Thursday, April 9, 2020

A Message to My Parents

I sent this to the parents of my students this afternoon. As much as maintaining connections with students is my top priority, it is also super important to check in with the grownups as well. I try to limit my emails to twice a week, so as not to overwhelm them with information while still ensuring they know I am here for their children. 

Good afternoon "Big People" of 8 Gaudet,

I hope that you are doing well, that your families are safe and healthy, and that you have been able to take some time to get out in the sunshine these past few days. 

To help get a sense of how things are going, I would really appreciate it if you could take 2 or 3 minutes to fill out the Emergency Remote Learning Check-In I have attached (blog readers, you can make a copy of what I created here - feel free to take and adapt, as I did from the AMLE website). I plan to send this out at the end of each week, so that you have a quick and easy way to let me know how things are going for you. 

There have been some assignments posted on the Google Classroom over the past week, and this will continue to be updated as we move forward. I want to underline for you that there will be no judgment, no negative repercussions, and no calls home from the principal if your child does not engage in academic work at this time. I will touch base to check in, but it is far more important to me that children come out of this experience with as little trauma as possible. We don't know how long social distancing measures will be in place, or what will happen in our communities and in our families over the coming weeks. It is very important that we all take care of ourselves - however that needs to look for individuals and families. 

If you have any specific concerns about academics, the transition to grade 9, or your child's mental health, please don't hesitate to reach out. If something comes up for you or your family that you want me to know about, you are always welcome to email me, or to call the school number and leave a message (our principal checks regularly, and will let me know if there is someone I need to call back)

I plan to send out an article each week that you may find interesting / informative / helpful. Today, that article is A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through Coronavirus. I am sharing this article with you so that you know a bit more about the reasons I am doing the things I am doing right now. There are also suggestions that you may find helpful in your own interactions these days. Please do not feel obligated to read this article, I am only passing it along if you are looking for some more information about what I consider to be best practice as a middle school teacher.

Monday, March 30, 2020

8th Grade Worries

Things my grade 8 students expressed worry/concern about during our video chat today :
Student 1 : when will we go back to school? Me: I don't know Student 2 : do you think we will we go back to school before the end of this year? Me: I don't know

Student 3 : will they make us repeat grade 8 if we don't go back to school this year? Me: I don't know Student 4 : will we have to go to school in the summer? Me: I don't know

Student 5: if we do go back to school, will we still do the IDU (our grade 8 version of a business fair - they look forward to it all year)? Me: I don't know Student 6: has anyone from our school been diagnosed with Covid-19? Me: I don't know (and couldn't say if I did)

Student 7: when can we get the things in our lockers? Me: I don't know, but I promise we're not going to keep your gym shorts forever! I was unable to answer any of those. The one I could answer just about broke my heart...

Student 8: when you finish reading us all of the chapters in this book, will we still have these video meetings? Me: (inside)

Me: (aloud) YES. These video meetings are about so much more than reading a book. We will have them for as long as we're apart.

Connections matter. Keep those connections alive.

Plenty of Advice Out There

Something I am finding to be a challenge these days is sifting through the sheer tonnage of advice that is floating around the Internet about how to best make it through this time of uncertainty and upheaval in our lives. I'm not talking about medical advice (please, stay home if you can!). I'm referring to the mass of articles about teaching and learning, caring for our mental health, and generally "making it". 

I've decided to create a bit of a depository for myself of the articles and information I am finding the most helpful right now. While these are not all of a "peer-reviewed" nature, I have found them to resonate with me personally. If you have something else that you think I should add to my list, I am happy to receive suggestions.

You don't have to "make the most" of a global pandemic is an Instagram post I came across, which contains some very excellent information about how we are all going to deal with this situation differently.

Along those same lines, I read an article called "These are not conditions in which to thrive" which really resonated for me:

 "I understand the impulse to reframe this moment as an inspiring opportunity. Wouldn’t it be nice if this pandemic — this period of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders — was a no-strings-attached gift of free time and focus? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take all that time we spent commuting and attending obligatory social events and instead use it for ourselves? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could prioritize our true purpose: our creative ventures, our unlaunched hustles, writing our King LearThat would be nice. But that’s not where we are. [...] Just get through the day."
- Ella Dawson

20 Questions to Help with Covid-19 Anxiety

25 Mental Health Wellness Tips for Quarantine. This post was published on Facebook by psychologist Wayne McGill, and is attributed to Dr. Eileen Feliciano, clinical psychologist in New York.

A therapist’s advice for helping pre-teens in a coronavirus lockdown This article is based on an interview with therapist and school counsellor Phyllis Fagell  "As a developmental period, early adolescence is marked by a deep need to connect, belong, and fit in, as well as a need to solidify values, assert autonomy, find purpose, and have fun. To be a pre-teen in the time of coronavirus will require creativity and boundaries."

As a teacher, I am striving to help my students navigate these uncertain times as well. I came across these questions to discuss with students, before trying to focus on academics (in whatever form they are going to take for the next little while) :

I know there are many more articles, images, bits of advice, and inspirational messages out there. These are the few that I have been returning to over the past while, and that have had an impact on how I am choosing to approach teaching and relating to others.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Connections Beyond the Classroom

In this time of uncertainty, I have decided to start taking some courses towards a second MEd degree. Part of that process means contacting previous universities for my official transcripts. I sent in my requests earlier this week, and today I got a phone call from the registrar at Université Sainte Anne. She was calling to confirm my birthdate, as she was unable to find me in their system. In my transcript request, I had mistakenly indicated that I was born in 1918, rather than 1981!

