Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Summertime & Remote Learning Reflections

It's officially summer, and boy oh boy does it feel good. For teachers, 'tis the season for decompression and reflection.

One of my favorite days is that last day of post-planning meetings, when it all wraps up (with or without the nice tidy bow), and we walk out to summer, with the glory of all that is ahead. [For us, that was now almost 2 weeks ago, but due to time-specific GTG postings (like Father's Day & Summer Solstice), this post got bumped a little later in the line up.] Part of the walking out into summer business on that last day is the soundtrack playing in my brain all day long: Alice Cooper's "School's Out for Summer!"🎼🎸I can't write it without singing it. And yes, some air guitar usually also happens day at random points, delighting my kids, no doubt!😎

But this year it's different and definitely weird after having done remote learning for 3 very long months. I'm already home & I've been at home, so that part isn't all that different. But ahead, we now have 3 (probably too-quick) months of summer. How will summer this year be really truly different from the home time we've had, especially since Covid hasn't truly gone away? Yes, our state curve is looking better, and things are opening up, but it's still a weirdly "safer at home" time period, and it still feels odd to me to be out in the world even with masks, soap, sanitizer, and all. 

I guess the true nature of how it will be different now that it's summer is yet to be seen, though I definitely am looking forward to many zoom-free, carefree days ahead!!!!!

That all piggy backs on the reflection piece we were asked to write for our school's virtual time capsule. Our very own primary documents in a historic time period of unprecedented quarantine and remote learning. After rereading what I wrote, it really serves not only as my story, but a tribute to all of the hard-working teachers who had to turn on a dime from in-school teaching to remote learning. Some, over the course of a weekend! Although all our stories and situations and remote learning settings were different due to platforms, school wide device availability, community internet capability, synchronous versus asynchronous teaching, and more, teachers have shown such an ability to do what they can for the best of their students. That is what teachers do.

Here is my remote learning reflection:

There's the dichotomy of both the good and the bad to the coronavirus quarantine hitting right at the cusp of our Spring Break. Foreseeing the potential need to go into remote learning, a team of people on campus spent first 2 weeks in March furiously making a game plan. Being in Lower School Tech, I was pulled into all school planning meetings with IT, Division Heads, and the School Head, along with Lower School specific meetings as well. We scurried furiously to make a systemic plan using Seesaw as our main mode of student/parent communication since our younger students have far less learning management pieces in place than our Middle and Upper School students do. Luckily, we had all 8 grade levels PS-5th using Seesaw as a digital portfolio to share in-school student work with parents, with 100% family participation.) We managed to get some in-house Lower School training on both our plan and on Zoom right under the wire of Governor Hogan declaration to shut down school right before our Spring Break. That was certainly the "good" part--that and the fact that the sheltering in place would coincide with our Spring Break. 

However, a 2 week Spring Break also gets zapped when you are still working out all of the details, especially if you are in Technology. My 2nd week was a very full and busy work week! [And yes, there's a lot of gratitude in being at a school that has the rare benefit of a 2 week spring break to begin with!!]

Before we knew it, we were "back to school" (yet of course, still at home) after break. Monday and Tuesday were days of giving and receiving last minute tech training. We were jumping in with both feet on Wednesday, April 1st. (The irony was quite apparent!)

Life as a member of the Tech Help email group can only be described as "maniacal" during the first 2 weeks of our Remote Learning term. Teacher, parent, and Middle & Upper School student emails were coming in fast and furious to Tech Help. Additionally, there were texts from teachers and phone calls to my phone. Our Lower School students and parents trying to send their urgent comments via Seesaw's teacher posts. (Everyone soon learned that was indeed the slowest way to get tech help, as it was not a constantly monitored forum.) Sometimes in those first days of set up and trouble shooting, I would be in the middle of problem solving one situation, and about 6-10 new emails and a teacher text or two would pop over by the time I finished writing just one tech support email. This was the same for every member on that tech team. Those days were long, computer-filled days during those first two weeks. Luckily after everyone got into the groove of the "new normal," tech troubles died down. Phsew! There is no way that pace would not have been sustainable over time!

Remote Learning settled into a daily version of the movie "Groundhog's Day." Lather, rinse, repeat. Zoom, tech help, repeat. I was so thankful that my own children were old enough to be on autopilot. It certainly made our houseful of 4 Zooming-homeworkers workable. My heart goes out to my colleagues who have "little littles." For our elementary students, we had homeroom teachers doing 2 zooms daily with their students, and then the students had 1-3 specials a day as well. Given the time on screens, we did not hold additional Technology classes--everything was Tech these days! But we did give weekly assignments--mostly short keyboarding assignments and maker activities using the design process. Most of those Specials asynchronous assignments shifted to optional over time due to Zoom fatigue being a real thing. Given all of that, my role shifted away from teaching students and was split between tech support and teaching teachers. Helping them with the Zoom tools and a variety of websites, restructuring our report cards to best accommodate this term, or creating online materials for our teachers--things that are certainly not central to our style of PS-5th grade classrooms. Remote Learning was a brand new animal in the elementary school setting--especially for our youngest Preschool and Prekindergarten students.

As I wrap up this writing on our last official day of school for our students, it seems hard to believe this "new normal" is how we spent the last 2.5 months of this school year. I miss seeing my colleagues in the hall and chatting with them at lunch. Yes, we can get together by Zoom, but it is so not the same thing. Likewise, I am not accustomed to full days of sitting as my role as technology specialist typically has me "zooming" around school in a far different way: on my feet, not my computer camera! Most of all though, I miss my students. Having been more "tech help" than "tech teacher," I only get to occasionally pop in on classes to solve problems, rather than doing what I have been trained to do--teach children. I did not get the end of the year closure with students, nor did I get to see their smiling faces as they bound out the door to summer. I know they have grown so much over these last few months, especially with their tech savviness, but I miss that human connection.

As we enter into summer, we have no idea what the fall holds when it comes to school. Will it be full in session in the classrooms, back to learning and teaching remotely from home, or some hybrid combination? Time will tell. We all have resilience and will do the best with the situation, but it certainly makes you appreciate things in a new way. As teachers, we have grown in our flexibility, our creativity, and our ability to learn to teach in new ways. As a result, we are stronger and better off for it... but we are tired! Summer will feel so good in order to have time to step away, decompress, reflect, and then rebound.

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