After a week off for term break, our virtual school resumed today. My work day began at 7:00am and finished a little after 9:00pm. To be honest, I’m tired and ready for bed, but more than anything, I’m thankful for the busyness of today. After nine days off, the days had started to run together, and by the end of the week, I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything. While this is a less than ideal situation, and I would 100% rather be in the classroom, I grateful for the routine of my virtual school day. I was excited to chat with my students again today, and while many of them were tired today from a week of staying up late and playing, I can tell they were glad to be back, too.
After our first three weeks of virtual school, we reflected as a leadership team, taking into account student, parent, and staff feedback about their experiences with online learning, and made some adjustments for this last term of school. We realized that it was unrealistic to expect primary students to attend virtual school all day like they would at real school. We scaled back the expectations, and now students have four homeroom learning days and one single-subject day. This means that on the four homeroom days, students take part in one lesson each of literacy, math, unit of inquiry, and PE per day. This is in addition to a morning message video, which may be pre-recorded or done as a morning meeting on ZOOM. We all do one ZOOM class meeting per homeroom day.
On their single-subject days, students have one lesson each of art, music, PE, library, Bahasa Indonesia or Mandarin, and Religion or Indonesian Studies. On the single-subject days, the homeroom teacher has time to plan and prep lessons for the rest of the week and give student feedback, as the only requirement is to post a morning message video and the daily learning overview with the students’ schedule. My single-subject day is on Wednesday, which is perfect for me. I can prep for Monday’s and Tuesday’s lessons on Sunday, and Thursday’s and Friday’s lessons on Wednesday. It’ll be nice to have a bit of a breather in the middle of the week, too. I hope that this new schedule is helpful for the students and that they no longer feel overwhelmed with everything they have to do.
Another change we’ve made is to be more mindful of screen time. We’ve encouraged teachers to assign more offline activities during virtual school so that they are not online all day. I know how being on a screen all day affects me, so I can’t imagine how the students must feel!
How’s virtual school going for you? Have you made any changes?
I’m not really sure how to feel right now. I found out today that our school closure would be extended, which if I’m being honest, is what I wanted. I was terrified to go back to school next Monday, and quite frankly, I was prepared to refuse to go should the school decide to open. But when I envisioned the school closure extending, I was thinking we’d push it back another month or so, just until it was safe to return. I wasn’t prepared to hear that we would most likely close for the remainder of the school year.
I made the decision a couple of days ago that I would stay in Indonesia, rather than relocate to Texas right now, figuring that it’s safer for me to remain in quarantine here instead of traveling through several airports and spending many hours on an airplane. I am at peace with that decision. While I’m comfortable with the routine of virtual school, I’m not happy about doing it for two and a half more months. However, the realness of what’s happening is starting to sink in.
I won’t get to say goodbye to my students in person. I won’t get to have a going away party before I move away for good. I won’t get to see our 2020 graduates walk the stage. I won’t get to celebrate with my students after their PYP Exhibition (and I now have to figure out how to do a completely virtual Exhibition). I won’t get to hug my colleagues and say a proper goodbye. I won’t get to say thank you and goodbye in person to the parents who have been so supportive of me over the past three years. I won’t get to laugh with students out on the playground again. I won’t get to hand out another Learner Profile of the Month award. I won’t get to see our students perform at the Primary Concert or Swimming Carnival. I won’t get to spend time with my friends before they’re gone (many have already left or will leave soon). I won’t get to have our pizza, movie, and bonfire night at school with my students (and I promised them we would do this). I don’t get to celebrate my Year 6 students’ transition into Secondary.
I won’t get closure. I’ll just work until June 12th online and then leave. That’s it. This chapter of my life will end abruptly, and then it’ll be gone. I don’t think I’m okay with this.
I never thought we’d make it, but Friday finally came! Today was an even more TGIF moment, as it was the start of our spring break. While this is not the week off I had planned (so long Australia, hello self-isolation in Jakarta!), I am so thankful for this week of respite. After 3 weeks of virtual school, and 11 straight weeks of school without a day off since winter break, it’s much-needed!
