It’s hard to remember what life felt like a month ago, interacting face-to-face 5 days a week with my students and teammates. And here we are now, “enjoying spring break”…AKA making final preparations for a totally different way of doing school that will all begin next week. Education across the world is seeing some temporary yet significant shifts (and who knows what the long-term impacts on education will be). Shifts toward virtual/online options for “doing life” – education related or non – have been happening for years, and we are so lucky to live during time when we have all of these digital options. But in the last month across our state, country, and world, things have reached a new level of “remote.”
In education, when the governor of the state you live in says that schools are going to shift to remote learning during this time of school closures, that is indeed what the schools of that state will do. One day at a time, teachers have been getting new bits of clarity on what this remote learning will look like and what our district’s expectations for this state-promised remote learning are. And each day therefore has become more overwhelming, not just for educators, but for our families too. There isn’t physically enough time to work out the kinks that impact both teachers and families prior to the start of remote learning: access to devices for students, access to internet for students, building a remote learning plan that fits the needs of everyone involved, planning new ways of teaching content, creating virtual instruction, creating assignments and options for submitting them, informing students and families of all the expectations, and assisting families as they too prepare and connect to our virtual classrooms.
Then you add the element of Kindergarten to the whole situation: how will such a young group of learners be able to independently access, create, and submit work for remote learning? The Kindergarten grade level has rigorous curriculum standards, so just telling the kids to have some playtime or build something creative or paint something they like for every assignment would unfortunately be failing to meet the expectations of the grade level (not that we don’t try to integrate those types of play-based activities into the curriculum any chance we get). But just as high schoolers on the Common Core will follow a remote learning schedule, receive virtual CORE instruction, and submit assignments digitally, so will Kindergartners. Imagine the kind of pressure that puts on the parents and guardians of Kindergarten and elementary-aged students right now. And then imagine the pressure on parents, particularly working parents, with MULTIPLE children of this age group.
My team and I, among many other educators right now, are in an entire realm of unknown. Yes, the WCPSS district is emphasizing grace, grace right now for all the educators and families who are traveling through this uncharted territory. But giving grace does not mean that this isn’t all starting on April 13th. So being aware of the inequities, impossibilities, and uncertainties embedded in the remote learning we are heading for next week, here is how my Kindergarten team is navigating it all:
1. Make a teacher space within our homes. Here is what was previously my kitchen table, but now serves as my classroom! All I need is an iPad, iPad stand, whiteboard/marker/eraser, and my laptop/its resources to make this happen! Oh, and some pasta shells that I used as my math manipulatives to video a lesson on adding. But that’s it! Which just further shows that the most important part of learning is what is not pictured here……the teachers and the students!
2. Connect with families and listen to their needs and concerns. Our team called each of our families to check on them and find out about their device and internet needs prior to even knowing anything about what remote learning would look like. We gave them a chance to voice concerns they had health-wise as well as with remote learning. Their concerns helped shape our understanding of the impact that learning at home will have on their lives, and gave us insight we needed before jumping into all the planning.
3. Get ready for a whole lotta Google Meets together.
The Google Meet seen above was from last week and lasted almost 4 hours…it takes so much planning to make decisions about how and what to teach and create in this new school “environment,” while also taking into account how families will receive and be impacted by whatever decisions we make. You may notice the blurry picture quality, due to poor/shared internet connections at home. You might also see that the Google Meet screenshot pictured says that “Lisa Baildon left the meeting,” while she is also there at the top of the screen- we’ve only had a few of these little “technical difficulties” (and lots of laughs about them) so far.
4. Make a hyperlinked schedule that outlines weekly expectations with as much flexibility as possible.
We created a hyperlinked schedule, which has become both how we plan/embed instruction and assignments, as well as how students will access the learning. Our schedule incorporates a lot of flexibility. We’ve given recommended time blocks for different subjects, but not a time of the day it must be done. We plan to share the schedule of instruction and assignments a week at a time so that families can have access to 5 days at a time and see what lies ahead. Assignments are not due on the day they are given, but the following week. We hold daily office hours, as well as flexible Fridays, to connect with students and answer questions students and families have.
5. Create a letter for parents, with embedded videos, outlining what to expect and how to access the learning. This letter to families from our team explains how to access online learning, what to expect, and as much as we know about how it will all work. Parents are receiving this letter over a week prior to the start of online learning, so that we have time to answer their questions and get everyone prepared for a successful start.
6. Give choice in how to complete and submit assignments, and not ALL tasks are digital. We created a box at the bottom of the hyperlinked schedule that gives options for submitting work. Students might type a document, hand-write a writing piece and take a photo of it, or video themselves presenting the content on any given assignment! We’ve also given them multiple online platform options to access and submit work so that they and their parents can do it the way that they are comfortable. Printing materials is an option for some student assignments, but never a requirement. And most importantly, not every assignment involves learning and working on a digital device. While tasks have to be accessed digitally, not all work has to be completed digitally. It was important to parents to have a balance of learning with and without technology.
7. Get feedback using a Google Form to see how things went and what changes we could potentially make for improvement.
We will share this Google Form with families after week one. Thanks to our Literacy Coach, Dan Gridley, for this idea! This will allow us to continue gaining feedback to improve what, in some ways, feels like a brand new practice!
These are stressful times, but I’m so thankful to take this on in collaboration with an incredible, supportive team and in partnership with amazing school community and families! We whole-heartedly support our families through this change in education and understand that they will each complete and prioritize online learning differently. People don’t always think about the role parents must play in order for young children to take part in remote learning- parents deserve major recognition during this time for any efforts they are able to put forward to support their children’s learning while schools are closed. We are ready to give this our best try, and hope to be back together, face-to-face with each other and with our students again soon!