The Limestone District School Board (LDSB) has launched their new teaching/learning plan as a flexible approach to a personalized plan that may or may not involve technology.
In a matter of a day students went from in-class learning, participating in sports and clubs, socializing with their friends, visiting with their grandparents and family to a world of unknowns: cancelled March Break plans, concerns about their school year, and a sense of loss as they miss those connections with their teachers and friends.
“I have sent a message to our families assuring them that all of our students in all grades will be promoted to the next grade; all will be successful, and all students who are graduating will do so,” expressed Debra Rantz, director of education for LDSB. “The Ministry has been working closely with colleges and universities to ensure that our graduates have the flexibility they need around the application process. I would ask that all of our students think positively, engage in their learning, and communicate with their teachers if they have any concerns or questions. We are here to support their social, emotional and mental well-being as well.”
LDSB’s goal is to ensure the successful completion of the school year for all students and to support students to advance to the next school year, earn credits and to graduate.
“The government expects every student will continue to learn while in-school classes are suspended,” said Rantz. “Given the range of circumstances of students and their families, it will require a range of delivery options that are reasonable and practical. Teaching and learning in this evolving context will not look the same as the customary in-class experience.”
This pandemic and resultant school closures has resulted in LDSB having to move to an emergency remote learning model. Not the ideal circumstance for learning to continue, but educators will be doing the best they can to support continued learning.
Schools in the LDSB have been reaching out to families to check-in and discuss next steps for continued learning.
Teachers are using remote, virtual learning platforms like Desire2Learn, Google Applications for Education, and Microsoft Applications to support learning. All of these platforms are supported centrally, and maximize student and teacher privacy and safety.
Some teachers are supporting remote learning through e-mails to parents providing the learning for their child(ren), others will send home print-packages. This process is underway.
“It’s important to remember technology is a tool to support learning,” Rantz stated. “Learning looks different every day in every classroom so this is nothing new. Teachers are professionals who design learning to support the students in front of them, which will continue.”
LDSB has been working this week and into next to make contact with families around technology, Internet and other considerations for remote learning.
With business not as usual for the LDSB, they’ve been managing expectations; They’ve been conducting a needs assessment with each of their students/families to ascertain their access to technology, they will, and have started to develop a personalized plan for each student based on the information they receive with each teacher already having called their students and, LDSB has done inventory on Internet access and available hardware and have been deploying devices to students where needed.
“This is not something we prepared for,” expressed Rantz. “Our teachers are faced with taking what they planned for the school year, now three-quarters in, pivot and move to something else that’s very experimental and something that’s very fluid. It can involve online learning but blended with traditional approaches as well. There is access to Virtual Learning Platforms but all sorts of other activities, so a blended approach. It’s meant to be the most flexible it can be for our students and our parents.”
And this is not just challenging for students, but parents as well.
“This is a stressful time for families and parents are not expected to become teachers,” Director Rantz said, “I know they’re looking for structure and routine, but we need to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Don’t expect this all to be perfect, it’s not. We’re in crisis and the speed with which this is unfolding is unprecedented. Everyone needs to cut themselves some slack. The bad news is there is no manual for this and the good news is there is no manual for this. This is creativity and authentic learning at its best.”
The LDSB wants families to know, the best thing they can do for their children right now is to maintain communication with them, be patient and understanding; try to provide a regular but relaxed routine.
“Families should take the unique opportunities they have right now to connect with their children,” said Rantz. “Let’s look for the positives: it’s easier to check in with your children every day, watch for those natural moments where you can talk together and follow your children’s lead. By providing reassurance and calm to your children right now, it will help prepare their minds and bodies for learning which is creative and flexible learning at its best. Look for relevant and real life learning opportunities that are all around us, opportunities to learn through play, through conversation, through cooking. This is spring, the earth’s re-awakening; just think of the real-life opportunities for exploration together. For older students, we are living in unprecedented times that provide inquiry opportunities connected to mathematics, science, history, ethics, and sociology. Just having conversations with your kids allows deep thinking and learning to occur. Every family is living in unique circumstances during these challenging times: be kind and patient with yourselves.”
LDSB’s first priority has been making sure students’ basic needs are met (food, security and health care). In anticipation of a two-week closure, the school board began right away during March Break to work with community partners including the Food Sharing Project partners to distribute food to families in need. They’ve also worked to ensure that students who require nursing care are being looked after and their Wellness Team has gathered and provided resources on supporting students’ and families’ mental health. They also reached out a few weeks ago to the local hospitals to see how they could help and since have provided them with cleaning supplies and sanitizers and have been gathering any protective equipment for sharing.
To access online learning resources visit www.limestone.on.ca/families/online_learning_resources.