Continuity During Unstable Times
Posted by Dr. Beth Reaves
As the COVID-19 crisis has deepened so quickly throughout the US this week, the questions we have continued to ask ourselves at WSG are “how can we support our girls when we can’t be with them right now? How can we continue their education, be the friendly faces they see each day, and be a continual partner with their family, during incredibly challenging circumstances? How do we provide the reassurances that children need during this time to let them know it will all be okay, even when we feel so unsure ourselves?”
Every school is wrestling with their own decision-making on meeting the needs of their students, given their own school culture, climate and capabilities. For WSG, we wanted to keep our school mission in the forefront of our decision making, trying to do as much as we could to support our students and their families knowing the important role that WSG plays for so many.
As a result, some of our key decisions were:
Learning Continuity – To the extent possible, we want to keep students connected to their teachers and to each other during this time. Virtual classrooms are video enabled, allowing our students to see their teachers, ask questions and chat with friends. To accomplish this, we’ve continued to reach out to families to ensure students have appropriate technology at home, and if not, we provided it. It is important for children to feel the same supportive community around them, and we know our teachers are a source of that stability.
Structure and Consistency – Our virtual school day starts with student-led morning prayer, much like the day on campus. Students follow a schedule set by their teachers, with specific times to check in and office hours when they can be in live conversation with their teachers to get help. Classroom sessions allow them to see and interact with each other, and the girls have received information on classroom expectations while online. Consequences for not following those in the online classroom? A teacher may “mute” a student, allowing them to still see the classroom activities, but not interact, if unable to constructively participate without distracting others. We are all still finding how to adapt to a new classroom and learning experience, and yet the expectation that students will positively participate in class remains the same. Teachers and/or our school counselors may connect with any families individually when there seems to be prolonged difficulty for any student.
Checking In and Feedback – Each day, there has been a survey sent along to teachers to understand what is going well, what isn’t going well. We’ve held an open parent webinar to hear their thoughts and followed up at the end of the virtual week with a survey for them as well. We’ve tried to diagnose and solve as many technology problems as we can and parents have indicated they appreciate the support for them at home. The girls are their own best advocates as well! They’ve emailed their teachers, raised their hands virtually and indicated when they aren’t able to follow along. We’ve made changes to adapt to the feedback, and will continue to do so, understanding that hearing from students and families on how this is going on their end is an important indicator of our effectiveness.
Creating Community – Perhaps the biggest challenge has been identifying ways to recreate the WSG community that we all experience when we are not physically together. Starting the day with our Morning Prayer is an important part of that, as it mimics prayer at school. Hearing the students’ voices leading our prayer and seeing that there are over 100 others logged in at the same time to participate, is so warming to me in my home, and gives us all a sense of our community all together at the same time. Sharing the commitment to our students, providing opportunities for students to interact with each and their teachers, letting families know that we are there for help, supporting and learning from each other as educators, are all reflective of our WSG community and our core values of goodness, generosity and faith.
This crisis has forced us as educators to focus on being flexible in understanding how we might best serve our students now and to determine what is most important each day. What they are learning curriculum-wise and how that paces through the next few weeks may need to adapt as we assess the effectiveness of our distance learning, assessing what has not gone well. We hope that we will get back on campus with our girls during this school year, however, that is a big unknown at this point. We are proud of what we have done to provide for their education in the meantime. And we also know that at this time among the most important lessons we can deliver to our students is that WSG, and all the many adults who comprise our school, cares for them and remains committed to their learning, even during the most difficult circumstances.