Just like the last day of term in real school, we had some fun today! We met as a class this afternoon on ZOOM to have a check-in. We chatted (usually all at the same time) about whatever we wanted, shared how it was going, talked about what we missed about not being together, asked each other questions, showed off our pets (a kitty, a dog, and a hedgehog!), told jokes, sang our favorite song from camp, and laughed a lot. I was reminded of how much I love this group of students. We all needed a bit of fun and to take a step back from the demands of school.
Following our ZOOM meeting, we continued chatting in Teams, sharing funny videos and memes. Here are some of our favorite videos:
My friend and colleague Vanessa is a mentor for one of my students in his Exhibition, and after their meeting, she called to ask me how she could support him, but I was on the other line with a student, so she left a voicemail. The voicemail on Teams has a feature where it sends the voicemail and a written version of their message using their text-to-speech feature. Vanessa is British, so her accent didn’t entirely translate to the written version. As I listened to the message, I was following along/reading ahead on the written version. I laughed so hard at this…
“I said, what are you struggling with what can I help you with? He said his grandma and so I’m more than happy to support him with his grandma…”
I was so confused! The message said he was struggling with his grandma, but she said he was struggling with his grammar! I immediately called her back to tell her what happened, and we were cry-laughing about it. We needed that laugh today!
This evening, after school was a distant memory, several of my colleagues and I got together for a virtual happy hour on ZOOM! It was nice to see everyone and talk about things other than school (although school creeped into the conversation a few times…we are teachers, after all). Lots of laughs and silliness was the perfect start to this week off!
Hope I can continue to see the fun in virtual school and self-isolation…it’s going to be a while! 🙂
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about productivity, time management, and scheduling. Working from home has never been a strong suit of mine. Whenever I need to get a lot of work done on the weekends, I always have to work somewhere else…school, a cafe, Starbucks. If I don’t, I am so distracted by things at home that I just procrastinate all day until I stress myself out and end up staying up late on Sunday night and then don’t even get half of my list done!
What started me thinking about time management was my students’ reflections on virtual school last week. All but one said the hardest part of online learning was time management and managing distractions. Same for me, guys. To help them learn more time management techniques, I went on a deep dive on YouTube, because let’s be honest, I’m not the model for this skill! I found 2 really good videos (here and here) for them and they’ve been using the new techniques to create a daily to-do list and schedule each morning, which they submit to Seesaw. I’ve seen improvements this week in their ability to submit assignments in a timely manner. If we are still online after spring break, I’ll tackle the distractions element!
While researching for my students, I came across a YouTuber named Amy who is a time management, scheduling, morning routine, and productivity expert. I’ve watched way too many of her videos this week! With tomorrow being our last day of virtual school before a much-deserved week off, I’ve been reflecting on how I will improve how I approach the planning and execution of virtual school and how I will take some time for myself on my isolated spring break. Here’s what I’ve planned so far.
Things to do during Spring Break
Daily: -Exercise -Blog/Slice -Read -Skincare routine -Sleep well
Fun: -Puzzles! -Try new recipes -Catch up on my shows -Movies and popcorn -Coloring books
Organize: -Clean out closets -Cook and freeze meals -Create a daily schedule for Spring Break -Create a daily schedule for virtual school (if it continues after next week) -Decide what to pack/move and what to donate
Work: -Plan ahead for the next week -Film all lessons for the next week -Student feedback -Catch up on curriculum work -Brainstorm how to do an entirely online PYP Exhibition (if it comes to that)
I’m hopeful for next week and want to be productive, not succumb to binge-watching Netflix every day, because we all know how easy that would be!
This video from Amy is sooo helpful and applicable now! Anyone struggling with working from home should watch it. She gives great tips!
More and more schools announced closures over the weekend; even my sister-in-law’s school in Small Town, Texas has announced that they will extend Spring Break by another week, at least. The Governor of Jakarta stepped up this weekend and announced that all schools in the city must close for two weeks beginning tomorrow, and they must offer online learning. For us, nothing changes, as we aren’t planning to open until 30 March anyway, but I am glad that the government is taking this situation seriously and putting measures in place (finally!) to reduce the spread of the virus.
