Saturday, May 29, 2021

Abrupt About-Face

On May 19th, the province of Nova Scotia announced that all schools would continue to do remote learning for the remainder of the school year. Although this was sad, it was a decision. If you read my previous post, you'll know that the uncertainty is what is most stressful for me. I was glad that a decision had been made, and that I could move forward with planning the last 6 weeks of school to be as full of engaging learning opportunities for my students as possible. 

Yesterday (Friday, May 28), a mere 9 days after this announcement, that decision has been reversed. I am headed back to school on Wednesday June 2nd. I found out about this in a press conference (which, as an aside, was extremely confusing and did not provide clear information on a number of issues). I found out about this at 3:30pm on a Friday afternoon.

I am so frustrated by the decision to make an abrupt about-face, which was done without consultation with teachers.

I am so frustrated by the fact that the planning I spent the past week doing, in order to be the best I can be for my students, now needs to be modified yet again. Teaching online does not mean just taking activities that can be done in person and doing them online. Likewise, teaching in person does not mean I can just do the things I had planned when students were going to be learning from home.

I am so frustrated that my students, who had just started to get into a good routine, and who were coming to terms with how their school year would end, now have to go through a surprise transition back into the classroom.

I am so frustrated by the lack of answers to the following questions, which I believe are crucial to a safe and positive reopening of school buildings : 

  • In what ways has the Back to School Plan from August 2020 been updated to reflect current understandings of the spread of Covid-19 and its variants?
  • Based on the current restrictions in place in Nova Scotia, what are the Public Health directives for:
    • seating in a classroom where distancing is not possible
    • eating lunch indoors, where distancing is not possible
    • having students work in groups
    • masking in outdoor spaces (if this is still the recommendation for places like outdoor markets)
    • masking during Physical Education / Music classes 
  • What are the plans for families choosing not to have their children return to the classroom for the remainder of the year? Is there a plan in place to ascertain who these students are prior to Wednesday? From the perspective of the Region / Department, what are the responsibilities of the teacher if a family chooses to keep their child at home?
  • What is the plan for students who miss time due to vaccination appointments / needing to self isolate for testing (possibly for 14 days)?
  • Is it possible that Public Health be looking to provide vaccinations to students at schools before the end of June?
This back-to-school plan feels hasty, unnecessary, and not thoroughly considered, consulted upon or explained.  

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Price of Uncertainty

 A very good friend and I were chatting tonight about how frustrating it was for me to read that our Chief Medical Officer stated in an interview that "students and parents should prepare for the possibility of online learning for the rest of the school year."

I don't have a problem with this idea, and I fully support the current restrictions in place to keep our communities safe. My frustration stems from the fact that this is how I am finding out that I might be teaching online for the next 7 weeks. 

Here are some thoughts that came up when my friend asked the question, "If you were consulted, what would you want to say?"

  • Knowledge is empowering. The fact is, I will have to say to my students tomorrow, "I don't know if we will be back to in-person classes before the end of the school year, I'm waiting to hear about that." This lack of knowledge is disempowering, as it throws us into a state of uncertainty, and makes us look like we are hiding something.  
  • Students will stay engaged if we give them the tools and supports to do so. Las spring, we kept pushing the "back to buildings" date in increments of two weeks, in an effort to maintain engagement with students. Students will be engaged if we provide them with meaningful learning opportunities, chances to connect, and trust that they will do what they can while dealing with the trauma of an ongoing pandemic.
  • We have an opportunity to think about how our school system can be more than just "in the classroom", and encourage ways of learning that go beyond trying to replicate online what we do in person (and honouring multiple ways of learning is a separate post for another time!)
  • I want the chance to plan something long term for online learning, rather than lurching from week to week with uncertainty about how long we will be online. Only giving us a week or two at a time means we are often in a holding pattern, only preparing things that last a few days rather than engaging in more meaningful long-term planning.
I teach in a specific context, with a specific set of skills and interests, with a specific group of students. The above ideas/thoughts/feelings will not apply to every teacher. EVERY teacher deserves to be informed about what is being planned for education in the coming weeks. 

