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Posts Tagged ‘COVID’

Video Is Changing Us

I know we are all a little “Zoom”ed out right now.  In all parts of our life the novelty of the video call, and the Brady Bunch style screens has worn out.  And I think the reviews around video in classrooms are mixed.  But beyond teaching and learning, there are some changes that video has made in the last several months in our schools that has actually been long promised, and now will probably never go back.  Video has opened our schools to the community in ways we have often promised and now are finally delivering.

Connecting With Teachers

The parent-teacher conference has gone virtual and that is a good thing.  We have all seen how email can go wrong, and how quickly intentions can be misconstrued and a question from a parent to a teacher or a comment from a teacher to a parent has escalated.  The advice from seasoned colleagues is always to pick up the phone.  Now, the advice is to get on a video call.  I have spoken to several teachers who highlighted how quick video calls with parents have helped resolve situations – it really helps humanize our connections.  And traditional parent meetings at the end of the term, done virtually allow working parents to attend who might not normally be able to take time from work to come to face-to-face sessions at the school.  It is a good example of how little is lost by the change of format.  And for teachers who may be uncomfortable with a particular parent alone in a meeting, the virtual format  creates a safe place for everyone.

Information Sessions

You know how these work.  You rush home from work and then figure out how to get your kids to their evening activities so you can get to the school gym to listen to the principal explain the programs for next year at the school.  And then you come home to try to re-tell the key items to your partner and child.  So, now as these events are created and posted online families can watch and re-watch at their convenience.  And then time that would normally be for hosting the sessions can be dedicated to answering the questions online of parents and students about particular programs.  So many times I hear about the need to host these events on multiple nights because of various conflicts, now they can all take place on demand.

Live Events

The most recent example of this was Remembrance Day.   Our schools shared out links to students and often parents of their Remembrance Day Ceremonies.  These important ceremonies are always welcoming of the community, but again, often hard to attend in-person.  More and more of these events are being streamed for families.  Last month I  was at Eagle Harbour Montessori School to see their Historical Halloween live streamed to families.  And on a call with principals this week, plans are already underway for Holiday concerts.  It really started last spring with our grad ceremonies.  There was great disappointment that these rituals could not be held in-person, but overwhelming positive responses to the virtual alternatives that were created.  And while there is power of having people come together in-person for events, we seem destined post-COVID to stream more from our classrooms, our assemblies, our sporting competitions and arts showcases to our parents and larger community.  

These ideas are not groundbreaking.  And we could have done many of them twelve months ago – but we had no urgency.  And the technology was seen as a great mystery. We just couldn’t possibly figure out the technology.  But emergencies push you forward.  The technology has got better and easier, and we have got more comfortable with the tools.   There will be great discussions around lessons of the COVID era for schools, but I think one of the impacts is that we will forever  be thinking about the use of video and how we can open up events to those who cannot attend in-person. And a side benefit for many is that they can do all of this on a more flexible schedule.  I know these digital shifts  have changed things for me – as a parent and superintendent I am more connected now than I was before to so many important school rituals.

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Using my blog for something different this time.  Last week I had a good conversation with Vancouver Province Sports Reporter Steve Ewen on the possibilities for school sports – even in the middle of a pandemic.  Readers of this blog know how interested I am in youth sports.  In an effort to share the article with a larger audience, I am sharing the text from Steve’s article below.  You can also see the original article on The Province website HERE.

West Vancouver school district Supt. Chris Kennedy thinks it’s time to try to restart high school sports.

He’s very clear. He’s not talking about something leading to a massive provincial championship. Kennedy’s talking about neighbouring high school teams, in cohorts of four, playing against only one another with extensive coronavirus protocols in place.
He’s talking about what community sports was granted in August by the B.C. government and has been doing since then. The government’s return-to-school plan released in July said inter-school events wouldn’t be permitted to take place initially but would be “re-evaluated in mid-fall 2020.”

High school teams have been allowed to practise since classes returned.

The provincial election has taken the focus of the government of late. Kennedy understands too that the rising COVID-19 case numbers may spark concern. He believes that schools can make sports run safely — “we’re living those protocols every day,” he explained — and a return to games between rival schools, albeit in a limited format, would benefit the overall well-being of students and school communities.”