With these closures, many of us are left scrambling to figure our how we are going to teach online, a concept new to the vast majority of us. I’m definitely not an expert by any means, but I have been doing it for the better part of two weeks, so here’s my advice and observations. I hope that they are helpful to you.
What they don’t tell you about virtual school is that it’s WAY HARDER than real school. As in you can work 12+ hour days and still feel woefully behind. The pressures you now face are overwhelming, to say the least. You are learning so much, so fast, but there’s no time to process that new learning or consolidate it before you are asked to implement it. It’s pretty much a crash-course PD, where you are constantly adapting and trouble-shooting and finding new ways of doing the same things you would do in the classroom. One thing I’ve learned is that something that would typically take a few minutes in the classroom can take 30+ minutes to accomplish online, especially when you’re trying to remotely support young students on how to use the new online tools.
In addition to the pace of learning and insurmountable tasks you now have on your plate, most of us have to contend with self-quarantine and isolation from others. Extended time alone, a dramatic increase in screen time, and a decrease in movement result in exhaustion. You will expend an enormous amount of mental and emotional energy throughout the day, and most likely you will do so on far less sleep than you are accustomed to, at least at first. Your patience will be put to the test, and your emotions are likely to bubble over from time to time. It’s all normal and expected. Be easy on yourself and know that it does get better.
Schedules and Routines
All of this is to say, you need to look after yourself and your family. Setting a schedule for everyone will help establish routines and cut down on chaos. Set boundaries for yourself. If you don’t, you’ll never step away. There will always be another notification, Seesaw post to approve, email to answer, text message to respond to, video chat to answer, etc. Take regular breaks throughout the day and set a start and end time for your days. Allot some time on the weekends to get your work done and get ahead for the next week, but take time out to rest and spend time with your family.
Get Some Sleep!
My biggest hurdle is not getting enough sleep. As I said, there’s always more to do and the guilt of not getting it all done is real. I’ve found myself staying up late most nights working, often not getting to bed until 11:00-12:00. The lack of sleep means I’m less effective during the day, meaning I have to stay up late that night to catch up. It’s a vicious cycle. Learn from me. Set a bedtime and keep it. Another thing is that you can’t just work right up until you are going to bed, because staring at a computer screen messes with your brain, and you’ll be so wired you won’t get to sleep. Try to put some distance between the end of work and your bedtime, such as a shower, cup of herbal tea, and some reading (in a real book!).
Connection and Collaboration
Virtual school is lonely and isolating. It’s a strange concept; you are connected digitally all day, yet you don’t feel a real sense of connection. One way to combat this is to reach out to your colleagues and friends throughout the day. Message one another in your school’s online platform (ours is Microsoft Teams), call a friend or family member on the phone during a break or in the evening, video chat with your students and colleagues, take a walk outside (but keep some distance between you and others). Reach out to other online communities you have. Do whatever you can do to establish and/or maintain that sense of community.
Collaborating is key to making virtual school a success for others. We cannot do it alone. We need to share what’s working and what’s not, ask for help when we need it, and share new ideas and resources we come across. When we do this, we all win, and more importantly, so do our students. At my school, we have taken the consistent approach across all classes in the Primary school. When we find something that is a good idea, we all implement it. This cuts down on comparisons between classes (and complaints) when it comes to parents.
We have a ‘Virtual School’ channel in MS Teams where we all load ideas and suggestions for virtual school. It’s a feed of ideas that we can all revisit when we have time.
We also have a Primary group chat on WhatsApp where we collaborate, ask for feedback, discuss concerns or issues, send announcements, and share links with one another.
Our students feel the same way, too. They crave connection and miss their friends and the daily interactions they have with their teachers. Reach out to them on video chats to help them feel some sense of normalcy. Listen to one of my students’ reflection on the week. You can hear how much she misses the connection with her friends that she has at school.
