With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, much has shifted in society – particularly the ways in which educators are staying vitally connected to students.
At Stettler Elementary, as with most other schools across the country and beyond, it’s about taking advantage of the plethora of online platforms that can make teaching not only possible, but even a compellingly unique experience.
“It’s been a massive adjustment – we get into education because we love children and we love the connections – those hugs are such an important part of our days and of our lives,” explained Sharon Fischer, principal of Stettler Elementary.
Fischer noted that once the news of the school closures started to set in, the silence in the halls was almost eerie.
“Our whole purpose for what we do was gone – the kids. So there were a lot of tears that first week,” she recalled.
A few videos were sent out pretty much right off the bat, including what was known as the ‘I Miss You’ video.
“We got a lot of comments on Facebook about it,” she said. “The following week we did the parade around town and waved to the kids and their parents that came out on their doorsteps.
“That was kind of therapeutic in some ways, but with the first set of kids we saw waving, well, the floodgates were opened again,” she explained with a chuckle of what really was an emotional experience. “We were all in our own vehicles crying out eyes out.”
The next step of course included adapting to offering instruction remotely.
“It’s incredible – and most of the feedback we have gotten back from the parents has been great,” she explained, adding that there have been of course a few overwhelmed moms and dads and teachers as the new ‘normal’ came to be.
It’s been quite the learning curve indeed for many as not everyone is as well-versed or comfortable with computer programs and platforms as others.
Teachers routinely use some technology in their classes, but things like Google Meet, Google Classroom and Zoom were new vehicles to tackle.
“Although one benefit is that every teacher had already gotten onto the Seesaw (Class App) this year. So it’s been easy to send things home through Seesaw. But you can only do a five minute video on that.
“Still, every staff member has become quite proficient with Google Meet and Google Classroom,” she said. “Meanwhile, the work the teachers have been putting in has been absolutely phenomenal – sending out videos of themselves reading to the students and doing actual lessons right on the white board or smart board,” she said, adding the technology also allows for meetings directly with students and their parents, too.
“I don’t know that there is one staff member who would say that the workload has decreased,” she added. “Everything was ramped up about 19 notches and everything has been ‘full on’,” she explained.
She also noted how the school closures have allowed teachers to really perfect their skills with the technology as well.
With normal school routines, finding the time to really learn all the ins and outs of it all could be quite a challenge.
“Now it’s like ‘learn as you go’,” she said, adding that ultimately, most are finding it all user-friendly.
“Lots of good will come from this – we can’t ‘unlearn’ what we have learned. For example, Google Classroom is a phenomenal teaching tool. And we have almost every single teacher on it,” she noted, adding that the sky really is the limit with the platform.
Ultimately, however, these are stressful days for so many.
“There are some families that are very, very stressed – in those cases, (we say) look after your well-being and your mental health first. We will worry about school when we get back.”
These days, there can only be 15 people in the school building at once. Fischer is one of those, and she sends out a Google Doc with a sign-up component for the next 14 staffers who wish to be there, too.
As Fischer noted, one of the hardest aspects to the pandemic is not knowing the end date.
“If we knew, for example, that on May 15th we would be back in, we could figure it out,” she said, adding it’s kind of a day-to-day experience at this point.
Happily, most of the students have plugged into the new way of doing things.
“The majority of our students and families are connecting, getting online and doing the work,” she said. “The teachers are also holding Google Meets with their classes at least once a week so they can see the kids’ faces, and the kids can see them.”