Reflections on Remote Learning

in 2019-20 School Year/Community Engagement/Innovative Teaching

Resilient, restructuring, resourceful — the 3 R’s of learning have certainly changed during the period of remote learning and made new skills the center of our teachers’ work. Perhaps everyone who has found themselves suddenly working in such new circumstances may be struck by the time warp of the StayHome period — tasks take longer, time goes by in strange ways. For teachers who were forced to change their intensely interpersonal work so dramatically, this transformation has been exhausting. The pace of teaching and learning may have slowed, but the pace of work increased. At the same time, while the changes in communication were daunting, many teachers have found that their relationships with some of their students have actually deepened in surprising ways. Here are four teachers’ perspectives on this experience. Bus Stop welcomes hearing more stories and reflections from students, teachers and parents alike. 

A day in the life…of Homebound High School Math Teacher: Cari Wilson

My daily schedule is grueling: I’m up at 4:30 working by 5:00. From 7 to 9:30 or 10: 30 (depending on the day), I work with my own children, and then I head upstairs. My desk is in my bedroom separated by a portable screen. I swing for the next 2-3 hours between teacher, parent and homeschooler.I then spend 3-4 hours in Zoom class, sessions , office hours or meetings. I get and try to process 75-100 emails a day. Then I plan, create videos , assessments, provide feedback, I am lucky if I am done by 6 or 7 PM….. Then possibly a walk, dinner, family time, bed, repeat. I also work 8+ hours on Sunday. And I am still “behind”. There is just not enough time to meet everyone’s needs. 

On parenting: In the afternoons my husband stops work and takes over helping out our kid… finishing up any school work and organizing outdoor time. The screen time is addictive for my children. The transition to “normal” home activities is difficult. They need so much more direction now where they did not before the dismissal. I assume this to be true for many families who previously had little screen time at home.

Cari Wilson in her home office, with her family.

My favorite times are:

  • Office hours where I can actually see the kids and work directly with students. 
  • The opening of our Zoom class sessions… where I spend 5+minutes of my 30 minutes per week just connecting. 
  • My 8th grade TA’s black screens and murmurs that they call discussions, but none complains about coming. I write random questions & challenges in their Google Attendance form… and smile at their answers.
  • I have two or three students whom I just zoom and work with just so they have company. 

A special highlight: There is one student that I met with every day for the first month to help her get organized and just moving… assigning a lunch hour, walking time, writing an email, reading one chapter…. Now she is rocking her work independently with a once or twice a week check-in! 

Kate Rob’s Calais-Goes-Covid Teaching Day

6:30 Coffee and respond to Gmail.

7:00 Work on creating a learning packet for teaching that will happen the week after next, or create a Flipgrid assignment to upload to Google Classroom, or work on designing Science STEAM projects and Global Citizenship CHAT projects, so they can be mostly self-guided and completed without a reliable internet connection and only common household items.

8:00 Post Morning Message on Infinite Campus or Gmail if Infinite Campus isn’t accepting the message.

8:10 Check Gmail, organize my to do list for the day, and check in with my two middle schoolers about the academics they have to do for the day.

8:15 Organize my 3rd grade daughter’s school work for the day into morning and evening tasks

8:30 Call a few of my students to help them set timers to remind them about meetings and answer questions about daily work.

8:45 Zoom Morning Meeting with most of my class.

9:30 Zoom math lesson with 6 – 8 students

10:00 Check-in on my daughter’s progress with her morning academics and remind her about Zoom meetings she has during the afternoon.

10:15 Zoom writing lesson with 6 – 8 students

10:45 Check-in with my both of my sons about the progress of their daily academics

11:00 Read Aloud

11:30 Zoom Reading Group 1 with 4-5 students

12:00 Zoom Reading Group 2 with 4-5 students

12:30 Read with an individual student

1:00 Office Hours: Work with individual students on math, reading, writing or STEAM projects.

2:00 Check-in with several families and students to see how their daily learning activities went.

2:30 Extended Office Hours: to meet with students that need help in an academic area.

3:00 Record videos for students that cannot make Zoom lessons and check email

4:30 Take a break and walk the dog.

6:30 Work with my 3rd grade daughter on evening academic tasks that require more encouragement for her to focus.

9:00 Check daily notes, Flipgrid, Hapara, iReady, and Xtramath to see who can be considered present for learning today. Log attendance in Infinite Campus.

Kate Rob working with her daughter.

Favorite parts of my day: 

  • Talking with my students about whatever is on their minds. 
  • Sharing our projects with each other on Zoom and watching our Flipgrid presentations.
  • Working with students one-on-one through an academic problem they are having.
  • Celebrating a birthday and trying to sing Happy Birthday in unison on Zoom. This is just a funny experience.
  • Playing morning meeting games like 4 corners, I spy, Coseeki and What did I change?

How do I feel at the end of the day?

At the end of a Covid school day, my mind won’t shut off. I need to get away from my computer and out for a walk to clear my head and organize my thoughts for the next day. Still, I’m always thinking about which student I didn’t get to see or connect with that day, how to help my families, and what I need to do to make sure my students come to the learning.