I have been waiting for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Nova Scotia to communicate with the 9000+ teachers in the province, so that we can get down to making plans that are in the best interests of our students. We shouldn't be getting updates about our status on Twitter. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

What Have I Been Doing?

This morning, I woke up to a response to my Twitter thread from yesterday. The poster expressed frustration with my position that teachers need a week without students in order to properly prepare (see linked thread for my perspective)

While the tone of their question was quite aggressive (it ended with the single word, "Shame"), the content of the post inspired me to do some more writing. I'm sure there are others out there with similar questions about what teachers have done to be proactive about the return to school. I did quite a bit of barbecuing, but I'm sure that's not what people want to hear... 


I present to you, What I Did This Summer (originally posted as a response thread on Twitter) : 

1/ Hi, _________, thank you for the question regarding how I have been using my time since classes officially ended on June 5th. I would love to be able to address you by name, and to know a bit about your context if you are interested in sharing. 

2/ So much of the work I do is not public-facing, it is reasonable to ask what I've been up to. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to share what the past 10 weeks have looked like for me!

3/ I did not stop interacting with my Ss on June 5th, (the last official day of online classes). Up until June 12th, many teachers (including myself) were providing feedback on assignments, and answering questions from parents and students about the transition to the next grade.

4/ For my part, beyond June 12th, I continued to meet with a small group every day to complete a book we had begun reading together. Those daily meetings concluded on June 26th. We read “Fish in a Tree”, which is an engaging book about a student newly diagnosed with dyslexia. 

5/ After June 30th, the day of our final staff meeting for the school year, I took a break for a week. I read some books, watched @HamiltonMusical, and tried to shut my brain off. It was challenging!

6/ On July 7th I attended a webinar entitled “So you want to do ABAR work?”, put on by four incredible educators @sheathescholar @teachntransform @mochamomma & @MsKass1. I paid for this webinar out of pocket, and was more than happy to compensate these folx for their labour.

7/ Starting on July 6th, I was enrolled in the @AMLE Back to School Camp - an online conference for middle school educators looking to be proactive in planning for a return to classes (in person, online, or a hybrid model) Nine other educators from my school attended as well. 

8/ The first week of “camp” involved getting to know some of my fellow attendees, and planning which sessions I wanted to attend live, and which ones to watch “on demand” later.

9/ July 9th, as part of the online camp experience, I attended a 90 minute Q&A session with @desautels_phd on the neuroscience behind having a trauma-informed lens when interacting with middle school students. 

10/ July 14-16 at camp were jam-packed with sessions from 12pm - 6pm each day, with the opportunity to watch video of sessions that were scheduled concurrently. I attended as many sessions as I could fit in, and have watched many of the ones I missed. 

11/ On July 17th, @rickwormeli2 ran a Q&A as a follow-up to his presentation earlier that week. He covered a wide range of topics surrounding assessment of student learning, bridging gaps in learning & addressing concerns about cheating in online learning environments. 

12/ The team of Ts from my school met to debrief the sessions, and to discuss how to share our learnings with other staff when we returned to work in Sept. The 10 of us represent about a third of the staff (teachers, educational assistants, custodian, library tech) at our school.

13/ The week of July 20th, I began work on an online course which will be part of my MEd in School Counselling. I worked 3 hours per day on reading the provided materials, searching for supplemental articles, writing papers and engaging in a discussion forum with other students.

14/ I finished my final paper for that course this morning. It was a priority for me to finish it before returning to school, so that my attention wouldn't be divided. I'm glad I was able to meet my self-imposed deadline! 

15/ July 23rd, the team of teachers from my school who attended the @amle camp met with @wmspal to discuss ways we could work to improve positive relationships at our school. His insights were very helpful, and we are working on some plans for implementation in our building.

16/ The week of July 27th, I experienced enough symptoms of Covid-19 that I called 811. I was instructed to self-isolate while waiting to be tested, and then for results. Within 4 days, I had a test done and it came back negative, which was a huge relief.

17/ I am grateful to our health care system that the turnaround was only four days, and felt fortunate that I was on vacation and therefore did not need to take time off work in order to comply with NSHA requirements. 

