I recently participated in a virtual meetup with educators from around the nation. In the chat, several of us were sharing what our school situations currently look like. It went something like this:
Teacher 1: We are fully remote but a lot of our kids don’t have internet access. It’s awful.
Teacher 2: We are in person but also supporting several students who are learning from home. It’s awful.
Teacher 3: We are using a hybrid model where half the students attend Monday/Thursday and the other half Tuesday/Friday. It’s awful.
Teacher 4: We are in person and I’m worried about my own health and safety. It’s awful.
I was surprised to see the same “it’s awful” refrain written with every comment. Then it dawned on me. The truth is, there is no non-awful way of doing school right now. Whether a school is online, in-person, or somewhere in between, school- like many other things in 2020- is really tough right now.
Over the past six months, every school in the world has been faced with difficult choices related to keeping faculty, students, and families safe while also meeting their educational needs. Roycemore is no exception. We have certainly been a leader in many ways. We were one of the first independent schools to develop health and safety and academic re-entry plans. Other schools developed their plans based on ours. We were one of only a handful of area schools to open with students in attendance every day of the week, for full days on campus, when we opened in August. Throughout our planning and re-opening, we have remained committed to strong academics, social-emotional learning, and meeting the needs of every student. Examples of our commitment include adopting mindfulness school-wide and providing multiple enrollment options for families.
But meeting the needs of our constituents remains an extremely difficult task. No amount of planning and creative problem solving can make 2020 not awful in at least some ways. And no amount of planning over the summer could have completely prepared our students and staff for this challenging school year. Teaching in 2020 is unlike any other year. Almost everything needs to be re-thought. In fact several members of the administrative team have likened our work this summer to starting a new school. We had to re-think our schedule, the physical space, and even the curriculum.
Our amazing faculty are working through unique, sometimes heroic challenges to support both on and off campus learners. These challenges are taking a toll, and have become apparent in our day to day lives in both small and large ways. Here are some examples:
– All teachers have had to rethink student engagement and community building with the new experiences of wearing masks and maintaining social distancing in the classroom.
– Lower School teachers are spending much of their evening and weekend time preparing video lessons and slideshows for off-campus students.
– Middle School teachers spend the entire lunch/recess period outside with their students every day, simultaneously supervising and eating their own meals. Recently, I was talking to a teacher around 3:45 pm, and she suddenly realized she had not even eaten lunch that day!
– Because of time zone differences, many Upper School teachers are holding extra class sessions outside of school hours for international students. One teacher is teaching an additional class at 7:30 pm three times a week.
– Faculty are frequently testing out and learning new technologies, continually striving to find the best tools for each lesson.
– All of our teachers have had to become more adept at troubleshooting both their own, and their student’s, technology issues. A teacher recently tuned in at 6:30 am to teach an extra class to international students only to find that limited network access for those students meant they could not log in at that time.
– Amid the extra work, many teachers are offering additional clubs or sports after school, in recognition that this additional social time for students is critical to student well-being.
As you can see, our teachers are extremely dedicated to our students. But by the end of each week, our hard-working teachers are exhausted. Despite this, they often need to spend time over their weekend preparing for the next week.
One of the few gifts we can give our teachers is TIME.
During the summer, you heard about our new EAGLE Hour program. EAGLE stands for Empowering All Griffins to Learn Experientially. EAGLE Hour, a time on Tuesday afternoons, will eventually be dedicated to Theme Week, P3, and JST related work, and might also take the form of a short master class in special topics such as baking, computer design, sewing, or investing in the stock market.
However, after four weeks of school during this unusual COVID -19 time, we have realized that we must give our teachers more time. Time to prepare for and support our off-campus students, to create lesson plans that engage learners both at home and in school, to assess and report on student progress, and to collaborate with colleagues. Most importantly, our faculty need time to allow for their own self-care.
Therefore, the Tuesday afternoon EAGLE Hour programming is indefinitely postponed. Students in grades 1-12 will continue to be dismissed from school at 2 pm on Tuesdays until further notice. Students can attend EDP (Lower School) or the Zone (Middle School) for free until 3:45 pm on Tuesdays. Middle and Upper School students may occasionally have clubs, meetings, or other programs available during the EAGLE Hour time.
Roycemore School remains committed to experiential learning, and to empowering our griffins to learn in that way. We will continue our EAGLE programs, including Lower School theme week, Middle School P3, and Upper School JST. Students will continue to experience experiential learning throughout the year. However, we will not be using the Tuesday afternoon time for this. (By the way, if you are a parent looking to do some experiential learning at home, check out the ideas here.)
Our faculty is one our best resources, and one we cannot afford to lose. Even before the pandemic, teacher burnout was a real threat to educators. Research shows that stressed-out teachers lead to increased student stress and behavior issues. In addition to giving our faculty the EAGLE Hour time, I invite you to support our teachers in any other way you think might be helpful. Perhaps together, we can make this school year a little less awful.