Ranting: A Tad Differently Than Most, I Think

My district has been in the news quite a bit in the past week and not for positive reasons. I haven’t read the entirety of all of these articles so maybe my rant will be off but here’s what it’s looked like for almost a week.

From April 15th: Tech glitches, harassment mar Fairfax County schools’ online learning rollout

From April 17th: a letter to the editor: Fairfax County schools and Blackboard are flunking on distance learning

From April 18th: Failed tech, missed warnings: How Fairfax schools’ online learning debut went sideways

From today, April 20th: Online learning sputters again in Fairfax, as proof mounts that district was warned of issues

We were set to start distance learning (online learning – whatever) last Tuesday, April 14th. It didn’t go well. Classes ended up being canceled for the rest of the week and drastic changes were made to how students access online meeting spaces for class. As well as changes to how to access materials and how much time would be synchronous vs asynchronous options that didn’t require Blackboard.

Today we got back online together. There were plenty of challenges and glitches. Some of them, I believe, came from all of us trying to navigate a new system and not all fully understanding it. Some of them came from the tech not holding up to the demand.

People are really ticked off. I get that. I especially get it for parents who are trying to support their kids’ learning while also working and dealing with myriad other unknown stresses. Teachers are frustrated with all of the time and energy they have put into planning and setting things up only to have things fail again. And we’re all feeling all kinds of emotions simply because we are currently dealing with a pandemic. That definitely adds to it all, for everyone.

So I really do get the frustration.

I just don’t get why anyone thinks any school system should have been prepared for this situation. No one, no organization, no government, no business, not a soul was ready for this situation. It is, as so many keep saying, unprecedented. There are countless possibilities of unprecedented situations for which we are all unprepared. We can not be prepared for everything. That is absurd. We do not have the time, the money, the mental space, or the energy to prepare for all of the possible awful things that could happen.

Should this be going better? More smoothly? I would have liked it to. Very much. We have, however, nearly 190,000 students in more than 200 schools in our district. Those students’ lives and needs range greatly. In the midst of a pandemic our district started serving food to kids and families the first day we were closed. They quickly expanded the sites over the following week. Our district has provided devices, in the midst of a pandemic and stay at home order, to many families. In the academic area, packets have been mailed to K-8 students for weeks now to keep their learning moving forward (this is a far from perfect option but it is definitely helpful for some families) and activities and links were up online almost immediately.

I really can’t wrap my head around why folks think we should have been able to move, in a month, from serving kids almost solely at school to serving them almost solely at home. It doesn’t change that it sucks to be where we are and to keep having things not work smoothly. I know. And I can feel frustrated with that.

What I don’t feel is the need to start throwing blame around. So many who are having blame thrown at them have been working far harder than I have for weeks while living in a pandemic. I’m willing to assume they’re doing their best. Their best just isn’t meeting the massive need we’re currently facing. We’ll have to keep trying. Maybe with a little grace too.

8 replies on “Ranting: A Tad Differently Than Most, I Think”

  1. Grace, indeed. In a positive way, it shows the faith people have in their schools despite consistently underfunding them. Governments may fail but our public schools are the foundation of the community.

    I wrote similar thoughts in March as people were already shaming schools: http://www.ivyrun.com/inanotherplace/?p=2001

    School divisions like Fairfax County are essentially running small cities. And they are expected to provide ongoing equitable services to every member of that city. If you add students and faculty, FCPS is close to 200K people. For comparison sake, the population of Richmond, for example, is ~230K.

    Companies like Apple and Google are only having to deal with about 25,000 employees working from home, all of home probably have easy access to broadband.

    And, as you point out, school divisions have been focusing on FEEDING kids daily and have been since the very first day.

    This is a perfect example of a failure of imagination: certainly had anyone suspected that all schools would close for months, schools would have taken certain steps. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.

  2. Marcia St. John Cunning says:

    Thank you for so eloquently voicing the truth. The sheer size of the FCPS system let alone the social economic and all the other kinds of diversity would practically render the task impossible in the best of times. The dedication of our teachers, administrators and staff has been incredible and should be lauded Children are being fed, have received work packets, but most importantly have received personal phone calls, texts or emails from their teachers. They know they are missed and cared for by their school community. In the midst of this pandemic, that’s the greatest thing that can be done for our students.

    • Najma Khan says:

      Thank you for writing this piece. It puts things in perspective. No one deserves to shoulder the blame for our distant learning situation. COVID -19 has turned the world upside down/
      Learning the tech was definitely a situation that kept me up working at my computer till the wee hours in the night. As a mum and a teacher it was a super frustrating situation all around. There are so many thoughts swimming around in my mind like my kids are home and I was worried about them. I was also worried about my fourth graders at home.
      However, yesterday , I did manage to go live with my students for about an hour, and then my internet crashed, and I had some time to think. I am taking each day at a time Calmly. We have to assume everyone has positive intentions. This is a situation where everyone is doing their best. As my mum says take one day at a time!!

      • jenorr says:

        I so appreciate these comments from you both.
        Marcia, I could not agree more than the most critical thing we are doing right now is being there for our kids, making sure they know they are cared for and a part of the community still. The rest doesn’t matter if we fail at that.
        Najma, I think it’s the one day at a time thing that is making me struggle. I want to plan ahead but things keep shifting and my plans fall apart. One day at a time is definitely more doable if I could just accept it.

  3. Pam Moran says:

    Thanks for writing this, Jen. When tech systems fail for whatever reasons it often creates a level of intensity that takes over people’s lives. I’ve wondered how we would have handled this crisis as educators in the 70s, or 80s, or 90s, or even in 2009 before 1:1 and LMS systems were barely alive in most schools in the country. We’ve not built capacity to come close to implementing quality virtual, remote, distance, online learning because we’ve hardly built the capacity of professionals to use tech well in many school districts during the school day. It’s easy to cast blame when times are tough. Negative media are hard to swallow when failures occur because the complexity of why is often hard to capture in sound bites. Anyway, I think you offer a balanced point of view and one that comes from empathy for people who are working hard to figure out solutions. Thank you for your insights.

    • jenorr says:

      Pam, you make a really great point about how different this would have been, even just ten years ago. We’re so connected now it makes it possible for people to believe we can – and should – move immediately to continuing everything virtually. Thank you for taking the time to read and share your thinking here.

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