“There’s so much positive will trying to make it happen right now. I’ve spoken to a number of my superintendent colleagues and there’s a common belief that sports can aid in the physical, social and emotional well-being of students,” explained Kennedy, a longtime high school basketball coach himself, highlighted by his time guiding Richmond’s McRoberts Strikers.“We’re worried about the mental health of kids. We’re looking for more things to connect with kids. If school becomes just a place where you go to get credits, then it’s not really school.”

“I don’t want to underestimate the complexities of this, but everything we’ve done so far with schools this year has been complex. Getting the kids to school, getting the cohorts figured out, dealing with different technology issues … every day we’re faced with problems that we never imagined before the pandemic.”

The basic frustration for school sports folks about being on the sideline is the simple fact that community sport is up-and-running. As Kennedy says, there are “kids in our gymnasiums with school teams from 3 to 6 p.m. obeying by certain rules and then they can be back in those same gyms with their club teams from 6 to 8 p.m. playing under a completely different set of rules.”

There’s the price point issue as well. School sports is subsidized. Club sports is often a business. The longer school sports sits on the sideline, the more you wonder about how it might look when they do eventually return, and whether programs will be lost long-term. There are also families who don’t have the money or wherewithal to take part in club sports regularly.

“There’s probably been little change for the affluent families regarding sport through this. They’ve found club situations that work for them,” Kennedy explained. “The kids who need school sports the most are the ones who aren’t getting it.”

Kennedy downplayed the idea that student/athletes were missing out on university scholarship opportunities with school sport in limbo, calling it a “red herring.” He believes that university coaches will find ways to find players.

In fact, he thinks that the return of school sports in this era would have an even greater focus on participation, since teams wouldn’t be gearing up for a run at the provincials.

“You’d probably carry a bigger roster, you’d probably play everyone more equally because you’re not worried about that high-level competition piece,” he explained.

Kennedy contends high school sport could “look different” for it to be allowed to return. He talked about switching to 3-on-3 basketball or 2-on-2 volleyball, for instance, if that help makes things safer.

“You shouldn’t skip out on something just because you think it might be hard,” Kennedy explained. “We’ve found ways to make music and art and drama happen in so many of our schools. There are other kids who have passions for athletics. We need to help them.

“We’ve got schools launched. We’ve got club sports launched. Now we take what we’ve learned from both of them and put it together for school sports.”

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Today I keynoted the CUEBC (Computer Educators of British Columbia) Conference with my mouthful of a title, “Isn’t This Kind of What We Wanted – The Good, Not So Good and Hopefully Awesome of Technology in Schools in the Time of COVID.”

At the bottom of the post is the video of the talk. Rather than restating the entire talk, let me highlight some of the big ideas that I wanted to share.

In the spring we were scrambling; it was emergency learning. It was very revealing which schools and districts had invested in technology and had coherence in their work built over the last decade. We learned who was faking it in the new world and who was truly invested. Those who were thoughtfully invested and had strong infrastructure, common platforms and a baseline of use across schools and the district outpaced the others.

What is exciting about the fall is that everyone has upped their game. And I don’t think it really matters if you are a Microsoft, Google or Teams District – what matters is that you have selected a robust set of tools and are using them well. Also in the spring we saw a lot of just trying to get digital content out to students, now we are seeing far better use of technology in ways that does not just replicate traditional school experiences, but creates experiences that would actually not be possible without the technology.  In the spring we were being driven by technology and now we are being driven by learning and using technology.

It does feel like we have a tremendous opportunity.  Students, staff and parents want to use this time as an opportunity to create new structures for learning –  new ways to engage students in relevant and connected learning opportunities.  As I wrote in my last post, we want to do this without losing the collective good of education – we cannot just turn schools into credit factories.  And we need to be conscious of equity.  As exciting as these times are, we need everyone to benefit.  It was interesting in the spring in British Columbia, we found ways to get devices into the hands of almost all students who needed them, and get wi-fi into homes that didn’t have it.  We need to hold this to be a fundamental obligation that all students have access to the tools so that all students benefit from the power of digital learning.  And this is not an impossible goal – we need to keep focused on this.  As I argue in my presentation, if we can ensure all houses have garbage pick-up we surely can ensure all houses have wi-fi access.  

Borrowing ideas from the OECD and others, I think the next 12-24 months create numerous opportunities including:

  • harnessing innovation
  • re-imagining accountability
  • remembering the power of the physical world
  • supporting the most vulnerable
  • reinforcing capacity
  • building system self reliance
  • preparing digital resources

More than ever, leaders need to celebrate risk-taking.  There are fewer rules in the pandemic, and we don’t need just one model, we need multiple models as we move forward.  

