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Stories from the Field: Voices of K-12 Stakeholders During Pandemic A special report of the Canadian eLearning Network

Abstract

This report is third of three reports designed to chronicle how each province and territory in Canada managed their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first report, Documenting Triage: Detailing the Response of Provinces and Territories to Emergency Remote Teaching report (Nagle, Barbour, & LaBonte, 2020), described how each jurisdiction managed their emergency remote teaching during Spring 2020. The second report, A Fall Like No Other: Between Basics and Preparing or an Extended Transition During Turmoil (Nagle, LaBonte, & Barbour, 2020), outlined how each jurisdiction attempted to manage what should have been a transition to remote teaching during Fall 2020. The goal of this third report, Stories from the Field: Voices of K-12 Stakeholders During Pandemic, was to provide vignettes authored by education stakeholders sharing their stories about what actually transpired in their homes, schools, communities, and districts. Sponsored by the Canadian eLearning Network (CANeLearn), a leading voice in Canada for learner success in K-12 online and blended learning, this report highlights the announcements, supports, and policy changes each Canadian jurisdiction made to continue to promote learning throughout the pandemic. Information was gathered for each province and territory through government websites, educational organizations, and current news releases. This information highlighted each jurisdiction’s strategies to provide supports, resources, and technologies appropriate for the continuation of teaching and learning. A website1 was created to host this report series along with an archive of online workshop presentations based on each report. In this report you will find the voices of key stakeholders within the K-12 online and blended learning community across Canada as they provide descriptions of what actually happened on the ground. Students, parents, teachers, school leaders, school trustees, and teacher-education leaders from the post-secondary offer a glimpse of the impact of what the Ministries and Departments of Education planned and announced in the Spring and Fall of 2020 for the safe return of students to schools. For students, the lack of social interaction was a noted loss, for parents their children’s physical, emotional, and mental health and their own, were worrisome at best. Many describe the education offerings lacking and some sought their own solution. Teachers, district and school leaders, even trustees, found the changing dynamic of the education landscape overwhelming. Health protocols, physical distancing, masking, the number and flow of people in the school building(s), and the social and emotional impact on staff and students was almost impossible to manage. The range of stories from school leaders offers glimpses of success in the development of new programs and the expansion of others. The stories of teachers reflect a focus on physical, social, and emotional wellbeing first, curriculum second. As new models and approaches emerge, post-secondary teacher education researchers are shining a light on what effective practices provide options today and for the future beyond pandemic. 1 The website is available at https://sites.google.com/view/canelearn-ert/
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Stories from the Field: Voices of
K-12 Stakeholders During Pandemic
December 2020
A special report of the Canadian eLearning Network
Michael K. Barbour Randy LaBonte
Foreward by Joelle Nagle
The image on the front cover was a combination of an image owned by one of the authors and the other was an
image from Flickr that was attributed to PhotosForClass.com available at:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/51035597898@N01/544654854/
These reports and site are published under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 license
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/
i
Foreword
It has been a pleasure to be a part of the special report series for the Canadian eLearning
Network (CANeLearn). With the publication of the first two reports, CANeLearn offered a
national overview detailing the educational responses for each jurisdiction in Canada during
COVID-19 within the Spring, as well as the Fall re-opening of schools. I believe this last
installment of the series, which includes personal narratives, offers deeper insight into how
Canadians navigated through this challenging time within K-12 education.
While there may be many narratives circulating in the media around emergency remote
education and the re-opening of schools, it is not until we read the lived experiences of the
various educational stakeholders that we can truly start to understand what is really happening on
the frontline: within homes, classrooms, schools, school boards and districts, and Faculties of
Education.
Through these personal narratives, I believe a more fulsome picture emerges to compliment the
first two reports. These narratives provide a rich detail and perspective that cannot always be
found within a Ministry of Education’s report. Within these personal narratives, it is important to
take note of the impacts the pandemic has had on the education of our studentsfrom
emergency remote learning and feelings of isolation, boredom, or feeling overwhelmed, to
teachers having to re-envision their pedagogy to meet the needs of remote learners, manage
hybrid spaces, and to provide social-emotional supports for students; all of these done at times
without the necessary tools offered through further professional development and learning.
Perhaps an examination of education in 2020 is an opportunity to focus on how educational
leaders can provide more training for Canadian teachers, so they are equipped with the necessary
knowledge and support for their students to leverage their learning experiences in a variety of
settings, even through pandemic times.
Joelle Nagle
M.Ed., Ph.D., OCT
Teacher Educator
Faculty of Education
University of Windsor
ii
Executive Summary
This report is third of three reports designed to chronicle how each province and territory in
Canada managed their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first report, Documenting
Triage: Detailing the Response of Provinces and Territories to Emergency Remote Teaching
report (Nagle, Barbour, & LaBonte, 2020), described how each jurisdiction managed their
emergency remote teaching during Spring 2020. The second report, A Fall Like No Other:
Between Basics and Preparing or an Extended Transition During Turmoil (Nagle, LaBonte, &
Barbour, 2020), outlined how each jurisdiction attempted to manage what should have been a
transition to remote teaching during Fall 2020. The goal of this third report, Stories from the
Field: Voices of K-12 Stakeholders During Pandemic, was to provide vignettes authored by
education stakeholders sharing their stories about what actually transpired in their homes,
schools, communities, and districts.
Sponsored by the Canadian eLearning Network (CANeLearn), a leading voice in Canada for
learner success in K-12 online and blended learning, this report highlights the announcements,
supports, and policy changes each Canadian jurisdiction made to continue to promote learning
throughout the pandemic. Information was gathered for each province and territory through
government websites, educational organizations, and current news releases. This information
highlighted each jurisdiction’s strategies to provide supports, resources, and technologies
appropriate for the continuation of teaching and learning. A website
was created to host this
report series along with an archive of online workshop presentations based on each report.
In this report you will find the voices of key stakeholders within the K-12 online and blended
learning community across Canada as they provide descriptions of what actually happened on
the ground. Students, parents, teachers, school leaders, school trustees, and teacher-education
leaders from the post-secondary offer a glimpse of the impact of what the Ministries and
Departments of Education planned and announced in the Spring and Fall of 2020 for the safe
return of students to schools. For students, the lack of social interaction was a noted loss, for
parents their children’s physical, emotional, and mental health and their own, were worrisome at
best. Many describe the education offerings lacking and some sought their own solution.
Teachers, district and school leaders, even trustees, found the changing dynamic of the education
landscape overwhelming. Health protocols, physical distancing, masking, the number and flow
of people in the school building(s), and the social and emotional impact on staff and students was
almost impossible to manage. The range of stories from school leaders offers glimpses of success
in the development of new programs and the expansion of others. The stories of teachers reflect a
focus on physical, social, and emotional wellbeing first, curriculum second. As new models and
approaches emerge, post-secondary teacher education researchers are shining a light on what
effective practices provide options today and for the future beyond pandemic.
The website is available at https://sites.google.com/view/canelearn-ert/
1
Introduction
The Canadian eLearning Network (CANeLearn) (2020) was founded “with a vision to be the
leading voice in Canada for learner success in K-12 online and blended learning” (¶ 1). One of
the ways CANeLearn has traditionally achieved this vision has been their longstanding
partnership with the annual report produced by the State of the Nation: K-12 e-Learning in
Canada research team, which continues to “examine the nature of the governance and level of
activity of K-12 distance, online and blended education in each province and territory, as well as
for First Nations, Metis and Inuit” (Barbour & LaBonte, 2015, p. 2). However, the 2020 calendar
year continues to challenge schools to provide students with learning options outside of the scope
and in numbers far beyond traditional distance, online, and blended learning offerings.
During the Spring 2020 the term ‘emergency remote teaching’ emerged to describe what was
occurring in education at all levels. Hodges et al. (2020) described emergency remote teaching as
an attempt not to re-create a robust educational ecosystem but rather to provide temporary
access to instruction and instructional supports in a manner that is quick to set up and is reliably
available during an emergency or crisis” (¶ 13). In August 2020, CANeLearn released the
Documenting Triage: Detailing the Response of Provinces and Territories to Emergency Remote
Teaching report (Nagle, Barbour, & LaBonte, 2020), which described how each jurisdiction
managed their emergency remote teaching during Spring 2020. In that report each jurisdictional
profile began with a brief summary of the online tools and online course content that were
available based on existing e-learning activity, followed by a specific focus on the jurisdiction’s
emergency remote teaching plan. This focus included when schools were closed and reopened
(for those that did); what actions were taken; the tools, content, and devices provided, curated,
and/or created; and the nature of instruction that occurred.
In November 2020, CANeLearn released the A Fall Like No Other: Between Basics and
Preparing for an Extended Transition During Turmoil report (Nagle, LaBonte, & Barbour,
2020). This second report provided a description of what was announced and provided for by
provincial and territorial Ministries of Education during Fall 2020. While a national view was
considered, approaches varied among each of the provinces and territories in light of trends with
the spread of the virus (often regionally within a particular jurisdiction). Some jurisdictions
required students to wear masks in school buildings, others did not. Some jurisdictions
announced specific plans for remote learning, others relied on existing online learning programs
for students who remained at home. Finally, few jurisdictions announced or published specific
plans for professional development or training for teachers new to remote learning.
This third report, Stories from the Field: Voices of K-12 Stakeholders During Pandemic,
provides the stories of those intimately involved in supporting and educating the children of our
collective futures. Their voices provide a narrative of what actually transpired in their homes,
schools, communities, and districts. Students are concerned with the lack of social interaction,
their parents with their physical, emotional, and mental health and wellbeing. Teachers, district
and school leaders, even trustees, found the changing dynamic of the education landscape
overwhelming. The report offers glimpses of success in the development of new programs and
the expansion of others. The stories of teachers reflect a focus on physical, social, and emotional
wellbeing first, curriculum second.
2
Methodology
Unlike previous studies in this series, there was no systematic collection of data for this report.
The researchers involved with the CANeLearn initiative on documenting the remote teaching
across Canada, as well as the individual members on the Board of Directors of CANeLearn,
leveraged their professional and personal networks to solicit vignettes from a cross selection of
stakeholders that included students, parents, teachers, school and district leaders, trustees, and
higher education personnel. In instances where these networks were lacking, the researchers
resorted to cold contacts of individuals identified through traditional and social media as
representing a different group of stakeholders, geographic region, and/or schooling level.
Each individual was asked to describe how the fall unfolded from their perspective. Care was
taken to ensure representation from across Canada in each group of stakeholders (see Table 1).
Table 1
Vignettes by stakeholder category
Jurisdiction
Student
Parent
Teacher
Leader
Trustee
Higher Education
Total
BC
2
1
3
AB
1
1
1
3
SK
1
1
2
MN
0
ON
2
1
1
4
QC
1
2
2
5
NB
1
1
PE
0
NS
1
1
NL
1
1
1
1
4
NV
0
NT
0
YK
0
Total
6
4
4
5
2
2
23
While there was a reasonable balance of vignettes from the various regions of Canada (e.g.,
Atlantic Canada, Central Canada, Western Canada, and Northern Canada), it is important to
highlight some issues with the representation of these narratives. There were two provinces,
Manitoba and Prince Edward Island, who were not represented at all (although that is consistent
with participation in the individual program survey administered annually by the State of the
Nation: K-12 e-Learning in Canada study [Barbour & LaBonte, 2019]). Additionally, there are
no vignettes from any of the three territories in Northern Canada. In terms of both the overall
population, as well as the participation in traditional K-12 distance and online learning, both
Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador were over-represented.
3
How to Read this Report
This report presents vignettes or narratives by a variety of education stakeholders across the
country. It is an opportunity for students, parents, teachers, school and district leaders, trustees,
and higher education faculty to share their stories about what actually transpired in their homes,
schools, communities, and districts from their perspective. As such, the vignettes are presented in
the author’s own words. The editors of this report made only minor edits to each submission, and
then only to correct grammar and formatting. Any edits for the purposes of additional clarity
were sent to the author for their approval (e.g., in many instances we asked authors to add a
sentence or two to describe exactly what hybrid or remote learning looked like in their context or
what specific in person precautions were being taken in their classroom).
Each of the following sections begins with a brief commentary on common themes or interesting
illustrations the editors wish to highlight for that particular stakeholder group. This commentary
is followed by a brief summary of each of the vignettes contained in that section. The section
concludes with the presentation of each vignette in sequence.
The vignette itself identifies the author and then includes some demographic information added
by the editors at the beginning of the narrative. One of the demographic labels added is an
attempt to indicate whether the vignette focused on a classroom, hybrid learning, or remote
learning environment. In adding this label, the editors relied on the following descriptions.
Classroom environment was a situation where the learning continues to occur in
the classroom setting in a face-to-face manner.
Hybrid learning environment was a situation where some classroom and some
remote instruction is occurring. The editors relied upon the vignette author to
describe the exact nature of the hybrid environment.
Remote learning environment was a situation where there was no instruction
occurring in a classroom setting or in a face-to-face manner. This included both
traditional distance/online programs and those traditional brick-and-mortar
settings that have temporarily shifted to a remote modality.
This is followed by the actual vignette. While the authors were asked to focus on their
experiences during the Fall of the 2020-21 school year, some authors also referenced experiences
from the Spring of the 2019-20 school year.
As this report is read, it is important to remember these stories have been written during the final
seven to ten day of November or even the first day or two of December. As such, it is also
important to be aware the status of the virus in the province or territory of each individual author.