I’ve already touched on some aspects of self-care, such as getting enough sleep and setting boundaries. Another aspect to consider is eating healthily, ensuring that you have a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Being at home and under a huge amount of stress has led to me eating more snack foods and desserts, which only leave me feeling even more sluggish. I’m working on eating healthier. Drink lots of water all day. A plus to working from home means you get to go to the bathroom whenever you want! So drink water with wild abandon.
Move your body several times during the day. It’s sooooo easy to get stuck in your chair, hunched over the computer all day, but you’ll be paying for it later. Take a walk outside for a few minutes on your breaks or after school. Do a yoga YouTube video when you wake up. Play the Wii with your kids after lunch. Whatever you can do to move, do it.
Take some time away from screens. Do something you enjoy offline, such as reading, knitting, working on a puzzle, coloring, cooking a meal, trying a new recipe, listening to music, dancing around your living room, taking a bath, taking a nap, playing a board game, etc. Whatever it is that you enjoy, spend time doing that. You are no good to anyone if you’re run down.
I came across a *FREE* PD on Designing Online Learning this morning and I’ve signed up. The PD runs from 23-30 March. The catch is you have to sign up by Sunday at 7pm ET if you want to take advantage of this offer!
I still have lots more to share…so there will be a Part 3 tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Many people around the world, myself included, have found themselves in an unusual situation. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down our schools with little to no warning. We are now tasked with teaching virtually which, for the majority of us, is a completely foreign and intimidating task. We have probably been asked to do this with no training or time to prepare.
For those of you who are in this situation, I am sure you feel lost or unsure if you’re doing the right thing. This is a normal feeling. If you are focusing on what’s best for kids, you’re doing it right. You’ll find your groove, learn what works for you and your students, and find successes. It just might not feel like that right now. Be easy on yourself. I know you have high standards and expectations, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take it one step at a time. Reach out to colleagues, both at your school and abroad. We are all in this together!
I’m new at this, having completed Day 8 of virtual school on Friday, and I’m still learning and improving each day, but here is some advice that might help you as you navigate this new way of teaching.
First and foremost, we have to think of the impact this change is going to have on students. There are many aspects of student wellbeing to consider.
Our students are not used to learning at home, and we need to be mindful of the limitations that some of them may have. Some may not have access to a device or a consistent internet connection. Some may not have an adult to help them with their assignments at home. Some may not have books or basic supplies, such as notebooks, pencils, and art materials. Some may have learning differences, such as a special need or limited English, that will prevent them from accessing the lessons and assignments. We must prepare ourselves for the fact that some of our students will fall behind. Think about ways to support your students through this. Is there a way to loan a school device to them during the school closure? What about sending home extra library books or student packs of materials? Can you set up 1-on-1 video chat sessions with them to re-teach a concept or check in on them to see how they’re doing? How will you differentiate learning for your students? A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
Movement Every Day
Students typically have opportunities to exercise each day at school, whether this is through PE lessons or recess. When quarantined at home, they will likely not get as much exercise. Assigning daily PE lessons (minimum of 30 minutes/day) in the form of good quality exercise videos is a good way to ensure they burn off some of their pent-up energy. Providing a variety of exercise options each day of the week will ensure they aren’t bored. They could dance on Monday, do yoga on Tuesday, cardio and strength training on Wednesday, etc.
Screen time is also a consideration. We all know the research that says it’s important to limit screen time for kids. Teaching virtually puts students in front of a screen for an extended amount of time each day. We need to be mindful of the time we are expecting students to be in front of a screen each day and how long each stretch of time online will be. Consider the students’ ages when deciding on how much screen time to expect. One way to reduce the amount of screen time is to break up the learning throughout the day, scheduling in brain breaks, time for movement, etc. Another way is to assign offline activities, such as ongoing projects, science experiments that can be done with household items, hands-on math activities, art activities, free reading and free writing.
