.

So what are the roles of Principal and Vice Principal? We are thinking that the Vice Principals might take responsibility for a group of students, probably according to the placement of their last name in the alphabet.  Our Principals primary work could be to support teachers and liaise with parents.  So they may be grouped according to subject areas, in order to create smaller communities.

However, some of these departments will be very large.  We estimate courses for students in a year to be 7.5. and teachers each lead 6 classes of anywhere from 22 to 31 students. So our 9000 students will require somewhere between 450 and 550 teachers. Tomorrow night is the deadline for students to opt to join our Online School, so our number of teachers may grow as well. For English alone we are looking at 50 to 60 teachers.

It is hoped that teachers will know their assignments as of the weekend, and will have Monday and Tuesday to prepare before classes formally begin on Wednesday. But since this is still a tentative plan, the communication is awaiting confirmation, and our teachers’ anxiety is growing.

My role as a Principal will be to allay their fears, find out what my teachers require, and figure out how to get it to them as soon as possible.  They will be learning to use an LMS (Learning Management System), refine their use of Google Meet or Microsoft Teams, collaborate with others who are teaching the same course (many of whom they will never have met), and then connect with their students (whose anxiety is likely similar, as they sit at home!)

Since we still have two more days this week, and there may not be much news, I’ll take the next couple of blog posts to consider how I might support my teachers and students, beginning next week.

How will I build community with my teachers?

How will I support teachers to utilize research-based, student-focused instruction and assessment strategies?

How will I support the Mental Health of my teachers, and their students?

More questions than answers right now!

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.