The tables and figures on the following pages indicate the number of active COVID-19 cases and
the total number of cases across Canada according to Health Canada (2020) throughout the Fall
period beginning with the data available on 08 September (i.e., the “first day of school” for the
2020-21 school year) and then the data available on the first of the month for October,
November, and December.
4
Table 2
Total number of active COVID-19 cases by jurisdiction
Jurisdiction
12 Mar1
01 Arp
01 May
01 Jun
01 Jul
01 Aug
01 Sep
01 Oct
01 Nov
01 Dec
BC
45
449
676
225
152
278
1,134
1290
3,189
9663
AB
19
781
3122
400
547
1,386
1,398
1596
6,278
16628
SK
1
167
112
47
88
262
31
144
798
3819
MN
1
155
38
10
18
72
459
621
3255
9066
ON
58
1,909
4,662
3,834
2,052
1,319
1,240
4,975
7,981
14524
QC
13
5,258
19,926
30,096
25,157
2,894
1,414
6,227
9,221
12264
NL
172
26
3
0
4
1
3
3
33
PE
1
69
2
12
4
2
3
6
35
116
NB
177
338
13
1
2
6
2
13
142
PENS
19
3
0
0
0
0
2
0
4
YK
3
0
0
0
3
0
0
5
17
NT
2
0
0
0
0
0
0
2
0
NV
93
Table 3
Total number of COVID-19 cases by jurisdiction
Jurisdiction
12 Mar1
01 Arp
01 May
01 Jun
01 Jul
01 Aug
01 Sep
01 Oct
01 Nov
01 Dec
BC
53
1,066
2,145
2,597
2,916
3,641
5,848
9,220
15,122
33894
AB
23
754
5,573
7,044
8,108
10,843
14,066
1,8235
28,770
59484
SK
0
193
415
646
785
1,334
1,622
1,927
3,218
8745
MN
1
109
268
284
314
403
1,232
2,029
6,034
17107
ON
79
2,392
16,608
28,263
35,068
39,333
42,421
5,2248
76,707
118199
QC
17
4,611
28,648
51,354
55,458
59,458
62,614
7,5221
106,981
143548
NB
1
81
118
132
165
170
191
200
344
508
PE
0
21
27
27
27
36
44
59
64
72
NS
0
173
959
1,057
1,062
1,069
1,085
1,088
1,111
1315
NL
0
175
259
261
261
266
269
275
291
339
YK
0
5
11
11
11
14
15
15
23
47
NT
0
2
5
5
5
5
5
5
10
15
NV
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
182
1 The date of the first school closure (i.e., New Brunswick). Within 10 days, all provinces and territories would have their schools closed.
5
Figure 1.
Active COVID-19 cases across Canada (08 September 2020)
Figure 2.
Active COVID-19 cases across Canada (01 October 2020)
6
Figure 3.
Active COVID-19 cases across Canada (01 November 2020)
Figure 4.
Active COVID-19 cases across Canada (01 December 2020)
7
This data is not presented to parse trends with regard to infection rates over the Fall of the 2020-
21 school year, or to suggest specific differences between the provinces and territories. However,
as the active case rate would have been a critical factor influencing the perspectives of individual
authors, it is important to have an understanding of that data.
The following pages provide the vignettes that were solicited and have been organized by
stakeholders. The vignettes were edited for grammar and publishing purposes, but the content of
each was not altered and remains the individual’s own words.
8
Student Vignettes
Students offer us a different viewpoint and honest insight into the impact of the efforts to balance
health and safety while fostering learning for future success amidst the social upheaval created
by the pandemic. The attempts to protect and support students can create unintended
consequences. From the voices of those in the adapted structures and systems of learning we find
the pace of learning was too fast, too slow, too overwhelming, unengaging. Student safety in
pandemic was highly structured and efficient, yet often lax and ineffective. Mental health and
wellbeing was considered and cared for, but both were directly impacted despite this.
The first vignette is from Adam Webster, a grade 11 student at St. Joseph High School, Greater
Saskatoon Catholic Schools in Saskatchewan. Adam discusses his personal experiences in his
secondary program where he found himself in a quadmester, taking two classes every day, five
days a week. While in his cohort group he found the breaks offered little social or ‘down’ time,
he also found the pace difficult to keep up with his studies, yet found the focus on one subject to
have advantages. With the increase in COVID-19 cases, Adam now finds his program to be part
time in school and at home, and his learning has suffered.
Next, Melanie Dumont is an elementary student from Ontario. Melanie’s introspective vignette
offers a glimpse of the personal challenges and successes she experienced so far. She describes
her “roller coaster of ups and downs” but offers this insightful conclusion “without bad things in
your life you’ll never really get to see how amazing good things are in the long run…
surprisingly enough, I’m thankful for the bad things too”.
The third vignette is by Sienna Park who selected hybrid learning, which follows a quadmester
system and cohort system with part of the time in school, the other at home. Sienna comments
that one of the biggest benefits was spending less time in school as she was only taking one
course and had to be in school once every four days so could stay focused on missed school
homework, volunteer activities, university applications, student council tasks and club activities.
She could spend more time at her desk, and having classes as an online session allowed her to
care less about appearance and clothes. On the days she was online she found it more
comfortable as she did not have to get physically prepared to take class and could hide her face
and voice from classmates without a camera on which made her less conscious of herself.
This is followed by Matteo Pirro, a grade 10 student in Québec, who provides an interesting
insight into his day as a homeschool student. His reflections wander from procrastination to
isolation and lack of social interaction. Matteo ponders about how technology has shifted
conversation from in-person dialogue to short bursts through texts and email.
The fourth vignette is by Annika Roderick, a student at St. Malachy's Memorial, NB, who
provides a glimpse into her weekly school life, which is spent half of the time in a school
building, the other half at home. Annika offers several insights about how her experience has
changed her habits and approach to learning. She offers her opinion about how these experiences
have changed her now, but also quite likely into her future post-pandemic.
9
Finally, a vignette from Mira Buckle, a grade 12 student in Corner Brook, NL who has been full-
time in classrooms with peers throughout the Fall (and knows this has not been the case for
others) where she raises the concern that a return to remote learning would be a detriment for her
and others. She emphasizes the importance that school and teachers have placed on the social
and emotional wellbeing of students, sharing the “checklist for every class this year” that one
teacher posted in their classroom: “1. Keep them safe, 2. Lower their anxiety about the current
situation, 3. Make them laugh, 4. Make them feel loved, 5. Teach them something/or not’.’.
The stories of these students is clear that schools remain a good place for children to be
supported in their emotional growth and learning. Yet, with proper planning and good
communication, homes and communities outside of school walls can be as well.
10
Adam Webster
Saskatchewan
Brick-and-mortar secondary school
Classroom environment
A Student’s Insight On Pandemic Learning
Over the past three months I have been attending an altered version of high school in the French
program at St. Joseph High School. This was my third year of high school and eleventh year of
school overall and none of my other years have changed as drastically as this one had. My peers
and I would still be attending classes in person but the schedule, classroom, assignments, and
rules and regulations were all different from prior years. The approach that my school had taken
this year was late coming and highly criticized by students and staff alike because at first, they
had changed next to nothing.
After the backlash, both school systems drew up a new plan that had more regulations and
policies in place for the safety of the staff and students where they would attend one class in the
morning for three hours, have a one hour lunch then return for two more hours of a different
class in the afternoon. There were two staggered breaks penciled in for each class, a ten minute
one in the morning and a five-minute one in the afternoon. There were also two scheduled help
periods, one at lunch and one at the end of the day. It was much easier for me personally to grasp
the contents of classes since I didn’t have to jump from class to class, and with more time in one
day for a period there was more opportunity to ask questions and get help if I needed. Final
exams were also staggered and were easier to study for since you didn’t need to swap subjects
and, oftentimes, teachers could give more time in class dedicated to studying and asking
questions. Since the classes were in a shorter period of time it was easier to remember all the
needed material as well and things that were discussed during the lessons.
Some things that I found to be troubling about the original block system were the amounts of
homework, the rushed nature of most subjects and the break times. When I thought of two
classes, one thing that came to mind would be reduced amounts of homework, but many of my
friends and I were sorely mistaken as this year, compared to all other years, I’ve had more hours
of homework and assignments that I needed to do in a day than I had to in three days. I
understand that we’re covering more material faster and in a condensed form but I believe that
assignments and homework should be tailored to that, and most teachers (that I or my friends
have found) were using the same projects and homework that they would for a regular class,
which creates a very rushed learning experience. The ability to latch on to ideas and topics can
be very difficult sometimes and if you don’t have the time to process the idea but are forced to
do loads of work using it, many are bound to do worse and struggle.
This schedule had been in place for two and a half months (i.e., Sep. 8 Nov. 19) but then
adjustments were made because of new provincial regulations. The new schedule followed the
same block system but instead of students coming every day, they would come to school on
either odd or even numbered days, depending on what their last name was, and then do online or
assigned work on the other. Despite the sudden modifications, the block system was doing quite
well to contain cases and reduce spread of the virus. There were approximately four cases before
the plan changed and there were no in-school transmissions.
11
The second schedule was due to the rising cases outside of school and the increased amount of
direct and indirect contacts among faculty and students. The change was to reduce class sizes and
even further reduce spread chance. I believe it was a smart move by the school system to do so
and they did it early enough for it to actually have an impact on reducing the spread. However, I
currently have pre-AP art and cooking, and losing the in-class time is detrimental for both.
I now find myself unmotivated to do work on the days where I’m not in class despite being
fortunate enough to have most of the supplies needed to do projects at home. For both systems
there was no accommodation for friend groups or cohorts which seems like an oversight and
hypocritical because the schools and the health board told everyone to stick with one small
bubble, then went and popped it. The consideration of each class was missing because an A-K,
L-Z split wasn't balanced or even needed in some classrooms and needed to be thought out more.
Downfalls of this schedule change included, lack of motivation and/or focus, unavailable or
inefficient learning methods and materials, no social interaction, and the potential of keeping
students in unhealthy home situations. Keeping focus out of school is quite difficult for me as I
have very high energy and oftentimes a difficulty focusing without having distractions like those
in a classroom or small fidgeting things I do during class. I’m also the type that learns better
from person to person methods and reading doesn’t always sink in properly; that’s why I like
podcasts so much. The idle nature of learning in class or hands on experiences are preferred
methods for me, neither of which are viable options for at home learning.
The now lack of in class time also restricts social interaction time which has been proven to help
mental and physical health, as long as it helps people grow and develop positively. Many people
don’t get to leave their homes other than for school, so losing that can be a huge hit to their
wellbeing. As well, some students have a difficult home life and school is a place to escape that
toxic environment. If forced to learn at home in that atmosphere, not a lot will be retained.
Learning is different everywhere you go. For everyone, more planning and preparation needs to
be done for regular, more preparative courses, and for large global events like a pandemic. Since
there was seemingly little planning before public involvement and there is still a lack of diversity
for students and how each person learns, this should be an eye opener to how education should
be done in the future. I would like to see an option for block learning in the future because for
kids like me who grasp content quickly and can learn at an accelerated pace it’s highly
beneficial, with some adjustments. More options in the realm of learning is always good and
more hands on experiences that are more accessible should be made for kids who aren't
neurotypical and can’t learn in classrooms.
COVID-19 has had some immense and most likely lasting effects on our communities, education
system and society as a whole. Despite all the negatives, there have been some valuable
takeaways. Firstly, different forms of learning should be made for different types of people.
Secondly, when things are being planned, a more case-to-case basis should be taken and public
input will help. Finally, we have tools to make things better for everyone and more efficient, we
just don't always use them and it was definitely revealed during this pandemic.
12
Melanie Dumont
Ontario
Brick-and-mortar elementary school
Hybrid learning environment
My School Experience
As we all know COVID has had a great effect on everyone, and has led to all us needing to
adapt to these changes in the safest way possible. This includes school environments.
Everyone has their own personal experience, so now I will share mine.
At the beginning of the lockdown everyone had to go online, including me. Personally, I didn’t
mind it too much. At the beginning schools didn’t give too much work for their students. I’m
sure there’s many reasons why, like to not stress them out, making it easier on themselves due
to online things being difficult to set up, etc. All I know is that the work didn’t take long to get
done and left me for most of the week feeling bored but left to do anything I put my mind
to…. Which is what I would’ve said if I handled this whole pandemic a lot better. The thing is
the work was easy, but it’s just that by then we’ve been on break for so long that I’ve lost
motivation and I started to procrastinate more than I usually would during quarantine. I would
still get my work done in the end because I can’t really bare not getting stuff done, but I
always did it last minute, stressing me out even more so. Looking back, I know I probably
shouldn’t have done that but I couldn’t really help it. Without a solid working environment and
teachers and friends to help keep me motivated, I wasn’t used to this new school way and, to
be honest, I don’t think I would ever get used to it.
Skipping ahead a few months and I’m finally heading back to school! Considering the
previous school events for online, I was very thankful to go back in person again, though like
anyone else I was nervous about all the new rules and how the school would handle the
situation. For the first day it was pretty simple, a few students came in, I believe it was 6-8
different students for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday where the teacher explained how all of
the new rules and procedures were going to work. I was on Tuesday, but on that day I wasn’t
with many of my friends. With that, it was a little discouraging for the rest of the day, because
for our recess time we were only allowed in one area with our classmates and we’re not
allowed to go anywhere else. Since it was the first day and knowing the fact that I hate change,
there’s no surprise that I thought of this as a nightmare. Later on for the year until now I have
gotten a lot more comfortable and used to these rules, especially since there were more kids in
my class than the first day, and I don’t hate it as much as I used to.
