There are never completely right answers in education. Nothing that works for all children at all times. I totally get that and I can accept it. But boy is it making things even harder right now.
Basic timeline for my district’s move to distance learning (as we’re calling it):
March 12, 2020: Kids at schools. A last minute decision has been made for Monday, March 16 to be a teacher workday for teachers to get professional development on distance learning.
March 13, 2020: Schools closed for the day.
By Monday, March 16, 2020, schools closed until after spring break, four weeks away. Clearly folks at high levels were concerned about when we might actually be able to return and began turning wheels. Central office people began creating packets of work for grades K-8 to be mailed to students and placing things on our district’s Blackboard for students. Those same folks as well as school-based technology folks and instructional coaches began receiving training for online instruction.
Week of March 30th: School based folks (teachers, instructional assistants, counselors, etc) began receiving training for the tools to use for online instruction and professional development around how to facilitate such learning in various content areas. Time was also allotted to meet as teams for planning.
Week of April 6: Spring break, technically not working but many folks were in meetings to plan together and problem solve.
This week: Monday was a teacher workday and online instruction began on Tuesday, that would be yesterday.
We had a month from the time we first were out of school until we began online instruction. There were things put into place immediately for students and families that wanted them (packets and lessons in Blackboard). But we were given time to plan thoughtfully. We didn’t jump in immediately and wear ourselves down trying to begin teaching while figuring out what that looks like. We’re still figuring things out, of course, but the time was a gift.
In addition, we are not trying to do online, synchronous instruction for an entire school day, every day. My 3rd graders have one hour of synchronous instruction in the mornings, Monday through Thursday (that is recorded for those who can’t be there then but want to see it later). On those same days there is another hour, in the afternoon, for me to meet with students one-on-one or meet with families. We are providing activities for students to use at other times and the district is still mailing packets each week through the rest of the year. Fridays are reserved for teams to meet and plan together.
At the high school and middle school levels (as I have my own kids at both of those levels), students attend synchronous classes two days per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays for high school and Wednesdays and Fridays for middle school). They meet with four of their classes on each of those days for 45 minutes each. Teachers are available for individual help on the other days. And Mondays are for teachers’ meetings and planning.
The timing for each school level was designed to aid families in sharing devices and bandwith, trying to minimize how many kids might need to be online at any time. It also ensures there are opportunities for students to meet with counselors or other school adults who support them.
We are not assigning grades for fourth quarter. Students can work to raise their grades, but grades can not go down. Nothing we are doing is required for students.
I’m sure there are many things I’m not considering or even aware of but I’m feeling pretty good about how my district has gone about this. I know we aren’t supporting all kids in all the ways they need. I do believe we are trying to do so and trying hard.
Then today, Wednesday, April 15th happened. Apparently there were lots of security issues yesterday with our online platform. Emergency meetings happened last night and again this morning. We delayed classes (online instruction went on a two hour delay – my 13 year old looked at me liked my head was on backwards when I said that this morning) and eventually had to make the decision to cancel. The technology wasn’t holding up to the demand.
I’m not sure what that will mean for tomorrow or next week. I’ve been in two meetings already today and I’ve got two more meetings scheduled. So far. I’m feeling a bit stressed about it but I am grateful to be in a place in which I trust and respect my school administration and those above them. I’m sure there will be mistakes made and more bumps and snags, but it feels better than I would have guessed.