As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic every nook and cranny of basic life has been affected, including the student and teacher body at NSCHS. Here in this article the thoughts of our principal Mr. Hanson are listed and applied to the situation that we’ve all found ourselves in.
What were your first thoughts when you found we were going to online school?
I know we were all kind of shocked with the speed of how the decision was made to go completely virtual. I credit our district leadership in making that decision quickly for the safety of our staff and students. March 24th was scheduled to be a digital learning day due to North Springs being a voting site, so we had semi-planned for virtual “live” instruction that day. When we found our that we were going completely virtual, we made the decision to spend the entire day on Friday 3/13 to train our teachers on the best practices for synchronous instruction. When we left on 3/13, we had a plan, and I think our staff was ready for it.
What would you say was the North Springs philosophy about remote learning?
Our philosophy for TeleSchool and the need to do “live instruction” started several weeks before we actually implanted it. As I said, we were planning for a virtual learning day on 3/24, so we had already started working with our teachers to get them to believe in doing live instruction on that day, and what would it ultimately look like. My belief, and the one that I shared with our staff was that virtual learning should be an active distribution of content that is meaningful and relevant to our students, not just a way to passively distribute content to be checked off at a later date. We wanted our teachers to view this as just another day of teaching, albeit through a different modality. It is a complete shift for teachers, who are used to being able to gauge the classroom to see what works and what doesn’t, and then make accommodations for students that maybe don’t get it as quick as others. It is hard to do that virtually.
Did it differ from what other schools were doing? In what way?
It is hard to know if what we did was different than other schools. From my own perspective of how my two children operated in virtual school, I think what we did was more relevant, meaningful, and provided better opportunities to teach our students new content than what my children received. Our teachers went “live” from the very beginning of TeleSchool and taught students new content in front of them, vs. just assigning students work and having them teach it to themselves and turn in work. Our kids could ask questions of our teachers in real time and get answers immediately, which helps make learning easier. I think that was the key difference between us and other schools. I have heard from parents that their experiences with the North Springs TeleSchool implementation was more positive than other schools, which I think goes to the heart of what we trained our teachers for in advance. I know it was not perfect to start and that we got better over time.
What were the pros and cons of teleschools for students, teachers and staff?
The Pros of TeleSchool are that it allowed our entire North Springs community to be at home and safe during the start of the pandemic. I think our district made a difficult decision to close the schools, but did it to make sure we were all safe and didn’t potentially harm anyone. We were able to offer instruction for 11 weeks prior to the end of the school year. Our teachers were able work with students at their pace, and offer extra help when needed. The district decision to only have one content area a day was huge, in that it did not allow students to be burdened with multiple classes a day.
The Cons are actually pretty extensive. 1. No more seeing our students in the building, and being able to check in on them daily to make sure they are ok. 2. Students who have issues with technology in general will always struggle with TeleSchool, and their grades will suffer. 3. TeleSchool requires some self-motivation of many students, and there are many that lack that self-motivation. In a classroom with direct contact with a teacher, they can assist with motivating students to learn. 4. Students that we could not connect with are a lingering issue. We do not know where they are or how they are doing. This was the “going dark” scenario I kept referring to in my emails with parents. 5. Students who needed to work to help support their families were less likely to connect with TeleSchool and do the work necessary to avoid an incomplete. 6. The decision to have one content area a day meant gaps in learning week to week.
Our overall plan for delivering instruction during TeleSchool worked well. I am proud of our teachers who made the switch to virtual instruction look easy, when it was definitely not. I sat in on most lessons daily and was excited to see our teachers and students interacting.
What would you do differently?
I think the only thing we would do differently at this point is to provide more training on different types of synchronous learning. Just like there are many ways of teaching in a classroom, synchronous learning can be done in many ways that appeal to all modalities of learning. We also need to work on engaging our students early on so they do not get behind and then have to rush to complete work towards the end. Also, we know we have kids struggling in many ways with TeleSchool, so helping to identify those students early and being able to provide resources is something we need to be better at.
What was particularly challenging for you personally?
Personally, the most challenging part of this was not being able to see our students, staff and community daily. I miss the interactions with everyone who is on campus daily. I missed seeing our students perform in the theater and athletic fields doing the “fun” things that go along with school. I think I suffered from online fatigue as much as everyone else did, because there is only so much staring at a screen you can do before you go stir crazy. I joked around with my staff that I actually felt like I was working harder in the online environment than when we are all at school.
Would you look forward to doing online school in the future?
This is a loaded question. When it comes to “looking forward to”, the answer would be no. A school is just not a school without our teachers and students in the building. I think it is probably inevitable that we will do TeleSchool at some point next school year until a vaccine is available to make COVID19 less of an impact. I know we will have opportunities to do TeleSchool during the dedicated digital days, and the always talked about “snow days”, but we always know those are coming in advance.