JFYNet Remote Learning Specialists mull over the New Normal
by Greg, Eileen, Cathie and Joan
On March 16th, the world stopped. Or so it seemed. Restaurants closed, office workers were told to work from home, and going to the grocery store felt like a sequel to The Hunger Games. (I distinctly remember a woman in the deli yelling “I volunteer as tribute” when her number was called.) We were all instructed to stay home where we quickly discovered that Zoom was not just the name of a vintage PBS TV show.
One sector that did not shut down was education. Even though no one was in the school buildings, teaching and learning needed to continue. The schools I work with transitioned to remote learning quickly and fairly seamlessly. At Durfee High School in Fall River we immediately determined that our early college journalism course with Bridgewater State University needed to be shifted to an asynchronous online modality, as students would not be able to access the internet or the course at the same time every day. Lectures would be pre-recorded and downloadable, and assignments would be downloaded and then uploaded when complete, as had always been done. Some students were able to meet online once a week to ask questions or just to check in with each other. For some, these conversations were the only interaction they had with their classmates.
Teachers at other partner schools called it “the new normal. Ensuring that students had online access was a huge challenge. Many students jumped at the chance to complete their work online, realizing that they could complete their assignments in the morning and have all afternoon to themselves, most likely sitting in front of video game consoles. Teachers, however, were overwhelmed at times, trying to keep up with teaching content while solving tech issues for their students. Email become the primary means of communication with teachers. Replies often came late at night, as the days were spent responding to students’ questions. As I continued to create tasks for students to complete, more and more students participated.
Many commented that it wasn’t so much online learning as crisis learning. But for my students, only their surroundings had changed, not the software or the format. It was less traumatic to use the same software at home that they had used in school. Come fall, whether in the classroom or at home or some hybrid of the two, students will continue to engage in learning new content using software provided by JFYNet, just as in past years. It may be a new normal, but it could be the most normal thing they do.
GREG CUNNINGHAM, available THURSDAYS, 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM. Click here to email Greg.
During the week before March 16, I had been in every school I work with and left each one assuming I would be back the next week. Then the shutdown slammed the doors and the next week bled into the next and the realization began to sink in that we would not getting back to face-to-face encounters anytime soon. This was a jarring transition for anyone who did not already do remote learning. For those of us who do, and who work with many people throughout the day and week, it was still a huge adjustment.
Schools are very busy places. Teachers and staff go all day with little time for breaks while students migrate from room to room and subject to subject in 4 minute or less. When you are in a school there is little time to talk things through. While teachers can carve out a sliver of time in a prep period or grab a minute during a lull, focused 1:1 meetings have always been difficult to arrange. But now, this remote period has forced me to change the way I interact with teachers. In so doing, I have learned new skills that will make these interactions more effective.
Since the shutdown, I have had many 1:1 or small group meetings with teachers to address specific questions they have posed. Instead of trying to find time in a frantic school day for physical meetings, we can meet online at a time that works for the teacher and for me. Video conferencing allows a degree of flexibility that the rigidity and time constraints of the school schedule does not. Video conferencing is a great tool to have because it means that I can talk with my teachers any day of the week, deal with minor issues, and plan a more extended conference to follow up later. Everyone has become more comfortable with these meetings, so including them in the future as an element of how we work will make communication more flexible and efficient.
As we all adjust to this new normal, I feel comfortable knowing that I can foster meaningful relationships with teachers and staff, and even with students. Education is all about relationships. Knowing that we can effectively develop those relationships remotely and continue to use the tools of remote work as teaching models adapt to unfolding circumstances gives me confidence that teaching and learning will evolve through these new forms of communication and interaction.
EILEEN WEDEGARTNER, available TUESDAYS, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM. Click here to email Eileen.
When schools shut down in March, I wondered how my job would change. For starters, instead of getting up at 5 and being out the door at 6, I could roll out of bed later. I could check email and send responses in my pjs while having a cup of tea. I still performed all the tasks I always had, collecting student data and sending out reports, answering teachers’ questions and enrolling new students. I added weekly office hours on Zoom for teachers to chat and answer curriculum questions. I had phone calls with teachers to review best practices for using the online curriculum most effectively in remote learning. Since students were already accustomed to using the software online, not much really changed in the shift to remote learning.
But something was missing. I was still communicating with teachers, enrolling students and classes, and compiling data into reports. What was missing was in-person contact with teachers and students. I was not in the schools working with my teachers and students in person. I could still communicate with my teachers via email, phone, and Zoom, but it really was not the same. There were teachers I had become friendly with over the years. I would see them in the halls and stop to chat. I missed that interaction, learning about what was going on in their lives and telling them about mine.
Now I wonder how they are doing. Some of these teachers will be retiring and I may never see them again. I have come to cherish these relationships. I believe there is a reason why certain people come into our lives. These colleagues have made me a better teacher and person. I hope I have helped them in some ways as well, not just in how to use instructional software.
These days, I am so proud of my teachers and their students for making the transition from classroom to remote learning. I applaud them for all their hard work and caring about their students.
Technology is a wonderful thing. It can supplement, but it can never replace the human connection that comes from being with another person– in person.
CATHIE MAGLIO, available THURSDAYS, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM. Click here to email Cathie.
A Blended Learning Specialist spends much of her time working with students and helping teachers shape instruction. Although school visits disappeared in March with the shutdown, that did not mean we lost our function. I have always had a sense of mission about my job as a Blended Learning Specialist. Even though I love teaching, I feel that I can help many more students remotely. The COVID shutdown has not eliminated our ability to serve; in fact, we are more important than ever. Our clients have a big advantage because they already had the foundation for remote learning. Although many software companies offer free access, they do not give the level of training and support that we provide. We help teachers on a deeper level. Our mission has always been to remove obstacles to using technology. Our programs provide custom alignments, assessments, and reporting. We have constant contact with teachers because they know they can reach us by email, phone or Zoom. Our role is vital because we help teachers engage students with a solid remote learning program. There’s no substitute for a live teacher in the classroom; but working together we can enliven virtual teaching and learning in this rapidly evolving new normal.
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