Summer is usually a super busy time for myself and my team. We plan summer professional development for staff, meet with each of our schools to do end of the year planning and school improvement planning for the following year, and get ready for the start of school. This summer was, by far, the busiest of my entire career. In addition to our typical summer tasks, planning for whether school would be virtual, distance, or in-person was an incredible challenge with so many unknowns. We took some thoughtful time to make the best decision we could based on the health metrics in our area led by our Superintendent, who worked all summer with local health departments and many different agencies to ensure our plan was as safe as possible for learners and staff. Once we decided to start virtually, we had to begin planning to add a learning management system to keep all communication and tools for students and families all in one place. We also wanted to make sure teachers had the right professional development to teach virtually while still staying true to our strategic plan’s goals to embed the Deeper Learning competencies across all content areas as a pathway to equitable opportunities for all.
As I sat here feeling incredibly anxious about our first day of school tomorrow, I started checking out some of what our teachers have put together to be ready for our learners. An overwhelming sense of gratitude came over me. There has been a lot of research in recent years on the health benefits of practicing gratitude. Focussing on the things I am grateful for always shifts my mood and helps me remember what is most important. When I thought about the heroic efforts of so many of the people I get to work with each day this summer, I immediately began to relax.
I feel grateful to our staff that have spent countless hours this summer learning about how to assist learners who are experiencing trauma or new mental health concerns during this time, how to embed social-emotional learning across all content areas, how to use Project-Based Learning across all settings, how to take care of themselves through developing compassion resiliency, and how to use the Collaborative Problem Solving model for working with students with unexpected behaviors. Not only did teachers give up their own time to participate, but other staff took the time to learn and facilitate courses for others.
Teachers are not only learning how to use our new learning management system, but they are making it their own. They have added bitmoji classrooms, YouTube videos, links to online platforms, welcome videos and slides, and countless emails and social media posts to ensure learners and families have what they need for tomorrow. They have worked hard to learn new strategies for developing relationships with learners in a virtual setting and new ways to communicate and connect with families and caregivers. They have become filmmakers to record lessons for learners who need to access them later, technology support specialists, and creative problem-solvers for when things go awry.
I am so grateful to our recreation staff who have run camps all summer that were socially distanced and yet provided learners with opportunities to be with one another and have supervision while caregivers were at work. They opened centers last week for our families who need care during the time we are virtual, and trained staff in using our learning management system to support learners while they are there.
Our facilities team has worked tirelessly all summer to ensure our schools are sanitized and set-up to begin distance learning (hopefully) in a few weeks. They have ordered and installed tons of personal protective equipment so staff have the tools they need to stay as safe as possible when we are able to be in-person. They have helped us deliver supplies and materials all over our district so teachers could make packets for learners to have the materials they need for both online and some offline learning opportunities. They helped us get a testing center ready to continue our evaluations in a safe way for learners who may have special needs and may need additional services. In addition, our technology team and our Innovation Coaches have spent time getting devices ready for each learner and hotspots for the families and even a local daycare who need them. It has been incredible to see each team member step up, go above and beyond, and continue to ask what more can they do.
I am thankful to our families who have dedicated extra time this summer to attend board meetings, send feedback, or ask questions about our return to school plan. Our families have been open to hearing about what teachers will do differently now that they have had the time to prepare for virtual instruction versus what we did in the spring during emergency remote teaching. Many of our families post pictures of the creative spaces they have made at home to help learners concentrate on school and have all their materials at hand. Some families have expressed their gratitude for the plan, while others still have reservations and concerns that they are open to sharing and working through them together. We had several parents participate in our return to school planning committee to give input on the learning plan, human resources issues, safety measures, operations, and before and after school support, so we had feedback from parents and staff on all the decisions.
Our principals, other school leaders, directors, coordinators, and many others have all been outstanding. I could go on and on about each group, but the group I am most grateful for are our learners. Many of them participated in our summer school programs and gave their best effort to try new things. They attended beautiful graduation ceremonies that looked really different than anyone ever thought they would. Some spoke up at board meetings and sent emails with their questions to teachers, school leaders, and our district office team. Some participated in our summer project-based learning training to give feedback to teachers on their project plans. Many logged in to our learning management system over the weekend and watched videos to be ready for our first day tomorrow. We have worked on being more learner-centered for the last few years, so seeing the impact of our students expressing their needs and concerns gives me a lot of encouragement that we are on the right track.
I am going into tomorrow with lots of hope that as a community, we will come together and give each other grace as we work through our first day of virtual instruction. We know we are going to hit some bumps in the road. Given what I have seen from staff, learners, and families this summer, I have full confidence that we can work through those bumps together.