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College and Career Readiness through Blended Learning

- Authored by: Cathie Maglio

JFYNet reflects on new normal

JFYNet Remote Learning Specialists mull over the New Normal

by Greg, Eileen, Cathie and Joan

Greg Cunningham

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.

Eileen Wedegartner

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.

Cathie Maglio

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.

Joan Reissman

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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Specialists’ messages to the 2020 graduates

Hats off to the Class of 2020

from Cathie, Eileen, Joan and Greg

Cathie

When I graduated from high school, our class motto was “At this peak we begin climbing.” My message to this year’s graduates is, You have climbed the peak! Congratulations! As you stand there, you look back to your high school days and ahead to all that is before you. This is not the only peak you will climb in your life. You will pass through some valleys, and you will ascend other peaks. Cherish your time in the valleys. It is there that you grow, learn things about yourself, and gain strength to conquer the next peak. As you prepare for that next climb, I wish you a smooth ascent and a beautiful view from the top!

JFYNet staff report on the new COVID-19 normal.

Hero Educators Abound

by JFYNet’s Blended Learning Specialists: Eileen Wedegartner, Greg Cunningham and Cathie Maglio

Eileen Wedegartner

In a COVID-19 update April 2 Governor Baker apologized for not being able to name a specific date when something had happened. “I feel like March 6 to today has been one long day,” he mused. “I can’t keep track of it anymore.”

I knew what he meant. These last few weeks have been a whirlwind when life as we knew it drastically changed. Seemingly overnight, the streets in Boston fell silent and New York, the city that never sleeps, fell into a coma. Baker ordered all schools closed for three weeks and then extended it even longer, to May 4. District leaders, school administrators, teachers, parents and even students are mobilizing to try out learning in different ways. As I watch my own children navigate classroom meet-ups on Zoom and Google Hangouts, I am thankful for the efforts teachers are making to fill the void we in the community feel without school.

The Dance of Blended Learning with Meredith Hubbell

A gifted teacher shows how it’s done

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

One of my favorite classes is the Grade 10 Level 1 English Learners class at East Boston High School taught by Meredith Hubbell. I am amazed at the strategies Meredith has developed to help students build their English language skills. One of those strategies is our JFYNet online reading comprehension program which Meredith uses nimbly and adroitly in combination with other methods.

Cultivating the Garden, Cultivating Students

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

A teacher is not unlike a gardener.

Time flies so quickly, especially as we get older. It’s now fall and a new school year is underway.

Last weekend as I prepared my garden for winter I started to think about how educators are like gardeners. A gardener sows seeds and then watches the flower seeds turn into beautiful flowers and the vegetable seeds yield their harvest of tomatoes, cucumbers, beets and squash. No two flowers are the same, even if the seeds came from the same package. I love seeing the different colors of zinnias and marigolds and the shapes and sizes of tomatoes, each one unique, even on the same plant.

The Importance of being a teacher

It’s More than Imparting Subject Knowledge

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

Schools are people— students, principals, deans, librarians, janitorial staff, office staff and teachers. Of all these groups, the teachers are the most influential. They are the largest constant bloc, staying largely intact as students pass through, and they have the most direct contact with students. They are the ones who make the school what it is.

Reflections on the Blue Line - A school year draws to a close

A school year draws to a close

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

Here I am at the tail end of another school year. It’s been busy getting students ready for MCAS, both in ELA and Math, and ready for college. This year I have been responsible for two schools, Revere High and East Boston High. Though only a few stops apart on the Blue Line, they present very different challenges. I’ll get off at Maverick first and save Revere for next time.

Travel Advisory-Pay Attention
I am always amazed that students ever make it to class on time!

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

Navigating the corridors of a high school during the changing of classes is a challenge. I’d rather drive on the expressway in rush hour. Students move in packs down the middle of the corridor making it difficult for anyone to pass. They congregate at the ends of the corridors blocking anyone from getting around the corner. They stop abruptly to greet a friend and you almost bump into them. Or they almost crash into you texting on their cell phones oblivious to their surroundings.