Shape the Narrative/Culture Remotely

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Below is a letter I very recently sent out to our 160 faculty members after COVID-19 closed down our schools. Very little info had been directed to us from the administration except that we were to be doing OPTIONAL remote learning starting Wednesday March 18th and that under no circumstances could we teach new material or assign points of any kind. The concept of it being "optional" (in bold nonetheless) took the wind out of some our HS teachers sails. 

What I realized is that without being near each other the culture can really become (in)/affected and fast! I felt compelled to try and change the narrative and hopefully inspire some hope in a time of uncertainty and ambiguity. Here was how I responded as a fellow colleague/part time Tech Coach.

Good evening,

It has been an honor to be able to serve full time as an instructional coach with you over the past week as we try to figure out how to navigate these uncharted waters together. And going off of Mr. Napaver and Dr. Lloyd's lead, I think we all know that education must continue in some fashion; our kids deserve it and they thrive off of structure/normalcy.

So perhaps we can try our best to give them some sense of normalcy (however that looks in your class); that could mean reteaching your last unit through enrichment videos, starting from the beginning of the term and work your way to the present unit playing review games, or perhaps through an open ended project. It will be a good starting place until we all find a rhythm with remote learning and just how short term it will be. Whatever you choose to do with your classes, be upfront and transparent with your students...start a daily blog or announcement to let them know what your class plan is (even if it changes each day or each week) or have them help you create that plan together. But mainly stay in touch with them; some will need you more than others.

Remember as much as we know Bart Simpson won’t do the work...don’t forget about Lisa and Milhouse...heck, even Bart may surprise you every once in a while if given the right opportunity! Equity while having grace and flexibility needs to be our mantra.

Those of you planning on engaging in video chats with students please have some ground rules. 

  • Cameras for students should be off unless they are in a public place and dressed appropriately as if they were at school. 
    • I say use a system that allows you to lock cameras for participants and leave yours on if you wish to humanize the experience as much as possible.

Also have a backup plan/platform...with the high traffic and free accounts sometimes platforms can struggle. 

  • Set up a backup in Google ‘Meet’ or Zoom meeting or Conference tool in Canvas that way you can redirect quickly and salvage the session.

As always, I’m here so please use me to: brainstorm ideas, make sure something is “okay” or even just to help you with your vision for what the next two weeks can be for your students/classes given the constraints and ambiguities. 

You are enough. You are a content expert and may (not) be a tech expert and that's ok (neither are all our students).

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As far as the impact, we shall see, but I have already received amazing feedback from staff.

Here was my favorite response:

Thank you so much for all of your unfailing support and enthusiasm. You continue to remain positive, and focused on people over platform. Your passion for using technology to enhance and redesign instruction in a content-driven way has always been evident, but the way you've stepped up over the last few weeks has given everyone a sense of comfort and confidence. Please know how much it is appreciated.

The interesting part of that comment is that the person who wrote it is someone I really have not interacted with much before, which reminds me that our students feel the same way about us as teachers; we inspire them all at one point or another even if they don't show/say it.

Teaching and learning are a lot like baseball. We may not win 100% of the time, but when its our turn, we step in the box and do our best...over time we will have highs and lows, but it's the day to day hope that makes all of the above worth our time. I hope this offers you inspiration! Be present. Stay Well!

Community Member

Here is what I was able to post today as a follow up to that email!

Good morning all!
Day 1 Stats
  • So we had nearly 100,000 page views
    • which was the most since the first day of school. 
  • 1616 user logged into Canvas with 1466 being students...
    • that's 82.5% attendance (Thanks Faust for the math help!)
Testimonials from teachers about day 1:
  • Despite being “optional,” one student told me that she was “really bored so [she] went ahead and read the poetry.” 🙂
  • I had several Television Production students respond positively to filling out feature story idea packet for the Paw Report and sharing as a google doc or submitting to Canvas. Two students that responded last evening already shot, edited and submitted their segment for next weeks show I also sent out to the Honors Advance Film class a survey to see the direction they would like to take. Gave them a few scenarios. I received several responses. I am going to set up a meeting on line like we did today with the department heads. I want to discuss film ideas and OJR film festival live or online
  • I also had CP kiddos who don't love math handing things in and asking questions via email.  These kids are wanting something to do and eager to keep on learning.  I hope if admin hears these positive responses they will be more likely to allow us to continue an online platform going forward with full content delivery and accountability.
  • I was up at 3:30am! So incredibly nervous for my first day of school! Legit! It really was the first day of school!!! But I did it! I made videos using screencastify, and screencast-o-matic, I participated in a conference held through Zoom, I recorded instructional videos using my document camera and sent them through Canvas, I set-up a google conference call ready for my IB kids, AND..... my 1st and 4th grader both showed me how to do Flipgrid because their teacher had them do it!  I’m tired! I’m still nervous..... but I got this!
  • Day 1 success for me: 1/3 of my 9th grade star class posted a Discussion in Canvas! I’m hoping more will join tomorrow!
  • Surprised with the number of students getting on and working.... especially given the optional element.
  • I've already had 30+ early submissions.
  • Actually shocked at how many kids logged on and did the assignment!
Sometimes having real data help, so our personal bias doesn't interfere with what's really happening. Here is a TED talk that is really quite entertaining and interesting about bias!
Thanks to all who shared their day 1! Hope you all have a great day 2! Let me know how it goes! I hope you all have a chance to brag about something that happened today! 
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Community Member

Here is my message going out tomorrow morning before our first Virtual Day of Learning!

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Community Member

This was my final email to complete this blog post...

Happy Last Day!
Again, it has been an honor to serve all of you through this unprecedented year. I have been honestly beaming with pride seeing how we all did what was necessary to continue education as best we could over that couple months. None of us had been trained for such an occasion! 
This is an email I'd like you to save or mark for when you will begin to think about next year (after you take some time off to recharge of course). 
Regardless of what next year may or may not look like I'm sure we've all learned something new that we would like to adjust for future years. So here is a short ABC guide to getting ready for next year.

A. Always think ahead. Make a Sandbox/Master Course for next year and start building it.

Take what you've learned from this year and make a course template for next year. On your dashboard you can "Start a New Course" then copy/import into it any items that worked from this year and build from there. I also have loved seeing teachers team up and co-create in a sandbox course together to help with the workload and learning curve of Canvas. This will also help our students with what they've asked for the most, which is relative consistency among courses. (Click Link above for steps on how to copy a whole course or specific items into a new course)
Please remember...
  • If you just copy the last year's course into the next year's course you will need to go in and unpublish assignments and check to make sure you have removed all previous dates. 
    • If you build a master course/sandbox course to copy each year then you can ensure all assignments are unpublished and have no dates making for a smoother Fall opening. 
  • Your courses by default can only hold 800MBs so try and not upload large video files, instead use Google Drive or YouTube to hold those larger files and embed/link them into Canvas. Tips on Embedding Videos here 
B.  Be Inspired. Search the Canvas Commons and Canvas Community for ideas and inspiration from others
There is even a FB group for Canvas users. Here is a link to other courses for inspiration. Check Canvas Resource Guide for tips and demo assignments as a student. 
C. Comments/Feedback Matter. Look at what the students had to say about their remote experience.  Link to Student Testimonials. 
Other Resources:
How do I? episodes on YouTube
Anonymous Suggestion Box-How do I? Request more episodes here!
Canvas Screenshot Directions
Have a great summer!
About the Author
Latin and Spanish Teacher at a public high school in Southeastern PA. I have recently taken on a technology role as the head teacher of blended learning as well as Tech Integration Coach for a newly adopted 1:1 Chromebook school of 1600 students 9-12.