Another consideration is the workload for students. What might take 30 minutes to do in the classroom can take some students an hour to do at home. What I’ve learned is that less really is more. I started out assigning way too much, only to realize it wasn’t working. Since pulling back, I’ve seen improvements in students’ motivation and ability to complete the daily tasks. We can’t forget that our students are learning in a new environment, with many distractions they aren’t used to, and to expect them to do the same amount of work at home that they do at school is unrealistic. Asking for reflections from students and parents has helped me gauge whether my expectations for students were appropriate. You can do this in a variety of ways, such as surveys, 1-on-1 conversations on video conference calls, or having them create video reflections with given questions.
Connection/Sense of Community
Making the move to online teaching allows students and teachers to connect digitally, but we must not forget the need for real connection. Students will watch your video lessons and then complete work independently at home. Most likely they’ll submit their work via an online learning management system, such as Seesaw, and you will comment on it. These connections are sterile and do not replace the daily interactions we have with our students at school. They miss their friends. They miss you. How can you connect with your students? Using an online tool, such as ZOOM, that allows you to connect your entire class is a good way to keep the sense of community alive. You could read a story aloud, have a morning meeting, or teach a mini-lesson. Alternatively, you can chat 1-on-1 using video conference tools, such as Skype, ZOOM, or Microsoft Teams, to form those connections with individual students.
There’s so much more advice to give about staff wellbeing, virtual learning tools, organization and structure of your day, etc., but given the length of this post, I’ll wait until tomorrow to continue my advice. Please comment below if you have any questions or want me to include anything in my next advice post. Best of luck!
Now that we are quarantined at home and teaching virtually, my morning routine has certainly changed.
6:30- Alarm goes off. Hit snooze.
6:39- Alarm goes off again. Debate hitting snooze a second time, but decide I have to be an adult.
6:40- Get up. Begrudgingly.
6:41- Bathroom. Wash hands. Wash face. Apply eye patches to the puffy, dark circles under my eyes. Brush teeth. Brush hair. Get dressed.
6:55- Head into the office (AKA my living room/dining room/kitchen).
6:56- Make a cup of tea.
6:58- Fire up the laptop and open MS Teams just in time for my meeting.
7:00- Video conference call with the Academic Leadership Team.
7:01- “Good morning! How’s everyone today?” my boss asks, in his chipper, I’m-a-morning-person voice. Great! I’m good! Excellent! Fantastic!, my colleagues reply, as they, too, are morning people. “I’m here,” I say, still wearing my eye patches and clutching my cup of tea. I don’t pretend to be a morning person.
7:02-7:29- Continue the meeting, addressing any concerns, issues, etc. that have arisen the day before. Discuss what needs to go into our daily updates to parents and staff. Talk about other ‘admin-y’ things. Finish my first cup of tea.
7:30- Log into Seesaw and release my Daily Learning Overview (the document that outlines my students’ day of learning with a schedule, learning objectives, and assignments) and my Morning Message (a video where I outline the day, give reminders, etc.)
7:31- Start receiving messages from students on MS Teams chat, as they check in for the day. Respond to their messages to see how they are doing, if they understand the goals for today, and remind them to reach out if they need anything.
7:35- Release all of the lessons (videos, links, notes, instructions, etc.) for the day on Seesaw.
7:40-8:00- Respond to the barrage of Teams messages and Seesaw notifications that come in, as quickly as possible.
8:00- Run back to my room, remove my eye patches, and apply make-up so I don’t scare the kids.
8:10- Make my second cup of tea and respond to the messages I’ve missed.
8:14- Send a good morning text to the Primary teacher WhatsApp chat with a morale-boosting message.
8:15- Call my Teaching Assistant to check in and chat about the plan for the day. He will reach out to students I’ve identified as needing more support, keep track of who turned in what on Seesaw, and help approve Seesaw posts throughout the day.
8:25- Quickly eat some breakfast. Typically a bowl of fruit or cereal does the trick.
8:30- Have my first 1-on-1 meeting of the day with a student, where I’ll check in with them about how it’s going, what progress they’ve made on Exhibition, give suggestions for various aspects (their action, their art or math components, etc.), ask how their research is going, see how I can help them, discuss next steps, etc.