In the course of trying to find my transcripts, she mentioned that she was the only one in the office today. I took the opportunity to ask how she is doing, and we ended up having a 20 minute conversation about the struggles we are both facing right now. There are still students living on campus at Ste. Anne, because they are from out of country and have nowhere to go. She's worried about them, and how they are coping being so far from their families. The admissions office staff are taking turns to come in one day per week - they are responsible for wiping down all of the surfaces they touch before they leave for the day. Her husband is a lobster fisherman, and she has had to banish him to the bedroom to watch TV while she works from home the other 4 days of the week - all of the phone lines at Ste Anne have been forwarded to a cellphone with which the university provided her.

If I had just answered her question about my year of birth, and thanked her for finding my transcripts, I would not have made this human connection today. We can all make little connections - everyone is experiencing challenges, everyone has a story. If you have the ability to ask someone how they are, and to really listen and care about their response, do it! The happiness I heard in her voice when I asked her how she is doing being along in the office, when she is used to being surrounded by people, was an uplifting moment in my day.

Not everyone is in a space where they can extend this invitation to share experiences, and that is OK. When you are though, give it a try. We all need some grace and love from one another.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Pressing Pause

 I am a planner. I am not good at pressing pause on that part of myself. I make plans. And right now, I need to find ways of pausing, of taking a breath and waiting for plans to be shared so that we have a collaborative approach to what is coming.

I understand on an intellectual level that these are unprecedented times, and that it is in our interest to move forward as teachers and citizens in a unified way. And I also just want to dive in and start doing things to prepare - to prepare messages of support for my students and parents, who are worried and struggling with the uncertainty; to prepare online learning opportunities and ways of connecting; to teach.

And I'm being told to press pause this weekend. To wait and see. I'm not good at "wait and see." I'm not worried about what might be asked of me, I'm frustrated that it hasn't been asked yet. Give me a task, a problem to solve, a challenge to face.

I'm not good at pressing pause. And this weekend I will try to find ways of doing just that.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sharing Expertise - Don't Shy Away From Experimenting!

A friend asked me if I would create a post outlining how I use Flipgrid. Not in a philosophy of education way, but in a technical, here's how to do it way. Below I go into a lot of detail to walk you through how to get set up on Flipgrid - my best advice is to create an account and then experiment! (I am not paid by Flipgrid, I am just an enthusiastic user!)


Flipgrid is an online space where a facilitator (teacher/instructor/etc.) can create a prompt, and then others can respond with a short video. Depending on how you set it up,  contributors (in my case, students) either are or are not able to see each others' responses. In a school setting, setting the videos to private can be useful if I am using the videos as a way for students to give a response to a question without hearing the point of view of other students first. Other times, I want students to view and respond to each others' videos, so I make them public.

Public in the Flipgrid world means that the videos are viewable by others who have the link to that particular prompt, or "Topic". This is great for classrooms, as the only people with access to the topics are the students to whom I provide the link. You can further set up privacy protections by setting a password for the topics as well.

I love using Flipgrid to connect with my students :

  • it's asynchronous, so students don't have to worry about logging on at a specific time
  • we can see each others' faces and hear each others' voices, much more connection than email or other text-based options
  • students can reply to each other, as well as to the prompt (it's not as good as our morning circles, but it is a great option while we are not at school)

Now that I've given a basic overview, I'll get into more detail about getting yourself set up on Flipgrid. They have also put out a quick-start guide to remote learning that you can access here.

The first step as a facilitator is to set up your account. You can do this with either a Google or Microsoft account.

As you can see, you do not have to be a teacher to set up an account. In fact, I know of people who use Flipgrid to host virtual family reunions!

Once you have your account set up, you will be invited to create a "Grid". Essentially, I like to think of my grids as the individual classes I teach, and the topics inside them are the different activities. You can really set it up anyway you like though.

There are three options for the type of grid you set up, and your choice will depend on how you intend to use Flipgrid. The first option is School Email. You can set the domain name that your students use (in my case, I have it set to as that is what all students in my school use) You can add multiple domain names if this useful to you.

The option for Student IDs allows you to create a list of people who will access your grid, and assign them individual logins. This is useful if your students don't use email.

The third option is to create a public grid. You will share the link with contributors, and can set a password as well.

Once your grid has been created, you can make individual topics. It is possible to create topics in grid and share the individual topics with people, rather than sharing the link to the entire grid. 

When creating a topic, you will see the following basic options :

When setting up a topic, you are able to record your own video as a prompt (or "Focus"), and also to attach other types of documents (e.g. Google Doc, an image, a link to a website, a Youtube video, etc.) There are lots of options for integrating Flipgrid with other websites and apps.

You will likely want to access some of the other options when setting up a topic (such as video moderation, which is how I keep students' videos hidden from each other - you can always "release" these videos after you have seen them, so other students can watch them later) Here are the other options when setting up a topic :

I hope this has been helpful to you in setting up your own Flipgrid account. Please reach out if you have questions! If you want to see what this looks like from a participant/student point of view, I've created a topic for that purpose that you can access here.