I think this is a once in a career opportunity for us in education.  Of course we wouldn’t have planned for the opportunity to come in a pandemic that can be absolutely exhausting – but here we are – and we can’t let this chance go to waste.

If you have some time, please take a look at the video and join the conversation. Or view the slides HERE.  Discussion and debate is good – it will move us forward.  

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There have always been various goals for education and a conversation about the very purpose of schooling is never simple. There has always been tension between the public and private good of education. We often hear arguments that education is about preparing students as citizens and also preparing students as the workforce of the future. While these two are often in conflict with each other they are both in the larger “public good” tent. In addition, there is the belief that education is more of a private goal – to help individuals compete with other individuals and improve their status. It is this third goal that I see, and worry, gets attention in our COVID high school experiences potentially at the expense of the other two.

Some try to turn education into a commodity.  Individuals collect credits for their own advancement.  It is this thinking that often leads to the growth in private schools or charter schools as the public good of education is set aside and education becomes about the individual.  For all its warts, public education has long been able to maintain a collective nature.  Whether one sees education through a  workforce preparation or citizen engagement lens they both lend themselves to a bettering of our world. The worry I have during COVID is that we could lose focus on these goals and education becomes far more individualistic – an every person for themselves feeling – that shifts us away from the public good to more of a private good for education.

The danger I see is that high schools become about the credential and not the experience.  And COVID can potentially accentuate this.  One effect of COVID on schooling is that school is being reorganized.  In British Columbia almost all high school students are completing two courses at a time, and then repeating this process four times over the year in a quarter-system.  Many more students than ever are also taking courses online through various providers around the province to supplement what they might be doing in their local school.  So, while this could be viewed as true personalization as students build their own programs it also leads one to think of schooling as just a collection of credits.  In this world, you collect courses and credits to earn credentials to compete with other students to earn spots in post-secondary.  And yes, there has always been a key element of the individual in the system, when we have to change how we teach and limit the extra curricular offerings it narrows the system. 

In the COVID world, there are limits on school sports, clubs and other events that promote collective power.  Yes, schools are doing Terry Fox Runs – but it is hard to argue that they have the same impact as in previous years. As we look ahead to Remembrance Day, that will again be a challenge.  And in the classroom, rather than robust group discussions and debates, we know more individual work is encouraged to limit contact between students.  It is the reality of the virus, but it promotes goals that are good for the individual, but not necessarily for the community.

I talked to one student who said, “This year is just about getting the credits done and moving on.”  Another high schooler described it to me as “like having an office job – I go in get it done and get out.”  Our collective challenge is to make it more than that for these student and all students.  And it is a challenge.  Not only are teachers instructing in new ways, using new tools in a new system we need to find new ways to ensure the community aspects of school are not lost.

And I also get the anxiety of students – they want to be sure they collect credits to graduate, maintain their options for post-secondary and just not generally face long-term education challenges because of COVID.  

But we don’t want this to be the new mindset – where schools become simply about credit and credential collection.   

It is so great to have our students back in schools.  We see many jurisdictions around the world who have not been able to do it.  It is crucial that we don’t get lulled into sacrificing the public good as we rethink teaching and learning in our system.  

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I want to pick up on the idea of school on a dial that I introduced in my last blog post – The End of Snow Days?

School for a long time has been something you turn on or off.  School is turned off on the weekends, during Christmas, Spring Break and the summer.  And it is turned on from 9-3 Monday to Friday from September to June.  It is a switch.  The day after Labour Day we turn the switch on and across British Columbia hundreds of thousands of students arrive in buildings joined by tens of thousands of teachers and other staff.

Unlike most jurisdictions in the world, British Columbia did not turn off the switch for in-person schooling when the pandemic hit in the middle of March.  We changed this switch to a dial and introduced five different settings on this dial.  Here is one recent image describing the five stages:

Since spring break, and up until this week we had been in Stage 4.  There were a limited number of students attending school – these were largely the children of Essential Service Workers and vulnerable and special needs students.  The vast majority of students were learning remotely.  This week, we moved to Stage 3 and saw thousands of student returning to schools part-time and on a voluntary basis.