Now moving on from things not involving COVID, for my school experiences so far I’m
going to start with the more negative ones: it feels different, and not in a good way. What I
mean by that is I’m not getting along with my friends as much as I used to. I’ve heard people
saying that quarantine changed them so that could be a very likely possibility, but it still feels
sad. All these people that I grew up with are just drifting away from me and there’s nothing I
can really do about it. I know it’s a part of life and it happens to everyone eventually, but it’s a
really hard time to go through. The thing is, I’m figuring myself out too and I don’t know
which friends would be best for me to hang out with. They aren’t completely gone yet, but I
have a feeling it’s getting close to it. Another thing that’s pretty negative about school so far is
that even though I’m now in my most preferred working environment, I still have some habits
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from working in quarantine. As I have stated before, I procrastinated a lot during that time
span and that bad habit sadly didn’t just magically disappear as soon as I got back into regular
school. It’s a lot better now, but those first few weeks were awful for that so I’m at least happy
I got a hold of myself and started to finish my work as soon as I get it. Which can be seen as
positive, but the reason why I’m putting it here is that I will never forget the stress for the first
few weeks of school with that, and I’m terrified of it happening again so I work extra hard to
prevent it from happening. Which is going good, but I just hope that in the future I don’t stress
myself out too much because of it.
Moving on from that, let’s look at the brighter side. This year I’ve been feeling a lot more
confident and I act more like myself around my classmates than I used to last year. I feel a lot
more comfortable with myself, so I’m not stressing about that as much as I did last year. I
consider that a huge improvement! Another thing I would like to mention is that I turned an
awful time of my life to something that’s beneficial. Me now knowing how it feels to actually
procrastinate during those first few weeks, I’ve been avoiding it greatly ever since and I’m
getting better marks than ever! Mostly on average 95% -100%, and I’m hoping it only gets
better in the future! The last thing I would want to mention about positive school experiences
so far is that during quarantine I have had an art mentor and someone who I could trust to help
me fulfill my hobbies. Now that I’m back in school, many people have told me that I have
improved a lot since last year, so it seems that I’m rather respected in my classroom which
makes me feel welcomed and appreciated. I couldn’t be happier and am especially grateful to
Kirsten who has helped me so much for the art and even my confidence as well. So, Kirsten, if
you are seeing this, thank you so much. With all of that being said, I think I’ve noticed that
looking at the positive of things really helps and it always feels nice to be grateful for what you
have, and for what you have accomplished.
I think that’s about it for school experiences and such. To sum it up, in the beginning for
online and start of regular school it was awful, but later on it got much better. So for everyone
that might see this, I think you know what I’m about to say. Even if what you’re going through
may seem really hard right now, just know that it’ll get better. It did for me and many others as
well. All in all though, school’s been a roller coaster of ups and downs this year, but the thing
is, without bad things in your life you’ll never really get to see how amazing good things are in
the long run. So I’m not only thankful for the good things that have happened for school this
year, but surprisingly enough, I’m thankful for the bad things too.
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Sienna Park
Ontario
Brick-and-mortar school
Hybrid learning environment
I am a twelfth grade student from Toronto. I immigrated to Canada three years ago from South
Korea, and am interested in the health science field. My school is part of the Toronto District
School Board (TDSB), which offers two options for students this school year due to the ongoing
COVID-19 pandemic: hybrid learning and full-online learning. I selected the hybrid learning,
which follows a quadmester system and cohort system. The quadmester system is equivalent to a
semester divided in half. Instead of taking four different courses in a semester, students take two
courses a quadmester and that repeats four times. A cohort system divides the class again into
two so that the students have less interaction and have more distance from one another in school.
For example, if there are 22 students in a course, 11 students are in cohort A and the other 11
students are in cohort B.
Our school has four days with rotations. I had statistics (cohort B) and a spare period in the first
quadmester. To explain the hybrid system our school has, cohort A students had in-school day on
Day 1, cohort B students had in-school day on Day 2, and both cohorts had online sessions in the
afternoon for Days 3 and 4. In brief, a course has one in-class day, two online sessions and a day
off, and it repeats. The statistics class I took had a medium course workload with seven tests,
seven quizzes and seven assignments. Some of the extracurricular activities that I am a part of
are Student Activity Council, English help for Immigrants volunteering and Science Club. While
working on both schoolwork and extra-curriculars, I have experienced both the pros and cons of
the hybrid learning systems.
Both the hybrid learning and having a spare period were the things that I have never experienced
before 2020. While both of the things were happening together, I could find a lot of benefits
from learning this way. One of the biggest benefits was that I had a lot of free time because I was
spending less time in school. As I was only taking one course, I had to be in school only once
every four days, having an in-class day once a week, or twice on an unlucky week. I was also in
Cohort B, so I had a whole day off when Cohort A students had an in-class day. During the time
when I had a day-off or in the morning before online classes, I could stay focused on the missed
school homework, volunteer activities, university applications, student council tasks and club
activities. The reason I could do this many extra-curriculars was because I could spend more
time at my desk, in front of my laptop for the whole day instead of physically moving all over
the place. There were also some benefits of having classes as an online session. During usual
school days, I tend to care about my appearance and my clothes. On the days that I only have
online sessions, it was much more comfortable for me because I did not have to get physically
prepared to take class. I had an opportunity to hide my face and voice from the classmates that I
am not close with which made me less conscious about my behaviour.
There were also some downsides of hybrid learning some were course-related issues and some
were personal issues. The overall course was taught twice as fast as usual, and we technically
had one in-school day to write a test or submit our homework. This made going to school
stressful because I had to take a test almost every time I went to school. School days were also
extremely tiring. I would procrastinate and put off doing my work, which was unusual for me,
but it was also possible now with this learning model. I would rush to do my homework and go
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to bed around 3am before in-class days. Also, my classmates and I were stressed by the course
near to the end because the exam and the culminating activity were suddenly canceled in the
middle of the quadmester. Of course we had to do less course work than usual, but it also meant
that we have lost some of our opportunities to raise our mark. I had to focus a lot more on the
assignments and tests, which carried a lot of weight all of a sudden. The other thing I did not like
about the hybrid learning was that some of the online sessions were either a waste of time or
worthless. It was the first time for my teacher to use Google Meet, so every function such as
screen sharing, muting, and reading chats were totally new to him. During the first online
meeting, I seriously thought of switching to another course because my classmates were so
distracting and noisy because they knew the teacher didn’t know how to mute them. After the
first chaotic 30 minutes, my teacher spent another 20 minutes dealing with technical issues, such
as combining both cohorts’ call links, and screen sharing his notes. It is understandable for them
to have some technology issues but this wasted a lot of time for both students and the teacher,
therefore I disliked online sessions.
Other than school or course related issues, I also had some personal struggles dealing with the
new style of learning. I have experienced lockdown-learning in the spring, e-summer school, but
the hybrid learning system that I have now is a whole new experience for me. My biggest
struggle was that I have to adjust my personal schedule or lifestyle to the school timetable. Until
summer, I usually got up at 10am, did any work I had until 1am and went to bed around 2am.
While adjusting my schedule this Fall, especially my sleeping schedule was hard to manage
because I was used to doing my work and going to bed at such late times, but now I had to get up
early at 7am. The other difficulty I faced from hybrid learning was that it was much harder to
socialize. There were eight other classmates in my cohort and I didn’t know anybody. Even
when I had a chance to talk to them in school, I was just asking them about solutions or their
marks. Therefore, I mostly stayed alone or stayed with my friends in other classes during the
break times because I was not close enough with my classmates. The last disadvantage I faced
was the lack of physical activity and dry eyes. As my classes, textbooks, and assignments were
online, I had to sit in front of my laptop more than five hours a day. I started to feel back pain
because of my bad posture and lack of movement. During the Summer, I had a lot of chances to
walk around the neighbourhood but I currently do less because I do not have enough time. I also
can feel my eyes dry from looking at the screen for too long. Every time I take a break, I go on
social media on my phone, so there is no time for my eyes to take a rest.
The pandemic of 2020 is challenging for everyone in the world. It also means that the school
board is doing their best to offer options that keep students and staff safe. It is new for me, and
although quadmester one was a challenge for my first two credits, I hope this quadmester when I
am studying biology and business will be improved as we continue to improve the system.
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Matteo Pirro
Québec
Homeschool
Remote learning environment
My Attempt at Pandemic Schooling
Writing a vignette is boring, or so I thought as I sat down at the kitchen table searching for
words to put into writing. I pet my dog. Thinking. Fingers caressing his short soft fur. I stared
at my screen. “What should I write?” I said to myself. “How is schooling during this
pandemic?” I had plenty of examples; my lack of real face-to-face with my tutors, no more
team projects with other homeschoolers and such. Unfortunately, I had no way to string those
ideas together.
As I looked around me, hoping to find some inspiration from my surroundings. I found
nothing but the same sights, smells and impressions as every other day. “God, I hate being
stuck inside,” I said, before realizing that I had spoken out loud. Doing this assignment
definitely wasn’t what I would’ve chosen to do today. I keep stealing glances at the cabinet
that contains my clay and tools. I’m pretty good with my hands. I especially enjoy making
minuscule masks that fit in my palm.
I began to doodle on a sheet of paper that lay beside me, gazing outside at the grey sky while I
was vaguely aware of what my fingers were up to. I’ve been doing a lot of that recently. Not
much else to do besides homework and chores. Not exactly my idea of fun. I haven’t even
given anybody a high-five in months. Well, besides to my parents and brother … “and Jupiter”
(my dog) I said, thinking about how I taught him to high-five when he was only a few months
old.
I’m a highly social person. I truly enjoy conversing with others. It’s actually one of my
greatest strengths. As a matter of fact, I’m using speech to text on my iPad to do this
assignment. Thank goodness for technology, because writing IS NOT in my skill set.
Talking about technology, I find that today, we tend to spend more time on our electronics
than on anything else. Nowadays, people text each other instead of having a proper
conversation. They use LOL, OMG, BBL or such abbreviations to communicate. My point
being, I’ve noticed that many young folks tend not to know how to hold up a conversation
face-to-face with another human being. They seem to avoid eye contact and often answer with
a vague mumbling. And with this quarantine happening and all those rules about not visiting
other people’s homes or meeting up with friends or such, it’s not helping adolescents’ social
skills. When this pandemic is over, they’ll probably find it even harder to resume their normal
lives. HECK! Even I will, but not for the same reasons.
I looked down at what I had been drawing. It was a tiny luth. It’s sort of a roundish stringed
instrument, with a big hole that is adorned with some carved filigree. I considered learning
how to play the luth, but I ran into a few problems. Foremost among them, I don’t own one,
but I wish I did. It has a wonderful harmonic sound and it’s a work of art, in and of itself.
As I looked back at my work, or more like what was supposed to be my work since I hadn’t
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written anything yet. I wondered idly if I would ever get this done in time for the next class.
I’ve always hated working until late at night. It always seems to make me hungry and irritable.
Since I usually use a computer, the blue light makes it impossible for me to fall asleep
afterwards. Inevitably, I end up staying awake for another few hours, even though I’m dead on
my feet.
And then it struck me: I don’t need to compile a long list of events that formed the last couple
of months to describe schooling during the pandemic. I just need to talk about what I enjoy and
hate about this pandemic, and about what it has done to my life. Focussing my attention back
on my screen, I began to write. Hoping above hope that this will all be over soon. I really don’t
feel like spending another eight months stuck between those four walls.
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Annika Roderick
New Brunswick
Brick-and-mortar secondary school
Hybrid learning environment
My name is Annika Roderick. I am a grade nine French immersion student. I go to Saint
Malachy’s Memorial High School in New Brunswick. I go to school every second day and I
learn online on the other days. We have two alternating rotations that switch between school and
home. Students with last names from A-K go to school while last names L-Z stay home, and they
switch the next day.
In school, the teachers teach a regular lesson and usually assign work for the next day. School
has changed a lot since last year, both because of the transition to High School and the new
COVID protocols. It is strange to be so isolated from my classmates, since our desks all have to
be a meter apart. You always have to be conscious of how close you are to people, and whether
or not you should be wearing a mask. We recently went into orange phase, so you can’t take your
mask off at all. Still, I have gotten used to the new way of learning, and all my classes are fun
and engaging.
At home, I sign in through Microsoft TEAMS and do my work online. I can usually get almost
as much work done online as I would at school. I have to log into class within the first fifteen
minutes for attendance. It is a little different in each class, but usually I have to say Here, either
in my private channel or as a reply to a post. The teachers usually post the work for the day in
TEAMS so we know what to do. Sometimes there is a video to watch to explain the lesson and
other times it is a continuation of the previous day’s lesson. I do not have to do the lesson at the
same time I would do it in class, as long as it is done by the end of the day. The freedom during
my at-home days is really nice, since I get to be more flexible with my schedule.
However, I do tend to get distracted sometimes at home, and I know I am not the only one, but
my work ethic has improved a lot since the beginning of the year. Having to hold myself
accountable for getting my work done has made me more responsible and a better learner
overall.
