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.

Project-Based Professional Development

This Friday the teaching staff of Brampton Centennial Secondary School participated in our first full Professional Learning Day. As Principal, and lead learner, I chose to apply some of my learning about planning and instruction to our day’s activities.

Here are the Principles that this Principal followed:

1. Choose the simplest technology for the task
* paper not PowerPoint (for the Agenda and Exit Card)

2. Design backwards
* begin with the Ministry and Board requirements
* layer use of technology, innovative instruction, and collaborative tools on top of the content

3. Honour learning styles
* communicate, don’t lecture
* provide flexible frameworks and timelines
* clearly outline assessment criteria

Our teachers had organized themselves in Professional Learning Cycle teams at the previous week’s “Early Release” session, so they were ready to begin; some at the Reflect stage, some ready to Plan. The work of each team supported one of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s four “Pillars” of Literacy, Numeracy, Pathways, or Community, Culture and Caring, and also linked to one or more of the Peel District School Board’s System Goals.

We began the day with breakfast (food is always good!), and then our teams departed to work. A few hours later, we reconvened, and teams submitted their Exit Cards, which restated the focus of their work framed as a “Theory of Action”. With this focused statement of intent, our teams are now prepared to Act in their classrooms. Though we’ve not yet introduced “Instructional Rounds” to our staff, we’re planting the seeds for work in this area later in the school year.

The feedback we received on this half of the day was overwhelmingly positive: one teacher told me that this was the best PD he had experienced in a decade. And I believe that the work of the morning served to set a positive tone for the more traditional “presentation” format of the afternoon, where we were presented with information on Anxiety in Adolescents.

I plan to continue to model processes and tools, hopeful that my teachers will recognize those they might wish to try in their classrooms. I will continue to take risks with my staff, and reflect on the results, be they good or bad. And I will, I know, love being back in the role of “teacher”, if only for a few PD days a year!