8:52- Catch up on missed notifications and emails, respond to questions, check on the Primary teacher WhatsApp chat to see if there are any questions I need to address.
9:00- Second 1-on-1 student meeting begins.
My mornings sure are busy, but I’m getting into a routine. Some mornings are more hectic than others, but each day it gets a little bit easier to manage.
Even as I write this, the screen is blurry, as my eyes brim with tears. Maybe it’s the isolation. Maybe it’s the extremely long hours. Maybe it’s the feeling that no matter how hard I work, I can’t seem to feel like it’s enough. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m constantly letting my students and staff down when I can’t get back to them quickly enough. Maybe it’s because this virus thing is really real to me now. Maybe it’s because I’m sleep deprived. Whatever the reason is, I’ve come to a breaking point.
Last night I worked until past 11:00pm (again), and when my alarm went off this morning, I dragged myself out of bed, knowing that I had people depending on me to release today’s lesson information and videos. After way too many cups of English breakfast tea, I started to get into a groove, but sadly, that was short-lived.
Mid-morning I had a meeting with two other members of the leadership team about how we can better support our struggling students, and for some reason during that meeting, I started panicking about the PYP Exhibition. The high standards I put onto myself, coupled with the (perceived?) expectations of the community, had me worried. How will my students complete their work in time? What about the ones who need more support who are at home fending for themselves? What about the ones with no Internet access? How in the heck will we collaborate on a shared presentation piece as a class when we are all in isolation and learning online? Voicing my fears helped actually, and I was able to move forward with the day, supporting my students through meetings and text conversations.
But this afternoon, while I was on a video conference with a student, one of my teachers called me. I answered, worried that something had happened. He asked what today’s staff briefing would be about. I assured him it would be mostly routine things, but he hesitated, mumbling something about some news his wife mentioned, but he didn’t say much else. I told him I was busy with a student but that I’d get back to him as soon as I could.
I finished the call with the student and clicked on a few chat notifications to catch up on what I’d missed. In our leadership team chat, someone had posted a link to an article with the announcement that Indonesia had had its first Coronavirus-related death today. As I read the announcement, my heart stopped. The gender and age were the same as our teacher who tested positive for the virus a couple of days ago and who is in hospital in isolation. That, along with the fact that the article stated it was a foreign-national, made me fear the worst. With my heart in my stomach, my hands shaking uncontrollably, I typed, “Please tell me this isn’t our teacher!”
With bated breath, I waited for the reply. A simple “no” came back with no explanation. Shortly after that, we received confirmation that someone had spoken with them on the phone. Relieved that they were still alive and doing okay, I still couldn’t shake the fear that gripped me. What if it had been them? What would I/we do? What does this mean for our community and the wider community? I don’t have answers, but I will say that while I wasn’t afraid before, I am today.
Read alouds are those magical times in class where you can share your love of reading, come together as a group to listen to and discuss a shared text, and model good reading strategies, such as reading with fluency and expression, stopping to think, making connections, making predictions…the list goes on and on. Creating a shared experience like this is much more challenging when your students are quarantined at home and you only have a computer screen with which to interact with them.
For those of you who’ve been following along with me this month, you know that we closed our school last Tuesday due to Coronavirus, are all in self-quarantine for two weeks (today’s day 6), and have been teaching virtually since Wednesday. It’s been a steep learning curve for all of us, but we are doing our best to engage our students in learning.
On Friday I posted a video of me reading from our read aloud Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech that we started before the closure. I read with as much expression as I could muster, stopped to think about tricky vocabulary, and made connections to what had happened earlier in the book. At the end of the read aloud, I asked students to make some predictions and post them as a comment underneath the video post on Seesaw. I was so excited to read their comments and see their thoughts about the chapter. They were so engaged! 🙂
Here are their comments on the read aloud:
When I recorded the video for Chapter 10, I started by discussing their predictions and sharing my excitement over their engagement with the story. I hope that their enthusiasm continues as we begin week two of virtual school tomorrow.
In case you’re interested, here’s my video of Chapter 10…