End of the year?

I’m tired and I’m hopeful that we will get back to a school day that looks close to what we had before Covid. Sure, distance learning works for a handful of students but not for all students. While the normal school system isn’t perfect, I think it is much easier to meet student needs and help them learn when they are in the classroom setting.

What do I miss?

I miss hanging out with my students each day, watching them interact with each other, hearing them laugh and get excited about projects, seeing them work with each other to figure out a problem, and those quiet times where we can just talk and share our lives with each other.

What would I do differently?

Not sure about this one. Still processing this.

What surprised me?

I was surprised how quickly most students adapted to the digital environment and how talking on a screen brought some students out of their shell.

If we had to do this all over again, what would I want to be different?

I would want every kid to have a person that could check-in throughout the day to make sure they are getting what they need, so they could learn. I would also want everyone to have a reliable internet connection. 

Kathy Christy Keeps Perspective

I’ve been an elementary educator for 38 years, 31 years have been spent within the walls of EMES.  Currently, I am a literacy teacher and instructional coach.  I wear a variety of educational hats as I split my time between teaching literacy, facilitating professional development, and coaching.  As we’ve moved to remote learning, I continue my work with professional development, curriculum, planning and instruction.  I serve on our WCSUU Instructional Task Force. I meet with teachers and help them brainstorm lessons, problem solve and find or create resources.  I meet with students each day in a variety of ways. I  check in on their well being, create video recorded lessons, teach live literacy lessons, and support students, families, and teachers in any way I can.

The experience of Covid-19 is heart wrenching.  There are days that I spend hours upon hours sitting in front of a screen, hoping kids will show up.  Many do, some do not.  Seeing their smiling faces and interacting with students is my highlight, my joy.  Worrying about those that don’t show is my heartache. I email, I call, I text, sometimes I get a response, sometimes I don’t.  I understand, this experience is so hard for families, I get it, yet I worry.

I try to plan lessons that are engaging, with materials I can’t actively share.  Finding and navigating online resources for students and teachers is overwhelming. My body aches from being so sedentary.  I wasn’t meant for a desk job. I want to be on the move, racing through the halls at EMES again.  I miss my students, I miss my colleagues, I miss my normalcy.  I miss my 4:30a.m. start to my day and my pull in the driveway by 6:00 p.m. schedule.  My days remain long, it’s just my schedule is more erratic and unpredictable. It’s harder to put a start and stop time on my day, I’m always at work now.   I’ll look at my plan book and realize I’ve completed 12-14 Zoom meetings on some days, my eyes, my neck, my back and my head hurt from screen time.

I’ve always been an optimist and that’s what’s  getting me through these days.  There are reasons to be grateful. I’m healthy, I’m strong. I have my office set up in our sunroom.  I’ve watched the seasons change and the world turn green through the walls of windows.  I’ve watched the birds arrive, and I marvel at a sweet hummingbird that visits daily.  Some days, I even have lunch with my husband, and hold classes or attend meetings on the front porch during warm afternoons.  I’m grateful and I’m hopeful.  I’m hopeful for a future that is more of what we’ve planned, I’m hopeful Vermont will continue to be safe and smart. I’m hopeful that I’ll hug kids again one day soon. Most of all, I’m hopeful we’re continuing to make a difference for our students.

Kathy Christy’s sunroom office.

CBL goes Remote: George Cook

One of U-32’s hallmarks is its multiple channels for individualized mentor-base learning. How did Community-Based Learning (CBL) translate to remote learning? George Cook gave some perspective:

  • The 28 kids in my CBL class pivoted so nicely while at home. I am so super proud of them! CBL obviously looked very different, but they persevered in a really challenging situation.
  • The Zoom classes were awesome and filled with respectful conversations. The kids are not all in the same peer pod, but were all amazing with each other.
  • Our weekly individual phone calls were amazing. I felt like I got to know the kids on such a deeper level. It was so great to talk to them while they were at home.
  • I saw kids reaping the benefits of getting “training” in independent learning. Meaning, even after two months of class at U-32, these kids ran with their independence. Some were managing a lot of work, school, and family situations. However, their independence and levels of responsibility were sky high.
  • There are always a lot of balls in the air as each kid has a totally different project. It’s so super fun, but you have to be really organized on many levels.
  • Staying connected with the kids when you cannot see them in person is really critical. Every kid must know that they are important, and checking in with them regularly is very important.
  • Celebrate: We always give kudos to the kids when somebody does something great.
  • Remote learning has enhanced relationships.

A special highlight: After witnessing kids in both my “traditional” and “flexible pathway” programs, I can say this. The need for independent learning and teacher guidance is more important than it ever was. Now, more than ever, I believe our programs are critical and develop skills that our kids must possess in this craziness!

Quentin Mashkuri and Patrick Towne food-critique project.
Carmen Gallagher’s raised bed project.
Ireland Hayes visits her mentor.