While COVID-19 has been stressful, there are some good things that I have gotten out of it. A
pro of the at-home learning is that I have been able to explore the different online resources
available to me more thoroughly. Since we are learning online, I have been working on reducing
the amount of work I do on paper. I am trying to transfer as much of my work online as possible,
and I have learned to take organized notes in One Note. Without distance learning, it would have
been years before I got my own laptop, and even longer before I figured out how useful many of
the apps can be.
I like the use of tech in class. If I lose a worksheet, there is always a copy on TEAMS. It is easy
to see all my assignments and I can chat with my teachers whenever I have a question. I like
being able to keep everything in the cloud, where I can access it anywhere on any device. I used
my Microsoft Office and Google Drive accounts a little bit before COVID, but now I have taken
it to the next level. I have not had to touch a single USB all year. I will always have my work
with me. Even when we go back to being in school all the time, I will still be taking advantage of
my office account.
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I miss the socialization from last year. Since we have to social distance in class, there is not as
much casual interaction as there was last year. You are always wearing a mask to talk to people.
I have not even met the half of my class that is at home while I am at school, which is kind of
disappointing. More teamwork with my classmates online would be nice. During our at- home
learning days, we do not do anything together. Everybody just does their work, and we talk about
it the next day. It is disappointing not to be able to have big debates with the entire class, to talk
about what we are learning about from all angles, and to get lots of different opinions. When I
am at home, I might be learning the same material, but I do not get the same learning experience.
I will continue using the new technology introduced to me during the pandemic even when we
return to full time in-person learning. I have gained many new tools that are not just useful for
school, but for just about everything I need to do. Nonetheless, I am anxious to leave distance
learning behind me. It is working fine for me to learn, but it is very stressful. There is a big
difference between messaging back and forth between a teacher and having a meaningful
conversation face to face with them. I feel like I am missing out on a bit on the classic high
school experience when I am at home, and I am hoping to meet the rest of my classmates
eventually. I don’t know how things are going to go for the rest of the year, and I know COVID
won’t be gone for a while, but I think it is best to remain optimistic.
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Mira Buckle
Newfoundland and Labrador
Brick-and-mortar secondary school
Classroom environment
My Life in School During Covid
Unlike many other students in the country, I am in a classroom full time. I am masked, I use lots
of hand sanitizer… but I am with my peers, learning in the same classes we did last year.
Ultimately, school doesn't look drastically different from last year. I come into school the regular
time, I go to my locker, grab my binders and head to class to sit in an assigned seat. I wear my
mask in all classes. At the end of the day, we have a scattered dismissal of three different times
to make the hallways less crowded and then I walk outside and take a much-needed deep breath
of fresh air.
In my biology class, we are unable to do labs this year due to Covid-19 guidelines. Since this is a
very hands-on, experiential course, we definitely lack the ability to fully connect with the
material this year. My teacher is doing modified labs, to the best of their ability, but it isn't the
same. I feel like my third level biology experience is definitely affected this semester but
everything else in the course is the same as it would be taught in a “normal” time.
In my English class, we have a class divided, half the class is like me we were unable to
complete English level 2 due to schools closing a quarter way through our second semester last
year. We are at a disadvantage compared to the other half of the class who had completed the
English Level 2 course. I have found that lack of foundation has made this course harder for me,
but my English teacher has been a wonderful support. I have been successful in the course so far,
however I am a “good student,” I cannot imagine how difficult it is for some students who were
forced to skip a level in English and are struggling to catch up.
The first day of school, four of my teachers mentioned the concept of “Social and Emotional
Learning.” I knew about this topic because I had done some reading on it, but it had never been
mentioned in school before. The teachers said there would be more of a focus on being kind and
understanding to students and each other this term. There would be more support for students, as
their teachers and peers may not truly understand what they are going through. With a growing
rate of teenage anxiety and depression, having the teachers address this was the best thing that
could have happened on the first day. One of my teachers has a sign in their classroom that says,
“Our checklist for every class this year, 1. Keep them safe, 2. Lower their anxiety about the
current situation, 3. Make them laugh, 4. Make them feel loved, 5. Teach them something/or
not.’’ I understand that schools are academically centered organizations, but having those other
elements as priorities is what will make a successful and healthy generation of youth.
In addition to more of a focus on student’s emotions, public exams and all midterm and final
exams were cancelled for semestered secondary schools in my province. This is a very large step
forward to focusing more on “deep learning.” All my courses are taught in such a way that it is
just to learn the material for the exam, after that many students forget everything they were
taught in a certain course because they didn't understand the material to begin with. This constant
cycle of memorization and testing is not healthy for students and is definitely not the most
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effective way to learn. I feel like a transition into project and self-driven learning will be sped up
due to the pandemic.
A concern I have for my school experience is if we have to move to online learning. I do not feel
that teachers or students are prepared to make that transition at my school. I have heard that
teachers have received training to use online teaching platforms, but students need the same. The
school system cannot assume that because we are young we know how to use all kinds of
technology and programs; as someone from that population, we don't have that knowledge. It
seems like my school district is just hoping we don't have to move online instead of preparing to
do so. I am concerned about the mental health of students and teachers who feel incapable of
using technology so heavily.
My learning experience this year has a different feel to it. School is more regulated and serious,
but it needs to be in this situation. In saying that, there is a lot of support for students and many
teachers have become more understanding of individual circumstances. I feel that this pandemic
has shown that schools need to put more effort into maintaining positive mental health in
students and with the cancellation of publics (exams) find other ways to assess learning. It is
difficult because schools also need to maintain high academic expectations for their students.
The way the school system works is being tipped on its head but it is undergoing many changes
for the better. The Covid-19 pandemic is certainly to thank for the beginning of this huge change.
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Parent Vignettes
Parents have been impacted significantly by school lockdowns during the pandemic. In the
Spring they were forced to juggle work and their child’s learning from home. If not in essential
services, many were also trying to work from home if they were able to. Needless to say that
experience was not wanting to be replicated in the Fall. The plans to reopen the schools were
welcomed by most, and those that had health concerns about their children being in school
buildings turned to remote learning again. In some instances those remote learning options were
not available to some parents, or deemed to be ‘underwhelming’ and lacking the quality they
expected for their child/ren. Those parents found themselves forced into making decisions they
never would, or could have, anticipated.
We start with Verena Roberts, an experienced online educator in K-12 and post-secondary
institutions, and proponent of open content and resources for all teachers. She is also the parent
of three children in grades 5-10 in Alberta. She believed with her skills and experience would
support her ability to ensure her children would be successful in remote learning. She found out
she was wrong. Read her account of what she learned which can inform all of us who use online
technologies and modalities to offer learning opportunities for our students, young and old.
Next is Briana Doyle, a Québec parent of three children learning from home during the
pandemic. Briana clearly describes the critical things that teachers do to build a connection with
her children, and it is not broadcasting the school classroom and teacher to the students who are
at home. Needless to say, she deplores “Zoom School”. She believes, and found, that structuring
individual or small group sessions with students, establishing rapport, playing games, providing
feedback, and aligning activities to each child’s interests is the key to success.
The third vignette is from Melanie Rakovski, a mother of three children in Québec. She
describes why her two school-aged children left public school in the Spring for homeschooling
because of the limited provision of formal learning and the family’s personal health concerns.
Melanie offers how her disappointment in public education led to making a commitment to
homeschool their children this entire school year. After following the advice of others forced to
do the same, they left one homeschool provider offering learning support from a teacher/tutor,
they switched to a different provider and found success. They now plan to continue to
homeschool through the rest of the pandemic and likely beyond.
Finally, a vignette from Dale Kirby, an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at
Memorial University in Newfoundland, and also the parent of a Grade 3 student and husband of
a primary teacher. Dale provides his own unique glimpse into life and schooling during the
pandemic in both the Spring shutdown of schools and the Fall start up amidst health restrictions.
While he describes a return to a “new” normalcy, Dale provides a description of the value of
being in the classroom and school building and shares an observation that the “socio-emotional
and developmental benefits of in-person instruction for our child seem far more apparent than
they did before.” He voices his concerns for his family about a return to remote learning, as a
further lockdown looms.
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Verena Roberts
Alberta
Brick-and-mortar secondary school
Remote learning environment
Parenting Online HUB Students During a Pandemic
As an experienced online educator, in K-12 and higher education contexts, I responded to the
whole world of remote access and online learning in my own children’s contexts with rose tinted
glasses. My 2019 dissertation research focused on how to expand learning from face to face
classrooms into digital networked learning communities in high school learning contexts.
As the
pandemic began, I genuinely felt that I had the experience, knowledge, skills and evidence
informed research to support my own children in succeeding in remote access learning. Even as
an experienced online educator, I had no idea how much I had to learn.
Choosing Online Fall 2020
When we were asked in August 2020 to choose the medium in which our children would learn, I
asked my children what they would want to do. My grade 10 daughter informed me that going
back to a face to face learning environment would best support her learning. She goes to a
private school and we were sent a COVID Protocol Handbook based on evidence informed
research to follow. We were sent surveys form the school administration team and we were
encouraged to meet with the admin team personally if we had any concerns. The school
protocols included mandatory masks and protective equipment and restricted access to “cohorts”
created by grade level and geographic area. We were informed that the protocols would change
based on the most current research and health policies. The school also created an app to track
medical information which prevented students from coming to school with any symptoms or
contact with COVID. The handbook, the surveys, the communication, the app, the transparency,
the safety protocols all ensured I felt safe enough to send her to school. It should be noted that I
did speak with the administrative team about my privacy concerns with the “online” option of
students coming into the class through Zoom and having any of the students recorded. My
feedback was taken into account and there are no recordings for students who chose to learn
online at the private school.
In the last few weeks in August, our local public district offered all students the opportunity to
learn online. Although our school district already had an online school, they decided to create an
Online HUB, which offered all students the opportunity to take their courses online and be
affiliated with their “home base” schools . The expectation would be that they would take all
their courses online and in January 2021 they would be offered the opportunity to come back into
face to face learning environments if they chose to do so.
As a result, the students would follow a blended synchronous model of learning. A blended
synchronous model means that they follow curriculum at the same pace as the face to face
classes in their home base schools, they have synchronous sessions each day (or each week-
depending on the subject) and they are expected to complete assignments outside of synchronous
webinar times online and offline.
See https://prism.ucalgary.ca/handle/1880/110926
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Benefits of Online HUB
Both of my boys chose to register in the Online HUB and have multiple positive things to say
about their experiences. The benefits of this program have been the flexibility and opportunity to
work on assignments for about four hours a day, then spend time doing other things every day.
This is similar to the K-12 online learning programs of “Pre-COVID” days. As a k-12 online
teacher, it was normal for students to work on assignments in their own time and own pace, with
the support of a parent or caregiver. The boys have commented that without the distractions,
noise and disruptions of school, they are able to get more things completed in far less time. They
also have the opportunity to connect one on one with any of their teachers throughout the week
should they have any problems or concerns.
Other benefits of online learning include the ability to complete assignments using technology.
Both of my sons have had limited integration of technology in their previous face to face
learning experiences. The digital literacies of both of the boys have increased dramatically as
they are encouraged to use learning management systems (LMS), solve their own technology
problems, interact and communicate in online spaces and create digital assignments. My grade
nine son also appreciates the fact that his peers in face to face learning environments are banned
from using their cell phones and he is able to access his cell phone (and social media) and
technology to distract himself and complete assignments throughout the day. He argues, “I get
my work done I can complete my work and have access to TikTok”.
The primary benefit is the safe and consistent learning space. Although it was a rocky start as
teachers were overwhelmed with schedules, LMS platforms, digital tools and way too many
students at the beginning of the term - things have calmed down. We have watched the steady
inconsistency in face to face schools as students have been asked to isolate at home or complete
courses in half the time in order to accommodate schedules. When you learn online, you always
have something to do should you choose to do something.
The biggest criticism of having kids learn online rather than go to a face to face school is the
impact on their mental health. Up to last week, the boys participated in extracurricular sports.
Their participation ensured that they had the same opportunity to interact and connect with other
kids their age. Now that extra-curricular activities are banned and COVID numbers are rising,
the online learning “feels” more isolating which is similar to the spring and I do see some impact
on their mental health. As a result, I have to step up and interact and communicate more as well
as participate in active outdoor activities. The teachers can’t be expected to support my kid’s
mental health at all times - it takes a village.
I also want to mention how student-teacher-parent relationships in online learning experiences
greatly influence my kids. For example, two of my teen son’s teacher’s send emails to the
parents on a pretty regular basis to keep us updated about what is happening. As a result, we are
all better able to understand course expectations, struggles and successes. Having multiple
teachers, in multiple learning management systems, with multiple schedules and multiple
pedagogical approaches does make learning difficult. I have noticed that my teen son has to
figure out what “learning game” to play in order to succeed in each course. He has the strategies
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and abilities to figure most of this out. However, many of his friends, who are also learning
online, connect with my son throughout the day to try and figure out what to do and how to do it.
I encouraged my son to try and get to know his teachers in order to figure out what he needs to
do and some of his teachers had made multiple efforts to get to know and connect with him. Due
to the teachers having way too many students in their classes (i.e., there is no limit on class sizes
in Alberta K-12 online environments), my teen son has not had a lot of feedback from his
teachers and the lack of feedback greatly influences his learning relationships. As a parent I
perceive a teacher's dependence on Zoom (i.e., webinar) sessions as a means to interact and
connect with the students. In reality there are multiple ways to develop online relationships,
however, teachers seem to be dependent upon face to face learning interaction models. This is
not apparent in all classes or with all teachers.