Of course, with it already being June, many are turning their attention to September.  We all would hope to be at Stage 1 – and stay in Stage 1 – but we also need to plan for other eventualities.   So, back to this notion of school as a dial and not a switch.  If we think of it as a dial, if there is a second-wave of Covid-19, we can dial-down the in-person instruction, and if BC continues to plank the curve, we can dial-up the in-person instruction.  The challenge for a school system is how do you design learning and schooling that lets you move between the various stages on a dial and not get caught thinking of it as a switch (models are for another post).

This also raises a larger question about the future of education and the idea of in-person instruction being on a dial. Right now, the dial is being controlled by the virus.  The virus threat is lower in BC, so the dial for in-person instruction goes up.  And this will be the pattern in the short term.

But I have heard from both staff and students that they have found more success with partial remote learning than they were finding in the traditional classroom, particularly at high school.  So post-virus, how might we let students control their own dial? Or staff?  How could we design structures that allowed some students and staff to attend in-person everyday, some only a few days a week, and maybe others vary rarely?  It makes my head hurt – but it is a conversation worth having. 

I think of Alan November’s question that has long inspired me when he speaks of the classroom, “Who owns the learning?”, the teacher or the student,  in the post virus world, I think as we look at structures, we may want to ask, “Who owns the dial?”

More to come . . .

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We all know the story of Goldilocks sneaking into the house of the 3 bears – and first trying the big bowl of porridge and finding it too hot.  And then the medium sized bowl of porridge and finding it too cold.  Finally, eating up the small bowl of porridge that was just right.  In some ways, as we carve out new territory with remote learning, we have been dishing out the bears porridge and our students have been Goldilocks.

We have done our best for remote learning to not be “too hot” or “too cold” but rather “just right”.

While there is some universal understanding of whether porridge is too hot or too cold, when in comes to remote learning there is more variance. A couple weeks in, we seem to agree that virtual lessons all day, where we try to recreate school by taking the block schedule and putting it online is too hot. Some jurisdictions are trying this, but having students in front of screens on one-way lectures for 5 hours a day is not what most people are looking for. At the too cold end of the spectrum, stories of leaving kids with minimal contact leaves them without community and connections.  (Worth noting I have personally had both requests that we provide 5-6 hours a day of streaming online one-way classes and alternatively that we not contact a family until we return to in-person learning).

The challenge is that between these extremes, where we search for the “just right” it is not the same for everyone.  There are so many variables for families.  For some there is rich technology and parents at home able to assist.  In other homes, just the opposite is true.  And we have been clear to say that marks will not fall for students who commit to their learning during this time, but old habits of being driven by marks are still very present for many families.  And the ramp-up in new skills for staff is also varied.  It is amazing the new technology skills our staff have learned in just a couple of weeks.

So as we continue forward the search for just right is ongoing.  We are regularly asking our students and parents if we are hitting the mark and differentiating where we can.  We want students to be turning off their phone notifications, setting their own deadlines for work and spending chunks of time uninterrupted on their work – these are good life skills.  We also want families to remember that learning is not just about stuff from books.  We want our students to be physically active, and pursuing their passions, and looking at the various extension options we are offering through our district website.

Students are not falling behind.  It is a global pandemic – we are all in this together.  And when we return to more normal times it is our job to meet students where they are and help move them forward.

In the meantime, we will keep trying to get the porridge the right temperature for you.  

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The Chit Chat

I really miss the chit chat.

It is the part that is often hard to describe. It is a bit like how Seinfeld is a show about nothing, but of course it really isn’t.  When I hear stories that teaching can be much “quicker” now online because it is more focused, these people are missing the point.  Teaching and schooling have never been just about the content.  K-12 is not just about learning a bunch of stuff.

The chit chat is the part where you talk to students about their favourite tv shows, or the soccer game they played last night, or the songs that are currently most downloaded.  Great teachers use the chit chat to build rapport as a strategy towards engaging in learning.   The chit chat is all the little things that great teachers do to connect to students so when it gets to the content the students feel safe, connected and ready to engage.  The chit chat builds confidence, and connections and makes children know they are special.

I know there are many ways schools are trying to re-create this community.  I love what I am seeing in our schools.  We have virtual clubs, jokes of the day, and online talent competitions.  It is great, but when we return to in-person schooling it is not the learning that I am looking forward to the most.

I am really looking forward to the chit chat.

 

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