Seeing the Possibilities in the Strangest Year(s) Ever

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August 15, 2021 by Dr. Robbie Barber

I wish I could say we are back to normal. But we’re not. The good news is that we do have a mask mandate in our district but physical distancing (a.k.a. social distancing) has gone out the window. Everyone is desperate to see friends, teachers, and students. We need the contact.

My attitude has taken a beating. It has revolved around wifi issues, device issues, and the fact that my library has not had air conditioning in the three weeks we’ve been in the building. (It’s 90F+ outside 🌡️). And, we’re getting emails on all of these issues every hour. On the plus side, my high school library has also been filled. I have one class in the room three times per week. My 20 desktop computers work, so there’s a never-ending stream of classes and students on passes. Some 9th and 10th grade ELA classes are bringing in students for checkout 📚. Other students have been checking out books since the first day of school.

During the first day of preplanning week, two other teachers (both science) and myself had a rotation of teachers to talk about educational technology. In 45 minutes we covered:

  • Teacher websites – requirements
  • Flipgrid – consider using when requiring video assignments; it’s easy to upload videos
  • Sharepoint – where to find information
  • Launchpad / Clever use
  • Google Classroom set ups
  • Infinite Campus – messaging students and parents

We did 3 sessions in this smaller session to make it easier for teachers to ask questions. Nearpod was on the list but we just didn’t have time. (We also created a OneNote with this information that teachers may or may not have lost the URL already.) Really this was less about learning how to do things and more about seeing the possibilities. On the first day in the building, there is so much information to cover, that we just need to introduce it. As I told teachers several times, I’m a resource manager – I don’t know all the answers but I have a good idea who in the building to can help!

In the library, I always start with teaching teachers how to use email. Because our district email is Outlook but our school is using Google Classroom, we need to organize our email rules first off or be drowning in emails. Outlook, like many mainstream email products, tries to become Big Brother and organize for you. But it needs your input. Does an important email go to Clutter? Last year, I found all of the principal’s emails going to Clutter – and yes, the jokes were rampant. What about Junk email? Mark the ones in the wrong spot to go to the right spot to “train” the software. The email systems can help or hinder but it is still on you to do due diligence. How often do you check your main inbox, clutter/social, and junk/spam?

What are the possibilities in this even stranger year for online classrooms? One, we know how to handle online classrooms. Therefore, set it up! Have students turn in materials online. They did it last year, let’s reduce the paper and keep this going. Are we going to go back to a lockdown situation? I don’t know. But this year, I’m organized and ready for it, if it happens.

Two, have a backup person for your online classrooms. If you’re sick, who can step in and help guide or provide information to your classroom? I’m backing up several teachers including the weight lifting class. Do I know weight lifting? NO. But I know the teacher and he can contact me and get information out if he needs to do it. There’s safety in numbers.

Three, we can collaborate more. Backing up someone online is a good start, but not enough. When I collaborate on research with teachers, I am not just providing a canned lesson, but providing a lesson that ties directly into the teacher’s lessons and goals. A science teacher and I collaborated on teaching students how to stand and make a presentation from a science lab. On our first day back in the building for preplanning, the math coach and I created a department challenge with BreakoutEDU boxes. After hearing each of the administrators do their data dump on things in the building, we had each department get a BreakoutEDU box and try to solve it. It required physical distancing, multiple problems for the locks, and all of it tied to items in the school. For example, one lock was the last four digits of the front desk phone number. Another lock was the Google Classroom Faculty Lounge join code (in reverse!). The top winner got bags of animal crackers for the entire department. The others won a bag of candy for the team when they turned in their box.

Four, if a student is out sick or on quarantine, can you provide them materials to keep up using your online classroom? Yes. Does this mean a little more organizing on your part instead of just walking into the room with a handout? Yes. You can do it! You did it last year.

Five, we can provide clubs or group meeting times for informal gatherings. My Reading Bowl club/ team (club is Makerspace; team is competition) had an initial interest meeting. At the high school level, it often starts with 6-8 students. This time it was 13 students with emails from 3 others. They love the idea of meeting once a week, after school, to do something. Admittedly, my club is a no stress zone. Will I end up with 16 or more students? It’s possible, just because we all need a place to go and relax. What are your possibilities this school year?

p.s. This signs hangs in a small corner of the library, defined by two bookcases, to give teachers a place to sit and be quiet. Teachers need a space too.

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