Alternatively, my grade five son has one teacher. The teacher spent a lot of time developing
relationships with all of her students at the beginning of September. She has one LMS platform
and clearly communicated her schedule and expectations to her students. As my son says, she
obviously knows how to “use technology because she knows what she is doing and how to do
it”. Her obvious strength in digital literacies is MUCH appreciated as then I spend less time as a
parent explaining things and pulling digital assignments apart so my kids can actually complete
them. She also talks with her students and tells them about herself. For example, when she went
away to visit her parents, my son asked me if she would be able to access his homework from her
parent’s house? She also gives the students feedback in timely ways, so they know how they are
doing, they feel supported and they have some accountability for their learning. I would argue
that she would have done this in a face to face learning context as well. This teacher has proven
to me that building relationships, being flexible - yet scheduled, having digital literacy skills and
being a clear communicator are essential to being a K-12 online teacher at ANY time.
Things to Consider As a Privileged Online Learning Family
Access to technology and infrastructure: Like in any learning environment, students need to
have working tools to support their learning and the wifi to be able to connect to the teachers and
learning platforms. This also includes the digital resources and assignments that are being
provided in the courses. For example, my teen son still gets exercises that he cannot complete
because of the digital format especially PDFs. We ended up caving and buying him a laptop so
he could access everything. Alternatively my younger son’s teacher makes collaborative and
easy to copy google.docs that can be easily shared back with the teacher. Google Docs and
collaborative digital tools provide the most options for the most students. Although I do realize
as an online educator that they also share the most data and can put the student information at
risk.
Another concern in online learning is the lack of access to learning resources. Both of my
children point out that their courses are created on a weekly basis and include inconsistent
resources. Many of the resources are made by the teachers and are difficult to understand or are
not creative commons licensed.
As an online teacher and specialist in open educational
resources (OER)
, I know that there are resources and courses available and should have been
See https://creativecommons.org/
See http://bolt.athabascau.ca/index.php/oer/multiply-k-12-alberta-oer-project/
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prioritized and made publicly accessible by our provincial governments. There is no reason
teachers are expected to create and build content when Canadian taxpayers are contributing
thousands of dollars to our provincial education systems. All curricular content made by public
districts should be openly accessible to all other public districts. As a parent, I am extremely
frustrated that courses were not shared across the province to every district and that every district
did not start with a course template that the teachers could remix from. The teachers do not have
the time, or in many cases the digital literacies, to design courses, content, and activities. Their
time should be devoted to building relationships and giving students feedback on their evidence
of learning.
Synchronous Webinars: I have searched the literature for evidence informed research to
support multiple synchronous zoom sessions everyday for K-12 students. I have yet to find any
data to support this model. One of the reasons remote learning worked for my boys was because
of the opportunity to integrate informal and formal learning with no or limited synchronous
sessions. While there is value in clarifying expectations, structure and communication by
meeting synchronously, it is essential that teachers, administrators and districts consider WHY
they are mandating synchronous webinars. Just because we can create models that emulate face
to face traditional teaching environments does not mean we should.
Unsupervised Social Interactions: As we lose the opportunity to connect and interact in
extra-curricular activities, online students need to connect and interact in other ways.
Considering group work will not only help with assessment (i.e., less marking), but it will also
create authentic and meaningful learning opportunities that teach students how to connect and
collaborate online. For every synchronous webinar with the teacher, there should be two
asynchronous “social learning times' with their peers - especially in cohorts which follow the
same curriculum and schedule as those in face to face schools. My kids need to connect and
interact in safe online spaces like blogging, book clubs, Minecraft and gaming and expert
webinars. It has been done before
and we can think of ways to integrate safe group interactions
in our online learning spaces.
Teacher Wellness and Being Human: I was hesitant to write anything about being a parent of
any child going to school during the pandemic, regardless if your child is learning online or face
to face. Teachers are exhausted, they deserve our appreciation and need to feel valued and realize
their integral part of any child’s success in online learning - especially during a pandemic. So I
want to acknowledge that teachers have been amazing human beings and supported my kids (and
thousands of others) in these difficult times and I want to do nothing but say thank you and
appreciate you for making a difference in my kid’s lives.
In conclusion, I realize I am speaking from the perspective of the privileged of the privileged in
this paper. I appreciate that my children have the infrastructure to support their learning by
having their own laptops, enough wifi and parent tech support. I realize that they have the
opportunity to learn online (e.g., some provinces did not offer online options) and my children
have parents who are working from home who can supervise and support them. My son confided
in me that he would not feel the same confidence in learning online without his parents, as we
have his back and can support him when he has technology issues or curriculum questions.
See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Qw0ykbOt6I&list=ULabsjEiqicw4&index=2229
27
I would agree that my children have the macro conditions they needed to succeed in online
learning.
Nevertheless, it is the teacher’s pedagogical approaches and ability to be flexible and responsive
that have made their experience successful thus far. In fact, it is those teachers who encourage a,
it takes a village pedagogical approach”, knowing that not all members of a community can
contribute - but many can! Many of the teachers have been making multiple attempts to connect
and interact with children and parents. While I have had to support my children in figuring out
each teacher’s process, my children have had to learn how to advocate for their own learning by
communicating with their teachers. In general, the learning has been community focused. I have
been included as a part of the learning process and I deeply appreciate the teachers who
communicate with me so I know how to best support my children.
My children all need different learning environments. My daughter goes to a face to face school,
and we are now in Covid isolation due to a school outbreak so she is desperately trying to
figure out her online course work. My teen son would probably be as successful (or less) in a
face to face classroom. He would be most successful in a blended environment (i.e., some online
and some at school). He is easily distracted and I am grateful for the course activities and
opportunity to learn online but he misses his friends.
However, my youngest is excelling in his class. While I would like to say it is because of online
learning, I believe it is due to the teacher-student relationship that the teacher created at the
beginning of the year, the timely and consistent feedback that builds his confidence in what he is
learning and the opportunity to be creative with his assignments. In my opinion, it is not the
medium that determines the learning success, it is the way a teacher teaches, their pedagogical
values and approach, that determine learner success.
I cannot help but think about how this new confidence and development of skills in online
learning contexts will be transferred into face to face settings when we “go back to normal” .
From a parent’s perspective, I fear that we will go back to the way things were, rather than
considering and responding to the amazing learning experiences happening everyday in our K-12
online contexts. No, online learning is not perfect. But it is pretty amazing and previously
inconceivable and I am so proud to be part of the potential transformation of K-12 education.
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Briana Doyle
Québec
Brick-and-mortar school
Remote learning environment
Zoom School
It was the painful experience of “virtual” school in the early days of the pandemic that
motivated me to homeschool this year. It wasn’t just COVID that scared me — it was the fear
that we’d be back to school-by-Zoom when the second wave came.
I don’t blame the teachers. They tried their best. Yet when I listened in on my youngest’s first-
grade Zoom calls, I could hear that the teacher spent much of the lesson explaining how to
mute, or unmute, reminding children not to fidget, or that yes the dog is cute but right now we
need to focus on the story we’re reading.
My little one sat gamely in front of the screen, but I could see in her face that she wasn’t
getting much enjoyment or learning out of it. My middle daughter, then in grade five, hated
Zoom school so much that she simply refused it. My middle schooler found it boring too, but
appreciated the efficiency of being able to turn in assignments on his own pace and spend less
time in “class.”
I’ve since learned that it wasn’t Zoom that was the problem. It was the lack of connection. The
strategies teachers use in the classroom to engage with students don’t always translate easily to
online learning.
As an Anglophone family, we realized we needed help to include French in our homeschool
program. We turned once again to learning-via-videoconference, this time with a private tutor
who works over Google Hangouts. This time, it has been a remarkably good experience for my
children.
All three were reluctant to speak in French, especially since they were rusty after so many
months in isolation from French-speaking teachers and peers. Yet the tutor, Laurence, was able
to connect with each child by focusing on the things they loved best and flipping the script to
ask the children to teach her about something they care about.
Each weekly session is an hour long, much longer than the previous Zoom classes, yet the time
flies by for the kids because the work they are doing is linked to things they enjoy. My eighth-
grader is “teaching” Laurence all about his favourite Greek myths, retelling them in French for
her benefit. My daughters, now in grades six and two, show her how to braid friendship
bracelets and fold origami, tell her about the art they have made and talk about the funny
things their pets do. Along with all the fun stuff, the tutor gently teaches them new vocabulary
that relates to their interests, plays games with them online, and assigns them homework
targeted to their skills and interests.
We’ve had similarly good experiences with LEARN Quebec as well, a free tutoring program
for Anglophone families. These sessions are shorter, only half an hour each, and the tutor
changes for each one, so there isn’t as much opportunity to develop a personal rapport. Yet
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like Laurence, the tutors are able to target their teaching specifically to the children’s needs
and learning styles, and the result is very effective. They also take advantage of screen-sharing
capabilities to play games together online that reinforce specific skills.
After seeing the different approaches taken for online learning, my takeaways are these:
One-on-one or smaller group sessions appear to be much more effective for learning
Taking the time to develop rapport between teacher and student makes children much
more likely to “tune in” to lessons
Using screen sharing to play games or provide feedback on a child’s homework can be
helpful and engaging.
When teaching is aligned with a child’s interests and personality online learning can be
very powerful
My kids have since tried a number of very well regarded online learning programs, educational
apps, and remote tutoring solutions. I’ve learned that while video-based lessons and online
programs like IXL work well for my middle schooler, the younger two become disengaged
from learning unless they feel a personal connection with a teacher or already have a deep
interest in the subject. It makes sense: young children are wired to seek connection and learn
best through physical experiences.
It’s tempting to want to prop a video camera up in a classroom and simply record the teacher at
work, or to have the teacher speak to 30 kids at once, rather than repeat the lesson in smaller
group sessions or one-on-one. Yet from what I’ve observed, the larger the group is, the harder
it is for even the most caring educator to create a sense of connection with individual students.
If there’s one thing I have learned from my homeschooling experience so far it is that there is
no substitute for human connection and that it is possible to experience this sense of
connection with a teacher online. It isn’t so different after all: it happens when the teacher
listens and tunes in to the student as an individual. It happens when the student feels seen, and
when they believe the teacher really cares about what they do and say. The younger the
student, the more important relationships are to learning.
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Melanie Rakovski
Québec
Brick-and-mortar school
Homeschool environment
If you had asked me a year ago if I would homeschool our children, I would have laughed at the
notion. My husband and I never even considered the idea of having our kids homeschooled. In
fact, we used to use it as a threat/joke with our kids saying “you’re going to get home schooled!”
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, our homeschooling journey began unknowingly.
Our kids had been attending public schools in the West Island of Montreal until the Spring when,
due to the government directives, there was no formal learning put into place until June. Luckily,
we had the foresight to put an immediate plan into action, having our daughters meet virtually
with their tutors three times per week (i.e., 30 minutes at a time), continuing on with their course
curriculum, and having assigned homework keep them challenged, busy and connected to their
education plan. This helped because they never fully disconnected from the learning process. Of
course we had our fun, watched movies, went for drives and walks and took up new hobbies like
most others did. We took advantage of many of the free activities and learning opportunities that
became available online to everyone. This paved the way for building our own educational path
while we awaited news about COVID and if/when schools would reopen.
My concerns about schooling and what the future held were always at the forefront of my mind
though. With no sleep away camp options on the horizon for the summer and no sign of being
out of the COVID woods, I knew that going back to school in the Fall was not an option for our
kids. Not only was I terribly afraid of infection, but I knew I would be highly stressed sending
my kids into schools where mask-wearing would not be enforced. It was for this reason, coupled
with my lack of faith in the public school’s ability to provide a well thought out and consistent
learning plan for the entire year, which drove me to seek alternative solutions. I knew I could not
sit around, waiting to see what the government would decide next. I had to take matters into my
own hands.
We have three kids, ages 12, 10 and four. The plan to homeschool our four year old son was
enough of an undertaking and so I knew that with such a needy little tyke like him, I would never
be able to properly deliver my daughters’ course curriculum on my own and so I decided to find
help. In my circle of friends and family, there are only a couple of people who had chosen to take
this route and so initially I felt very alone. Thanks to Facebook, I discovered and joined some
groups that have provided priceless support and information to help guide us on this journey. I
am so grateful for these resources and the warm members of those groups who are so willing to
share and help each other. I don’t know what I would do without them.
I remember the day when I submitted the notice to the Direction de l’enseignement à la maison
(i.e., DEM is the home school education department of the Québec Ministry of Education) that
we would be homeschooling our daughters this year. I will never forget the feeling I had just
before hitting the “submit” button. Not sure why, but I felt like this was a huge, life altering,
earth shifting moment. I even hesitated to click the button for nearly a minute out of fear. Fear of
whether we were making the right choice, not just from a COVID /health perspective, but for our
children’s well being. Would they learn everything their friends would be learning? Would they
be behind or ahead by the end of the year? How will they manage socially? Are we, as parents,
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going to be able to manage? These are still questions I have and will only be able to properly
answer them as this school year nears its end.
But the school year certainly kicked off in a different way for us this year. Usually we take
photos of our daughters in their uniforms on the front steps of the house or outside their school
like so many do. This year, while all their friends were experiencing their first day of school
(during a pandemic) following the Labour Day weekend, we were out in a fishing boat in the
middle of a lake in the Laurentians having a grand day. It was gorgeous and sunny; we were
enjoying each other, nature and the moment. This was definitely different but in a great way.