18/ Aug 13, I paid to attend a fantastic webinar with @alexsvenet on a trauma-informed return to school. She outlined 1 major concern for each of the models of instruction (in-person, online, or hybrid) as there were educators from all scenarios attending. Well worth the money!

19/ Next week, I will be attending 3 online sessions offered by the @avrce_ns : Moving Forward in Mathematics; 7-8 PBL/Inquiry; and 7-8 Curriculum Renewal. I will also take part in a follow-up session with @AMLE. The following week, I return to the school building.

20/ When I say I am not fully ready to greet students on Sept 8, it has very little to do with what I have or have not done while on vacation. 

21/21 Are there teachers who did not do the things that I have mentioned? Sure. This is our vacation time, I do not begrudge people taking a break. Are there Ts who did more than me? Absolutely. Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to share what I've been up to this summer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Returning to Physical Classrooms - Some Thoughts

 I wrote a long thread on Twitter today, about my thoughts as we prepare to in-person classrooms three weeks from today. Here is the text of that thread : 


Context : I am a public school teacher in Nova Scotia, Canada. We have 4 active cases of Covid-19 in the province. We are requiring a 14-day self-isolation period for all travellers coming from outside the Atlantic provinces. Masks are required in all indoor public spaces for people 2 years of age and up (grocery stores, restaurants, hair salons, etc.) Masks will be required in the classroom for grades 4 and up where students are not able to be 2m apart (read: the majority of classrooms)

Compliance with the above measures are part of the reason we have so few cases in the province. We did the work to limit opportunities for the virus to spread. We will continue to do what we can to limit the spread when we return to our physical buildings with students in 3 weeks.

There are many valid concerns about class sizes not allowing for physical distancing in classrooms, about where students and staff will eat lunch, about how we will navigate frequent hand washing/sanitizing of surfaces, and about the state of our ventilation systems. 

Teachers, myself included, have indicated that we need more time to prepare to welcome students back into physical classrooms in September. The physical reasons listed above are part of that - we need time as school staff to discuss what those things will look like for our specific sites. In addition, we need time to debrief the past 6 months, in the context of a global pandemic, the science-denial happening in parts of the world, systemic racism, and the fact that we will have staff and students alike who view school as an unsafe place right now.


We need time to reconnect with our colleagues in an authentic, compassionate way. This isn't something that can be done in two days while we are doing all of the other things that need to happen before students walk through the doors of our classrooms. How are we? What do we need? Who is struggling? Who is in a space to provide support to others? What does it feel like to be in physical proximity to so many people outside of our own families again? These questions are so important to discuss/consider before we interact with students.

Having time to collectively consider/discuss those questions is essential. Lori Desautels says we need to secure our own oxygen mask first. There will be a lot coming up for the adults in the building that needs to be addressed before we are ready to help students.

We also need time to plan how we will run our classes with the restrictions in place. My classroom involves small-group collaboration, sharing of art materials, circle discussions, one-on-one conferences, whole-class discussions, and lots of opportunities for movement. I use a wide variety of strategies to practice "brain intervals" or "brain breaks", many of which are self-directed and involve the use of physical objects such as puzzles, games, fidgets, and brain teasers. I need time to rethink these strategies in ways that are safe. My classroom environment is what I call “organized chaos” - students make choices about where to work, and have open access to technology and supplies. I begin the year with a collaborative design challenge inspired by John Spencer. I need time to plan how to do this in a new context. 

Sitting in rows all facing forward doesn't lend itself to the best practices I have developed over my 16 years as a middle school teacher. I need time to collaborate with other teachers in order to find ways of delivering the best possible educational experience for students. We need time, not just to understand new procedures and health guidelines, but to come together and plan a way forward in a very different environment. 

Alex Shevrin Venet says students and staff are likely to be hyper-vigilant when we return to in-person classrooms. Every sniffle and cough may be scrutinized, every improperly worn mask may be pointed out. Staff need time to develop strategies to help mitigate this hyper-vigilance.

I am excited to return to my classroom in person, and I need time to get ready. What could staff do better if we were given the first week to prepare in a meaningful way, before students enter our classrooms?

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.