To say that this week has been the most challenging week in my professional life is an understatement. In Uruguay, the government closed schools for two weeks over a weekend. Urgent board meetings on Sunday to make sense of the situation was the starting point for many of us here.
I’d like to share with my colleagues the way my team and I managed it. It was the way we found to cope with it. I think sharing our experiences can help us cope with the situation and help others that might need to face a similar situation.
As a team manager, one of my main concerns was to deal with the emotional toll isolation brings. For this reason during this first week frequent short synchronous meetings became a powerful tool. One of the greatest challenges for teachers and learners when going remote in such a sudden and unexpected way is to handle the negative emotional and psychological effects. Synchronous meetings help cater for this and this is the plan my team and I worked with, we used zoom (basic account) throughout and recorded most sessions.
First online meeting: whole team meeting. We first discussed how the sudden lockdown caught us, and how we were coping with it. I then presented an action plan for the week that we discussed and fine-tuned. The session included a very brief introduction to the basics of remote teaching and how the use of asynchronous and synchronous tools cater for different learning objectives. We then analyzed the needs of the team to face this challenge.
Second online meetings: Our school teaches English to students ranging from 2 year-olds to 18 year-olds. We held separate online meetings to address the needs of the different age groups and worked on how to adapt the action plan to each age group.
Needless to say, last Monday was hectic, nerve-racking, never-ending rollercoaster ride! We worked endless hours but the fact that we were working together, discussing options, offering alternatives helped us cope. The team was as strong as always supporting each other and supporting me.
Online training sessions: We were very lucky in the sense that our school had been working with google classroom for some time now so our starting point was somewhat ahead of other schools that had to go out and search for tools. Most of my teachers were already using it so that meant that most could handle the basic tools and all of them had institutional accounts to access the whole Gsuite. Training was carried out by members of the staff that were proficient in the use of tools and myself. We recorded all sessions and trimmed the videos into shorter tutorials which were uploaded into our own collaborative classroom. Using zoom basic accounts allows you to hold 40-minute sessions which help keep the focus on the task at hand and make full use of its interactive features.
All groups were active in google classroom. One of the hardest things for us was to determine how much work to cover. To set a baseline, we tried to adapt the already planned lessons to the remote format. This allowed us to see what activities in our regular repertoire of work could be transferred or not and how our lesson sequences needed to be adjusted. Another important aspect we agreed on was to activate content on the days we would have our face-to-face lessons and to be active on classroom at the time of our lessons.
Live sessions preparations: As a team, and understanding the importance of the sudden cut in the socio-affective side of learning, we set out the ambitious goal of holding 30-minute synchronous sessions by Friday for all primary and secondary. We were daring, not everyone at our school agreed with the plan but they all trusted that if we were doing it, it was because we felt prepared to do so. The English team agreed on some key objectives for these meetings:
- Allow students to reconnect with each other and their teachers in a synchronous way
- Share the ways in which we were all coping with lockdown
- Share experiences and ideas on how to go about it
- Trouble-shoot problems students might have on classroom
- Establish a basic routine for live sessions
One key aspect of each session would be that two teachers would be involved. The regular classroom teacher hosting the online class and a second teacher (and/or myself) offering technical support via chat, watching over the shared classroom space or whatsapp to children and families that had trouble connecting. This is the way we usually did online sessions with my colleagues at British Council Uruguay so for me it made perfect sense to do so. (specially considering that was the first time teaching online for most teachers). I cannot stress enough the importance this has for a successful online session.
Live sessions: 30-minute sessions were held for all primary and secondary using zoom accounts. The greatest gift of all was to see the smiling faces of children, teachers and parents that dropped by to say hi! We were once again a connected educational community. Of course, the sessions were not perfect. Of our five aims, all were fulfilled in most sessions. But the most important aspect was the sense of continuity that these sessions provided. Needless to say, children asked to have online sessions every day!
This has been possible because we have a very strong and committed team. This post is my tribute to their hard work and team spirit. My hat off to you ladies!