Once homeschooling began in mid-September with their private teacher, it took a few weeks to
get both girls back into the routine of investing more time into their studies and homework than
they had been used to over the past six months. We went through some challenges, adapting to
this new way of learning and functioning. In the end, we decided to switch teachers because it
was apparent that it was not a great fit for our girls. So, only five weeks into the school year we
pivoted and made the change to move them to another provider, which more closely resembled
being in a formal school setting. They were learning with other children online and meeting new
people. My girls got off their first call with the new provider and ran downstairs to share their
excitement and gratitude with me for having made this change. They are now completing their
fourth week with this company and they are thriving. They are engaged, love their teachers, love
the type of homework that is being assigned and the tools they are using to do it all. Although
they had to catch up on five weeks of assignments in order to be properly evaluated, they are
motivated and happy and wish their class time was longer than the 50 minutes they get each day.
This company has done a stellar job overall and left us feeling confident in our decision.
It has been a trying eight months for everyone and we have all had our own journey. With three
children, one of whom is of daycare age and relishes in terrorizing everyone and demands
constant attention, the days are very long, difficult and emotionally draining. People are not
meant to be with each other 24/7/365 no matter how much you love one another. Some days are
really great but it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Yet, my daughters are discovering their
interests and talents, and developing new hobbies and skills. Our eldest approached me last week
saying she loves this format so much that she would choose to do it again next year. This was so
incredibly surprising, after having watched her mourn the loss of her elementary school
graduation and not being able to experience high school like most of her friends currently are.
This speaks volumes about our daughters’ homeschooling experience thus far.
My perspective on homeschooling has been forever changed. I do not know how society led
most to believe that formal schooling is the only good option out there but people in general have
a fear of doing something different outside society’s “norm”. I’m so glad we had the courage to
go with our gut and take the plunge. We are now able to see the multitude of benefits of taking
the path less traveled. I think it is a path we will continue on for years to come.
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Dale Kirby
Newfoundland and Labrador
Brick-and-mortar elementary school
Classroom environment
A Parent’s View to Schooling in a Pandemic
In March 2020, with the emergence of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Newfoundland and
Labrador's public school system suspended all K-12 in-class instruction for the remainder of
the 2019-20 school year as a precautionary measure. For the remainder of that school year, our
province's teachers, including our son's Grade 3 teacher, gave their best effort to utilize remote
instruction, online and otherwise, to support students and parents and make the best of an
unexpected and unprecedented situation.
This was a new experience for us as parents, with my wife, who is a primary-elementary
teacher, leading our son's home-based learning in conjunction with his homeroom teacher. Our
son’s class participated in twice-weekly live activities online and, periodically, I would
provide support and supervision for him while my wife attended to her own remote teaching
responsibilities. As with many parents who have found themselves in this situation this year,
taking responsibility for a child’s remote learning is not an easy assignment, especially since it
was clear each day that our son was experiencing the stresses of isolation and not interacting
with his school friends, or any friends for that matter, as he normally would.
During the summer months leading into the 2020-21 school year, we kept our fingers crossed
with the hope that in-school instruction, and some sense of normalcy, would return for
September. To our relief, in mid-August the school district announced its "Safe Return to
School” plan. Part of this plan included providing a number of days of professional learning
for teachers and school staff at the beginning of the school year in order to prepare to receive
students who had been away from the physical school setting for more than five consecutive
months. This delayed the re-opening of school for about a week but, like many parents, we
welcomed this as a minor inconvenience.
One of the new administrative practices at our son's school, as with all of the others in
Newfoundland and Labrador, is parents' daily review of a COVID-19 screening questionnaire.
This questionnaire must be reviewed each day and asks questions about any symptoms of
illness, out-of-province travel, and actual or potential COVID-19 contacts. This questionnaire
is completed daily by teachers and school staff as well. As my wife and son are at the same
school, each day I have benefited from a dinner table briefing on how things are going from
both of their perspectives. With a few exceptions, we are grateful to be experiencing a school
year that thus far resembles normalcy.
While some students may choose to wear masks in school depending on their family’s
preference, masks are, so far, not mandatory in K-6 schools in our province. However, adults
are required to wear masks when physical distancing is not an option. Some extra-curricular
activities have been curtailed while others have been canceled, such as field trips and outings
at the swimming pool that require students to travel by bus. Similarly, after school activities by
school and outside organizations have not been permitted to proceed as usual this year. This
has required our son's Scouts Canada group, along with other similar groups, to find other
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venues for their activities if possible. Understandably, some alternate community venues are
not available this year due to concerns of liability.
While I have grown accustomed to occasionally going into school to pick up our son for
activities and appointments, this year, with very few exceptions, no parents, guardians,
volunteers, or visitors are permitted to visit the school. On a positive note, depending on your
perspective, vending machines offering up potentially questionable dietary supplements are not
operating this year either. And, to the relief of others perhaps, all school fundraising activities
have been suspended until further notice.
While this has resembled a normal school year in many ways, of course it is not at all normal.
Our schools, workplaces, and communities are consumed with discussions of pandemic-related
developments and concerns. As with many across the county, each day we await the news of
COVID cases, the potential for new restrictions on our daily routines, and measure these
against the potential impact on the remainder of the school year and our lives in general.
Despite the level of community concern and anxiety in and out of school, the return to school
since September has been a much welcome change from the alternative we experienced during
the extended school closure last Spring. The resumption of in-school instruction and the
socialization that comes with it have been most welcome for everyone in our family.
Following our experience with the remote schooling exercise in the Spring, the socio-
emotional and developmental benefits of in-person instruction for our child seem far more
apparent than they did before.
Of course, all of this is subject to change and dependent on public health measures enacted by
government and school district authorities. The school re-opening plan announced in August
includes scenarios for a) partial in-school attendance with additional health measures or b) at-
home learning in the event of the suspension of in-school attendance. Thus far, only one school
in Newfoundland and Labrador has reported an incidence of COVID infection. This resulted in
a two-day suspension of classes for its students, teachers, and staff. This is the sort of
development that many, perhaps most, parents are dreading. And, as we look toward the winter
months and the remainder of the school year, we continue to cross our fingers and hope that
the new normal for schooling here continues.
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Teacher Vignettes
If students and parents faced uncertainty in the Fall of 2020, teachers were even more invested in
what might happen given their responsibility for the learning and safety of the students they
would face. Compounding this, many teachers are parents with children of their own entering a
changing and dynamic education landscape amidst increasing community COVID-19 infections
in their community. All eyes were on government announcements, health protocols, physical
distancing in schools, and masks. Calls for smaller class sizes, more effective cleaning protocols,
funding for remote learning, and mask mandates dominated the social and media conversation.
Against this backdrop, teachers put aside their concerns and fears and plunged ahead putting
their student’s interests at heart. Like in the Spring where parades of teachers in cars meandered
school neighbourhoods, teachers started by putting the social and emotional needs of their
students first, curriculum second. At times this was in conflict with the expectations of parents,
some of the students, and the ministries governing public education and health. The teachers in
this selection of narratives tell the story of how this focus on the wellbeing of their students
contributed to student wellbeing and learning.
The first vignette was written by Suzanne Chisholm, a teacher in Saanich Schools on Vancouver
Island. She holds a doctorate in education and her research interests include how districts can
optimize the use of educational technology in schools to improve student outcomes. Suzanne
provides a description of her time in an elementary school classroom during the Spring pandemic
and then offers reflections on her new teaching position at the district’s online school, SIDES,
during this Fall. In both situations she used four underlying philosophies to support her practice:
equity, engagement, excellence, and empathy. Suzanne found some success in both instances,
concluding that, “accepting that the exact opportunities and learning experiences will be different
for students at home was an important part of successful hybrid teaching for me”.
Next, Heather Corman. a secondary teacher at Navigate/North Island Distance Education School,
an online school also based on Vancouver Island, describes how in the past teaching online
typically meant content delivery and marking. Heather describes how online teachers are more
than that now, busy with emails, phone calls, meetings, marking, reporting, and curriculum
development. In fact, she indicates online teachers are even more busy since the pandemic began
as many new students have signed up for existing online programs rather than be in a school and
a remote learning situation. Because of this, Heather argues it is essential that class size limits be
put in place for online schools given the increasing numbers and the demands of a quadmester
(two month quarterly semesters) system in neighbourhood schools.
The third vignette was written by Krystyna Villanueva-Gruszecka, a mentor teacher in Webequie
First Nation, Ontario and has been with the Keewaytinook Internet High School since 2017.
Krystyna teaches in a physical classroom in Webequie as well as online teaching music, foods
and nutrition, and family studies. She shares her experiences about how connecting with her
students regularly via social media was, and continues to be, a key component of her success
with adult and youth learners in the community. She also describes how her tried and true
practices of hand delivering print materials and resources directly to students filled in gaps when
digital and online delivery was not reaching some of them.
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Finally, a vignette from Jonathan Burke, a teacher at Avoca Collegiate K-9 Community School
in Badger, Newfoundland and Labrador, describes how besides sanitizing and spacing to
increase physical distancing, Trauma Informed Practice (TIP) and Social Emotional Learning
(SEL) were foundational pieces for his practice. TIP and SEL were the main focus of the five
professional development days provided for teachers at the opening of the school year. He writes
how, despite the relatively few cases of infection, smaller numbers of students, and “luck”
relative to other schools both in the province and country, teaching was anything but normal. He
describes how “pandemic fatigue” is fast becoming more prominent with all the changes and
accommodations required to teach this Fall. With students not wearing masks properly, the
constant vigilance to ensure protocol is followed is exhausting and patience for everyone is
wearing thin. Teachers cannot wait for the upcoming holiday break to rest, recharge, and
reconnect with their own family.
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Suzanne Chisholm
British Columbia
Online secondary school
Remote learning environment
Hybrid Teaching during COVID-19
In June, 2020, after two full months of remote teaching during a pandemic, British Columbia’s
K-12 public school teachers headed back into our classrooms for a month. But things were
dramatically different from what they had been just a few months earlier.
In early March, I had been teaching a lively class of 24 Grade 4/5 students. In June, after a
two-month lockdown for COVID-19, parents were given a choice: send your child back to the
classroom, or keep your child at home. About half of my class came back.
Elementary schools in Saanich Schools, where I teach, structured a cohort model in which half
of the returning students would attend two days a week and the other half would attend two
different days a week. The fifth day would be devoted to remote opportunities for all students.
So, on Mondays and Tuesdays, I had six students in our once-bustling classroom, on
Wednesdays and Thursdays I had seven, and on Fridays I focused on those who were at home.
On the days when a student was not in the classroom, they could learn remotely. Thus, we had
a hybrid classroom a blend of in-class and remote learning.
There were four underlying philosophies that drove me as I planned lessons for the month of
June: equity, engagement, excellence, and empathy. How could I ensure fair learning
opportunities for all my students? How could I engage all my students, both those in class and
those at home, every day of the week? What strategies and pedagogies had been successful
during remote teaching, and how could I leverage those to make the most of a single month
during a school year like no other? How could I be mindful of and sensitive to the home
circumstances of each my students during a global pandemic?
During remote instruction in April and May, my teaching partner and I had built a five-day
weekly learning plan for our students. Each week we produced a Google Slides deck with a
slide for each day. Learning opportunities were provided in literacy, math, science, social
studies, and French. Much of my material came from the excellent and already-established
South Island Distance Education School (SIDES), which is designed to deliver the full BC
curriculum to at-home learners. Using this content was crucial for me. I simply could not have
created on my own the range of rich and relevant lessons that I used from SIDES. Some
students absolutely thrived. For others, engaging in remote lessons was challenging, and some
of those families chose not to participate, and essentially home-schooled their children with
their own activities.
When I came back into the classroom in June, I planned to stick with the same five-day
schedule, and I continued to produce the weekly five-slide lesson plan deck for all families.
Students at home would know exactly what was being taught on any particular day in the
classroom, and on days when my in-class learners were at home, they could pick up exactly
where we left off with the content. It was highly structured and had a variety of engaging
lessons. As is often the case in an elementary classroom, things didn’t go exactly as planned.
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My initial hope was to livestream some classes. The idea was to include the at-home learners
and give them academic opportunities, but also to try to re-create the social fabric of our once-
bustling classroom. It was a good idea in theory, but in practice, it didn’t work. We were not
technologically equipped for it. The first day that an at-home student called in to attend our
math class, the audio quality was poor, and it was clear that we would need anyone who was
speaking in the class to use a microphone because the computer audio was insufficient to pick
up voices from across the room. However, because we were vigilant about keeping our
distance in the classroom and avoiding touching common surfaces, passing a mic would not
work.
Another day, an at-home student joined the class via video conference and showed how she
designed and built a self-propelled racer car for our science unit on simple machines. My in-
class students watched her on the screen with only moderate interest. The audio was poor and
they couldn’t see the car very well. But when the time came for an in-class student to
demonstrate her own elastic-propelled car, and for the class to watch it speed across the
polished floor, reverse, then lurch forward, there was no contest. It was much more fun and
engaging for the students to watch the real thing, and to predict, measure, discuss and laugh
inside our classroom. How many times would this thing reverse, anyway?
