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.