Distance Learning: An Open Letter

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Dear Education Community,

Tomorrow,  marks the official beginning of what truly is an unprecedented time in education across Ontario and the entire country. As provinces act responsibly in announcing the closure of school districts, resilient teachers, administrators, system leaders and support staff have joined together at this critical time. 

This is evident on social media platforms such as Twitter where school stakeholders are engaging in virtual/shared PD. From parents and trustees connecting about next steps, to teachers sharing promising practices, to administrators exploring their new role as distance leaders, the buzz about next steps and new shared realities is abundant. 

Personally, as a Vice Principal was a diverse tech-ed and professional development background, I’ve been entrenched in supporting my system and school community over the past two weeks, while also balancing the realities of home. With two school-aged children yearning for some school connectedness and a spouse who is also a teacher preparing for her new norm, the schooling landscape both in terms of the personal and professional is being written day-by-day. With all of the good, bad and unknown of this new world of education, it is clear that this new norm is multifaceted and comes with great potential and challenges.

This is to say that across Ontario and the country, it is not business as usual. It’s not business as usual for our day-to-day lives and it’s not business as usual when it comes to educating our students and serving our school communities from afar. 

This is not a scenario where students have been intentionally prepared for eLearning or have signed up for programming with an understanding of the realities that they would face. Rather, this is very much Emergency Response Learning where all educators are treading in unknown and uncharted waters. Whether you are a Ministry of Education, Director of Education or classroom teacher, this new landscape for schooling is being shaped as the collective is being mobilized. This isn’t a bad thing as it means we can mould, adapt and shape based on our needs and new norms. It won’t be pretty or perfect but I am confident we can make it work. We must and will find a way. 

Although the realities of eLearning will come into play for many as teachers and students harness platforms such as D2L and Google Classroom across the province and country, it’s important to recognize that many administrators, teachers, students and families will not be prepared for what is next as we are working to balance the realities we know exist. 

Importantly:

  • We’re all overwhelmed by the reality of our local, national and global situation and thus wellness matters;
  • The respective narrative of families are not one and the same. Not everyone is like me who can work from home, support the learning of my children and provide them with access to hardware and unlimited internet access;
  • Teachers are seeking professional learning on the fly. This can cause stress and imbalance as growing professional practices takes time, patience, trial and error;
  • Administrators will become strained as they work to stay connected with staff, families, address equity issues of distance learning and prepare for September;
  • Senior leadership has been treading water for sometime now; navigating their own district realities while working with their respective ministry and federation partners;
  • Every stakeholder is under pressure and this includes students and parents/caregivers. 

With all of this, whether you’re a VP like me, a classroom teacher like my wife, a student like my own children or any education stakeholder, now is the time to go slow and attempt to be steady. 

Now is the time:

  • For teachers to stay connected with students and families. Spend time sending an email or calling home rather than on Pow Toon or exploring new digital tools;
  • For teachers to be balanced in their approach when assigning learning tasks for their own wellness / balance and that of students and their families;
  • For teachers to avoid the need to be “transformational.” Sometimes less is more when it comes to tech integration and all things digital;
  • For teachers to know there is nothing wrong with keeping things simple. For many digital teaching (fully distant) will be new and scary;
  • For administrators to set a tone of calm and togetherness;
  • For administrator to be accessible to staff  and the school community more now than ever  while remembering it’s okay not to have the answers and to be vulnerable;
  • For administrators to be measured and cultivate a culture of  patience, balance, wellness and shared understanding;
  • For parents (I am one) to be please be patient and know that their respective school and teacher has their child’s best interest at heart;
  • For parents to know that distance learning doesn’t mean that  children will be doing school work all day.  Balance is needed;
  • For parents to please know that the unknowns are not being sidelined but worked out (i.e. lack of access to technology at home);
  • For everyone to know that this is a challenging time for all. Everyone owns their unique and personal narrative.

So, as I embark on this journey as a VP and parent, I can assert that my greatest concern is with patience, balance, wellness and shared understanding.  This is a time to be measured and to let everyone know it’s okay to be uncertain and nervous. It’s okay to tread slowly so that you don’t drown in these choppy waters. 

Through all of this, it’s okay to be human. We all are. 

Be safe and well!

Anthony

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