We all know that you cannot entirely replicate all classroom activities at home, and sometimes
even the best technology is no substitute. There is often a certain spontaneous synergy that gets
sparked in a classroom. For example, students in my Wednesday-Thursday cohort asked if
they could produce a news show about what it is like to go to school during a pandemic. They
were all extremely engaged and it quickly became exactly the kind of student-led, inquiry-
based, hands-on cross-curricular project that we all wish we could do every day with our
students. I had hoped that we could directly involve the at-home students in the news show.
But when I saw the in-class students sketch and colour a logo, write a script, wander around
the playground and through the halls filming with an iPad, and discuss how it would be edited
and distributed, I realized we simply couldn’t involve the at-home learners meaningfully. Most
of my planned lessons were tossed in favour of the news story project for my Wednesday-
Thursday learners, but I think it resulted in some of their best learning all year.
One week, our math lessons involved calculating how much money and what combination of
coins we would need for a trip to the market across the street to buy a chocolate bar for each
student, and at lunchtime I went to the market and spent my coins on the goods. Our at-home
learners obviously could not participate. For physical education, we went to a nearby tennis
court each day for a week to play, and although one at-home learner joined us one day, it was
mostly the in-class learners who benefited from this.
Part of this felt unfair to me. But as I thought more about it and observed how the different
ways of learning work in the real world, I understood that there were also many rich and
meaningful learning experiences that the at-home learners enjoyed. One girl learned about area
and perimeter on MS Teams one morning, and took it to the next dimension that afternoon as
she helped her father calculate the volume of topsoil they would need for their raised garden
beds. Many of my students excelled at home, and some families told me that learning away
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from a noisy, distraction-laden classroom was a far better learning environment for their child.
Meanwhile, several of my in-class learners told me that their June was the best month of
school they’d ever had. Perhaps it was due to the small class sizes, in which classroom
management was non-existent. Perhaps they felt safe and confident in our close-knit circle.
Perhaps we had a sample-selection bias, in that everyone who was there had chosen to be in
school.
I now teach remotely full-time at SIDES. In recent parent-teacher interviews, some families
told me their children are learning far more than they ever did in their neighbourhood schools.
It takes high-quality learning materials, and a high degree of student and parent commitment,
but it can absolutely work. My conclusion is that remote learning can be highly effective, that
in-class learning can be highly effective, and that hybrid learning can be highly effective.
However, they are vastly different learning environments and should be respected and
managed for their separate strengths.
We are trained as teachers to differentiate our classroom practices so we can best support a
diversity of learners, and doing the same to adapt to hybrid or remote contexts is no different.
Accepting that the exact opportunities and learning experiences will be different for students at
home was an important part of successful hybrid teaching for me. Different is perfectly fine, as
long as the underlying ingredients of equity, engagement, excellence, and empathy sprinkled
with flexibility are at the forefront of our teaching practice, wherever we are, and wherever
our students are.
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Heather Corman
British Columbia
Online secondary school
Remote learning environment
The Distributed Learning Experience
This is my thirty-fourth year as an educator. Most of that time has been spent teaching
secondary English (in all its forms). I moved from the brick and mortar school to distance
learning two years ago, so this is my second year as a full-time DL
teacher, teaching English
Studies 12. My journey to becoming a DL teacher was gradual. I slowly began integrating
different online tools in my lessons. It started with a blog, originally designed to be used by
students who missed classes due to illness or trips. Through it I shared notes, assignments, and
due dates. Eventually it was used by almost all of my students (and their parents), and I added
video content and additional resources for those who needed extra support. The blog impacted
my instruction. Looking back, I suppose I had “flipped” my classroom.
I also began to use Google Docs as a writing tool. A proponent of the writing workshop, I
struggled to find time to meet with every student during a block to help them with their pieces.
Google Docs allowed me to connect with students outside of class time to provide feedback.
Many of my students commented that they preferred composing at home when they were in
the mood rather than being forced to be creative in a seventy-five minute class. And again, I
found myself trying to change my teaching to accommodate for this. But it is not always easy
to make changes in a brick and mortar school with scheduled blocks and required attendance.
There is not a lot of flexibility. It was this that led me to DL.
While DL is not the best fit for every student (or teacher) there are certainly benefits to this
model, many of which have been enhanced by new technology and teaching strategies. DL
provides the flexibility my students want and need. Whether they are adult students balancing
work and family, athletes and performers travelling and training, or high school students
learning at their own pace (faster or slower), DL allows for flexibility in when learning occurs.
DL also allows for flexibility in where learning occurs. DL can be accessed from anywhere as
long as the technology is in place. Time is not lost travelling to and from school. Parents do
not have to worry about childcare. Buses cancelled due to heavy snowfall, or ferries due to
stormy weather, do not lead to missed classes. Students can even learn while on vacation,
though no one is travelling at the moment. But while the pandemic may have put holidays on
hold, it has not stopped education. DL has allowed students to safely access online courses.
DL has allowed me to provide the individualized instruction that I did not always have time for
in the “regular” classroom, when confined to a schedule and working with thirty students at
once. Through email, students can reach out to ask questions or for additional support as they
need it. They do not have to wait until the next time they see me. I can provide detailed
feedback on assignments, and easily link to additional resources for students who need them. I
can be flexible with content, assignments and due dates, and can schedule Zoom meetings for
students who need one-on-one hel.
DL refers to distributed learning, the current name for online learning in BC
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The one thing that made me hesitate to become a DL teacher was relationships. Relationships
are key to student success, and I wondered how I would foster these online when I could no
longer greet my students at the door, have casual conversations between classes, and show
them through my facial expressions and body language that I care. I have found, through
implementing some strategies, which I have been able to recreate the relationships I had in the
“regular” classroom.
As part of their first assignment students are required to tell me about themselves in an
expository essay, and the exemplar was written by me: sharing who I am. Before they begin
submitting course work, they need to have a Zoom meeting with me, so we get a chance to
meet face-to-face. Screencast-O-Matic and Loom have allowed me to easily create video
content, simulating regular classroom instruction. Through course materials I share personal
stories and pictures when appropriate. Assignments are designed so that students have the
opportunity to show who they are, and I strive to give personalized and supportive feedback.
Perhaps, in the distant past, DL teaching just meant marking, but this is no longer the case. We
are busy with emails, phone calls, meetings, marking, reporting and curriculum development.
In fact, I would argue that we have been especially busy since the pandemic began. My
workload last year was often overwhelming. I found myself starting work early in the morning
(at around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.) and frequently working through lunch, into the evening and on
weekends in order to keep up. I do remember thinking, at times, that I should have stayed in
the “regular” classroom.
Unfortunately the workload situation has not improved this year, in fact, it is much more
challenging. The high school students who have chosen to take my course are handing work
in, in batches as they are wanting to finish the course at the end of a quarter term. My course is
not designed for this, and neither am I. As one quarter ends, a new wave of young students
begin to appear. In addition, I have many adult students who have now found themselves with
time to upgrade or get their diploma. I have recently received 0.2 support, but will require
more if this pace continues.
I know that I am not alone in my experience as a DL teacher. It is essential that class size
limits be put in place. We are not marking robots. We do all of the things a “regular” teacher
does, and we deserve the same consideration.
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Krystyna Villanueva-Gruszecka
Ontario
First Nations
Online secondary school
Remote learning environment
My partner and I left Webequie for our March break in 2020 and when returning, we found out
our flights had been cancelled. It was from there on that I had to support my students, including
seven potential graduates, at a distance. We weren’t able to return to Webequie until early April
and, during this time, I messaged students on social media and continued teaching online as
usual. The local principal suggested that I turn our online lessons into offline PDFs and that I
mail USBs up to Webequie and she said she would ensure they are distributed to students. I spent
approximately three to four full working days turning online lessons into offline versions, with
videos and all supplementary materials, for each of my students in Webequie for each class they
were taking at that time. I then uploaded these files into the Keewaytinok Internet High School
(KiHS) Team Google Drive so that none of my other KiHS colleagues would have to do the
same, at least for that term. I now know that these USBs were not as effective as we had hoped
they may have been. They were distributed with Chromebooks provided by the local elementary
school but few students used the USBs (of the 15 I prepared, only three students were used).
At the beginning of April, we were able to return to Webequie. After we completed our
mandatory two-week quarantine, I switched gears and began printing and delivering work to
students. I would message students online and set up a time that worked for them and I set out on
foot to deliver resources, assignments, and materials to my students. Despite all of these
obstacles, all seven potential graduates DID graduate. I found that printing the assignments off
for students was more successful than the USBs. Overall, the credit count for students in
Webequie did not greatly diminish due to the pandemic at that time.
My partner recently said that when the pandemic first hit in Spring 2020, it was almost business
as usual for my practice and my classroom. Before the pandemic, I was already delivering work
to students that work full time, have disabilities, or small children at home. I was already printing
off resources for those without computers and/or internet at home. I was already answering
questions about assignments over social media, and I already had a consistent presence on social
media. I found that doing these things consistently before the pandemic set my students up for
greater success during the lockdown.
Although we can’t go backward, I think that it is important to prepare our students for another
potential lockdown while we have them in our physical classrooms. I have been encouraging
students to join my classroom’s Facebook page, and increasing how often I message adult
students, parents, and guardians on social media, and I have been teaching students how to log
in, complete their work, troubleshoot, and submit assignments completely independently. These
are some of the things that I am doing that serve a universal benefit because while I am helping
my students to become more independent learners, but I am also preparing them in case we go
into another lockdown. Furthermore, these skills with technology and independent learning that
they are developing now will help them if they choose to go on to post-secondary where online
learning is becoming more and more popular (even mandatory during the pandemic).
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Jonathan Burke
Newfoundland and Labrador
Brick-and-mortar elementary school
Classroom learning environment
My name is Jonathan Burke and I am in my twentieth year of teaching at Avoca Collegiate in
Badger, Newfoundland and Labrador. Avoca is a small K-9 community school with 62
students in multi-grade classes and eight teachers. I teach all subjects, with the exception of
French and language arts, to 16 students in my Grade 8/9 homeroom class.
Teaching in a pandemic. What to say? It is both uncomfortable and challenging. As an
experienced teacher the basic loss of control over our current reality is bothersome. However, I
am optimistic that our school and our district will see us through as best they can. To begin
this year, I moved all unnecessary furniture in my classroom so I could space out student desks
as much as possible. Students sanitize before using common items and I sanitize seats in
between class changes, which occurs twice daily. Everybody wears a mask when out of their
seat. I do what I am asked to do, what else can I do?
Our school district provided five extra professional development days at the beginning of the
school year. Trauma Informed Practice (TIP) and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) were
foundational pieces supplemented with more teacher specific professional development. Extra
custodial staff were hired to assist with the daily sanitization in all provincial schools.
Communication from both our school district and our union is frequent and evolving to reflect
current realities. Recently, they requested teacher feedback on the following (possible) Phase 3
scenarios should schools be shut down or partially shut down (staggering classes). Grades 4-6
will be required to be online a minimum of six to eight hours hours per week with a focus on
language arts, math, science, social studies, and wellness. Grades 7-9 will be required to be
online a minimum of 12-16 hours per week with a focus on math, language, science, social
studies, and wellness. All grades will avail of both synchronous and asynchronous learning
should the need arise.
It is important to understand that this is new for everybody. Students, teachers, administrators
and on up the ladder. Flashlight teaching we are vigilant, yet are unsure what to look for. For
me personally, I read all the communications because if it is within my influence to add an
extra layer of protection or prevention then I will. I imagine our entire education system in our
tiny province is in the same boat. Therefore, I cannot find fault in what our district has done
thus far because they are also grappling with a novel school year.
We have our share of challenges, mainly complacency, given our low cases of COVID-19 in
our province. This reality was particularly evident at the beginning of the school year when we
had no active cases. Students stated that they were not physically distancing outside of school,
so why should they do it in school. Thankfully, after frequent discourse, they have adapted
well to current guidelines and protocols in school (e.g., masks, sanitization, physical distancing
etc.).
However, pandemic fatigue is prominent. Students either forget or simply do not pull the mask
up. As a teacher, the constant vigilance for perceived breaks in protocol is exhausting. In short,
we are all very tired, more than normal. Again, based on our small school demographics, we
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struggle against complacency because this pandemic has not really impacted any of us directly.
Remembering that it could is key, but saps so much daily energy. As I write this, our active
provincial cases have risen to 32. All cases so far have been travel related which is comforting
because if individuals are self-isolating and following public health directives (I sincerely hope
so), then effective contact tracing should contain a possible outbreak.
My students recently communicated to me that they feel trapped. Luckily, in a small school, I
have a strong rapport with my students who openly communicated their frustrations with me.
This pandemic has altered school life in several ways. Recess is delivered to class and is eaten
in the same room where they sit for at least three or four hours every day. The student lounge,
fitness room, and other common areas are closed to minimize interaction between classes (i.e.,
each individual class is considered its own cohort and therefore in their own bubble).
Intramural lunchtime sports, assemblies, concerts, and school wide activities are nonexistent.
Despite this, we have a lot of good days. For example, our annual Christmas concert attended
by a large percentage of our community is going virtual. This challenge has been
reinvigorating as a student suggested using iMovie and a green screen ($10 green tarp from
Canadian Tire) to record our class skit. Students are enjoying this process and learning how
best to leverage technology to create something that will hopefully spread some Christmas
cheer. Each day is fresh as we find our way together.
