Like just about everyone else in the United States (and most parts of the world), I’m currently on lockdown in my house.  I’m hopeful we can get back to normal in the not-too-distant future, but until then, I’m learning to adapt to this new reality.  The outbreak of COVID-19 has presented some unique challenges for all of us, and I’m hopeful that you and your family are doing ok during this time.

On March 23 our school made the transition to online learning for at least 2 weeks.  That 2-week period was eventually extended to 3 weeks, and recently we made the decision to extend until May 4.  It has been a whirlwind transition from the traditional learning environment to online, and we had about a week to figure it out.  So, what have I learned during that time?

Teachers are amazing

We made the decision to go online during our Spring Break week.  As soon as that decision was made I asked a few teachers to spearhead the transition by working with their departments to come up with a plan.  Not only did our teachers rise to the occasion, but they also displayed leadership skills that were inspiring to me.  Not a single teacher complained about having to give up their Spring Break to rewrite lesson plans and figure out a new mode of teaching.

Teachers, THANK YOU!  You are making this all possible by working tirelessly and going way beyond your comfort zones.  The feedback I continue to receive from parents is that our online program is working well.  The instruction is high quality, the directions are clear, and the workload is manageable.  I am impressed every day with the creative lesson plans our teachers are creating.

Technology can be friend or foe

We gave teachers 1 day of the new online learning week to work on technology.  Many of them use Zoom, Google Hangouts, or even FaceTime to run meetings with each other and their students.  It is pretty incredible the amount of technology that is available right now, and many companies have offered their technology for free.  Personally I’ve been meeting with my staff and the school’s administration via Zoom the past couple of weeks.  What a great tool!

Unfortunately technology also has its drawbacks.  The first day we went live for students our server was not working. We could not log on to our Learning Mangaement System for the entire morning, email was shut down, and frustration was high.  Fortunately we got it worked out and back up and running relatively quickly.

Also, technology for students has presented some challenges.  Fortunately just about all of our students have internet access and computers, so availability has not been a huge issue.  However, some students have had some issues accessing class lectures, repairing broken computers, and remaining engaged in a virtual world.  Overall, technology has been great and is making this whole process possible.

Mental health is important

As a former school counselor, I recognize the importance of mental health as much as anyone.  We are in a challenging situation for mental health.  Social distancing is not a natural state for humans; we are meant to socialize.  I suspect the longer this drags out the more mental health challenges we will face.

Our counselor at the middle school is outstanding.  She is one of the most proactive and creative counselors I have ever worked with.  And, without missing a beat, she continued with her programming but simply switched it to virtual.  Just yesterday she sent out a really thoughtful counselor newsletter to parents and students with practical tips to survive this quarantine.

And it has not been lost on me the importance of mental health for our teachers.  They are working literally around the clock to create lessons, engage with students, and grade keep up with grading.  Oh, and many of them are parents of small children who need constant attention at home.  All of this adds up to a very stressful environment.  I pray every day for their strength and ability to sustain this routine; however, mental health has to be a priority.  I tell my teachers all the time that family comes first.  There is no do-over for family, so make that your priority.

Unique challenges for students with learning differences

When I accepted the idea that we were transitioning to online learning, one of my first concerns was our students with learning differences.  Both at my school and at EdPsyched, we serve many students with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and executive function deficiencies.  Often times these particular students require a certain level of support in order to succeed in school.  The online environment can be very tricky to navigate under the best of circumstances, but doing so with a learning difference can be outright overwhelming.

Our school offers a program to support students with learning differences, and our head of the program has done a tremendous job of implementing support virtually.  Every day she and her staff check in with their students, answer questions, and provide guidance.  They also make themselves available for Zoom conference calls with students when necessary.  And we are figuring out creative ways to insure students continue receiving academic accommodations while maintaining the integrity of our program.  It has not been perfect, but under the circumstances, our students with learning differences seem to be doing well.

Similarly at EdPsyched, many of my mentors are continuing to work with students who have transitioned to online learning.  Just keeping track of assignments, due dates, grades, etc., can be a full-time job for some students.  Parents who are trying to work remotely also do not have the time.  Fortunately our mentors are available to help.  Again, technology like Zoom has been a huge success in connecting students with mentors.

We are at the end of the first 2 weeks of remote learning.  While there have been bumps in the road, things have gone relatively well.  Our school has officially extended remote learning until May 4, but I suspect we will remain with this plan for the rest of the school year.  If this is the case, then taking care of yourselves and finding the appropriate supports for school and for mental health is imperative.  Stay safe everyone!