In conclusion, we have very fortunate demographics. A small school in a small community in
a small province with only 32 active classes, all of which have been linked to travel. We have
low numbers of students and an abundance of space but that is certainly not the case in all
Newfoundland schools. The challenges discussed above are actually small in comparison to
these larger communities, which are again small in comparison to many other larger North
American cities. We are lucky. Our school district continues to communicate and be proactive
with planning for all scenarios. Teachers continue to do the best they can with the resources
they have under the current circumstances. Students continue to demonstrate more adaptability
then we could have ever imagined. Everybody is adjusting to the “new normal” – whatever
that means. Christmas break is close and we need the break to recharge, be with our close
family, and reflect on what we have accomplished and what we have ahead of us. The end is in
sight and I sincerely hope that we can all stay safe and healthy until that day arrives.
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School and District Leader Vignettes
If teachers felt responsibility for the learning and safety of their students, school and district-
level administrators not only felt similar, but actually had to negotiate the implementation of new
government policy and direction while juggling the continuation of a variety of community and
social programs. They scrambled to meet the educational needs of all students, manage the safety
of all staff, visitors, and school site and building maintenance with limited clarity within an ever
changing landscape and the increasing community COVID-19 infections over the Fall.
Organizing an effective learning program for all students to start was enough of a challenge. As
school started, some students needed to be in the school building while others who, including
teachers, could not be accommodated within school buildings; some students and parents chose
at first to be in school, others at home, then many changed their minds. School leaders were
expected to “pivot” – a word widely used during this pandemic that implies inherent simplicity,
which is not the case in such a broad and encompassing social enterprise that is public education
from one model to another without impacting student learning or parental desire. It was a
nearly impossible situation.
Despite the extra hours and best laid plans, school started smoothly in some instances, in others
not so. The range of stories from school leaders offers glimpses of success in the development of
new programs and the expansion of others. The vignettes speak to what can happen and lay a
foundation for others to learn from and perhaps follow. However, they do not tell the tale of the
toll extracted from school and district leaders as they continue to navigate in a deadly game of
dodgeball with COVID-19 and the resulting chaos of unpredictability and ever-changing needs.
The first vignette was written by Maureen McRae-Stanger, the Director of Instruction, Learning
and Innovation in New Westminster School District No. 40 (British Columbia). Maureen
describes how the creation of a new K-8 online program (or distributed learning as it is still
called in BC) and expansion of its existing grade 9-12 online program offered more options
beyond remote teaching for parents and students who were unable or unwilling to attend school
in classrooms. The ability to shift between school and online were also part of the program
design as were both synchronous and asynchronous learning activities, but the direct support and
involvement of parents was critical to the early success.
Next, the Associate Principal of Vista Virtual School, Frank McCallum, describes how
registrations mushroomed and their processes became backlogged and required rapid revising to
process the influx. Vista Virtual School is an Alberta Education-accredited distance learning
school providing education for elementary, junior high, and senior high students in Alberta and
beyond. Elementary and junior high students are offered print-based and some online courses.
Senior high students, as well as adult students, are offered purely online programming.
Interestingly, Frank notes how some students who at first registered with the online school
quickly returned to their local school campus as they found the online school expectations to be
much more demanding than they anticipated and experienced with previous remote learning.
The third vignette is from Vince Hill, principal of Wainwright High School in Alberta. Vince
describes how his prior experience running an online high school, combined with the technology
already in place in the school and the skills of key staff, helped the school as a team to plan a
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remote learning program for all students in the Spring. Based on their efforts, they found that
each teacher developed an online presence for their courses, explored new methodologies for
delivering their courses, examined and adjusted their assessment practices, and learned how to
use technology more effectively in the classroom. That success led directly to the school’s agility
to adapt rapidly to include more remote learning this Fall as schools began to shift back to more
at-home learning with the increases in COVID-19 infections in communities and schools in the
province.
Next, a vignette by Amy Sanville, Principal of Regina Catholic Schools Learning Online
program. The program with teachers based at all Regina Catholic High Schools and offers over
50 grade 9 to 12 courses. Facing the challenges inherent in offering remote teaching during the
pandemic, Amy provides an interesting account of a true ‘pivot’ where she led the creation and
implementation of a brand new elementary online learning program launched for Regina
Catholic Schools in September. The program continues to grow, but based on initial response by
students, parents, and district staff, the program is likely here to stay.
In the fifth vignette, the Chief Executive Officer of LEARN and founding director of
CANeLearn, Michael Canuel describes how LEARN, a non-profit educational organization that
serves the educational needs of the English linguistic minority of Québec (approximately 13.7%
of the population or 1,092,000), adapted their programs and services to support Anglophone
student access to education during the pandemic. By being ‘nimble and alert’ and partnering with
the English School Boards across the province, LEARN was able to offer online resources and
learning opportunities for parents and students working at home, now the focus has shifted to
providing online professional learning helping teachers to shift their pedagogy to better support
remote teaching.
The final vignette is from Sinéad Roy, the Academic Head of Québec Online School which has
been working with homeschool families since 1998. She offers insights on how the pandemic
drove the need for parents to learn a whole new skill set to support their children at home and
how her program and network were there to step in to help. Sinéad hired new teachers and
prepared a curriculum that would provide an alternative to the emergency remote learning that
was offered by both public and private schools in the spring.
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Maureen McRae-Stanger
British Columbia
School district
Remote learning environment
New Westminster K-8 Online Learning Program
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, we realized in New Westminster that one of the most
important things we needed to do was listen to our community. Our District surveyed families
about September’s Restart Plan, and although most families felt comfortable with the safety
protocols put in place in our schools, there were also some families whose personal health and
other concerns had them looking for options.
In response, the New Westminster School District created a new K-8 Online Learning Program
for students. At the same time, we also expanded course offerings for high school students in our
existing grade 9-12 online learning program through the New Westminster Virtual School. The
expanded offerings for students in grades 9-12 are giving families and students the ability to
learn from any location, on a more flexible schedule. Over 500 of the district’s 7,000 K-9
students are now learning online full time in addition to over 300 new part-time Grade 10-12
students.
The new K-8 Online Learning Program relies on strong partnerships with parents. They support
their children at home, connect with teachers online, and join virtual classroom sessions as well.
The District has also focused on keeping students connected to their home school to allow for
transitions between student learning opportunities at school and at home throughout the school
year. Online classes were carefully structured to group students from the same school and grade
levels into the same “classrooms,” led by a teacher from their home school whenever possible.
Students requiring extra support are connected virtually to Learning Support Teachers, Education
Assistants, Child and Youth Care Workers, Aboriginal Support Workers, and Counsellors from
their home school.
This newly created and inclusive K-8 program is helping our families who may have health
concerns and worries, but also those who wish to continue to support their children’s education
while keeping them connected to schools and some of the many supports they may count on
there. Families in the program are able to return to in-class instruction when they are ready and
have been offered two opportunities to return, one in October and the second in December. The
program will be reviewed in January with additional return dates planned as well as the potential
for more blended face-to-face learning opportunities for families who continue online.
Teachers provide synchronous (i.e., at the same time) and asynchronous (i.e., independent)
learning activities in the online environment and use videoconferencing and online collaboration
tools to support student engagement. Synchronous learning includes classroom meetings,
happening live and in real-time, combined with asynchronous activities including lessons the
students pursue on their own time. All elementary school teachers are using Microsoft Teams
an online platform that provides live chat, meetings, resources, and assignments all integrated
into one platform for learning to occur. High school teachers offer a similar model using a
combination of Blackboard Learn, an asynchronous learning management system, and
Blackboard Collaborate, a synchronous live meeting platform.
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Students are invited to class meetings, specific online lessons, group meetings, and one-on-one
conferences with their teachers as needed throughout the program. Depending on the grade,
students participate in online learning sessions several times a week with sessions lasting
between 20 minutes to an hour. Parents and caregivers are expected to work in partnership with
teachers to facilitate the continued learning at home based on the projects, assignments, and
activities assigned by the teacher. Teachers assess the learning experiences and provide feedback
to students and parents on a regular basis.
The K-8 Online Learning Program is staffed by teachers who were granted accommodations
because their medical or personal circumstances put them at high risk from COVID-19, as well
as a number of others who were reassigned from regular classroom teaching due to lower in-
class enrolment. The addition of this new staff has brought a new level of excitement to the
teachers, with a “buzz” happening in the rooms where teachers work online as they talk about the
different learning opportunities they can offer students. For example, in some cases, students are
now able to experience in-person activities such as one online kindergarten teacher who is
getting small groups of children (with their parents) together at a local park on Wednesdays for
outdoor learning physically distanced, and with appropriate COVID-19 protocols in place.
Our teachers in the K-8 Online Learning Program are not used to putting all their curriculum and
instruction into an online format, but they are learning quickly and adapting. With collaboration
and ongoing professional development, teachers are now using more of the features these
programs have to offer such as video conferencing capabilities that can put students into more
of a “virtual classroom” setting and using channels and whiteboard in Teams for student
connections. Teachers have also jumped in to make their own instructional videos for students,
rather than just using ready-made videos from external sources. The power in these videos is
students having their teacher share personalized lessons directly with them. The videos have
been especially helpful for English language learners who might struggle with extensive written
instructions.
Transitioning to teaching online is a very complex process, particularly shifting to an online
format in such a short time frame. The move to online learning has come with a huge learning
curve for teachers, especially those in the K-8 Online Learning Program, for whom the entire
program was brand-new this year. The whole team at New Westminster Schools is very proud of
our teachers and their ability to embrace this new way of teaching and provide robust learning
experiences for students who may need to be at home.
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Frank McCallum
Alberta
Online secondary program
Remote learning environment
How the Fall of 2020 Rolled Out
Vista Virtual School is one of about two dozen online schools in Alberta. Although governed by
the Pembina Hills School Division north of Edmonton, Vista Virtual School serves school-aged
students and adults from across the province, with a majority of students from southern Alberta.
To no one’s surprise, student registration traffic to our online school from mid-August to the end
of September was much higher than the previous year, notably in Grades 1-9 where we saw
almost a five-fold increase in student registrations, all related to concerns about COVID in local
school settings.
Interestingly, a small proportion of those students who registered with Vista Virtual returned to
their local schools before September ended. This was largely related to the expectations of
intentionally designed online learning versus the emergency remote learning that took place at
the end of last school year; several parents assumed their children would only be working 1-2
hours per day with direct online supervision from teachers whereas our asynchronous program
covers the full depth of the program of studies.
Related to the increase in student registrations were the new challenges created that had to be
addressed. For instance, the sudden tsunami of registrations needed to be processed and oriented
to our specific online learning context. Orientation is normally completed by staff through
individual batches of intakes where processing typically takes under 10 business days. As there
were no additional resources made available early on by the Department of Education to address
the student influx, solutions had to be found using the school’s existing staffing complement.
By “shortcutting” the registration process, we were able to process registrations in approximately
three weeks but this required “cleanup” of all registrations through October and November to
self-audit all of our registrations and documents collected. In essence, this simply moved the
workload from the month of September and extended it throughout the fall.
In terms of orientation, we moved to a group orientation approach, providing students with
suitable video instruction as to how our program worked and then followed up with synchronous
Zoom sessions to answer questions and address concerns. While this allowed dozens of
introductions simultaneously, online education is dependent on building solid relationships and
while our individual orientation sessions would do this, the group orientation denied us an
important first step in such relationship building.
Another unanticipated challenge was providing supporting instructional materials. While we
deliver asynchronous courses online, we rely on authorized textbooks to support our online
course materials. As we prepared for the school year, we did not count on such a large influx of
students and had some materials back-ordered as late as October.
Finally, with class sizes ballooning, we were able to add teaching staff once additional budget
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resources were made available from the Ministry of Education. This did not occur until late
September and early October. In the interim, the ability of teachers to make meaningful
connections to students was hampered by the volume of students with whom they were working.
A side note to these experiences is our connections with other schools. Historically, we are a
very cooperative school and gladly work with other high schools to help augment their programs
by offering a part-time program to high school students. Changes this year to the funding
framework in Alberta, though, meant we were unable to continue offering this program. We have
worked with other schools to provide some level of service to non-primary students (i.e.,
students who are registered in other schools) and developing a fee-for-service model that a few
schools have accessed at this point of the school year.
Looking ahead, we are already making concrete plans to address second-semester registrations in
order to NOT have the same backlog in registrations and then looking ahead to what we expect
to be a busy Summer School. Finally, without knowing what the pandemic future might bring,
we are revisiting all of our start of year processes to find efficiencies should we see anywhere
near a repeat of the fall of 2020.
As we reach mid-November the school is running more smoothly, with students registered,
teachers making those connections so important for success, and backorders largely filled.
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Vince Hill
Alberta
Brick-and-mortar high school
Remote learning environment
If Walls Could Speak!
March 16th, the headline read, COVID-19: Alberta cancels all school classes, closes licensed
daycares.” Many of us in ‘bricks-and-mortar schools’ half expected something was coming down
from Alberta Education and the Government of Alberta, but just didn’t know when. Daily we
watched the stats of COVID-19 cases rise across Canada and the world, unsure of what this meant
for each of us individually or for our families. Emotions were high. Teachers' stress levels were
certainly at near-record highs only to be compounded by the following news, “all in-person classes
were canceled”, but instruction and learning were not. It was just going to be done differently.
At Wainwright High School (WHS), we quickly jump into motion, first to understand the scope
of our new adventure, but then to develop a plan. It’s important to note, the teachers at WHS are
very conscientious of the students achieving the highest level of learning they can reach in a given
school year. Academic rigour is paramount, and every step is taken by the teachers and students
to meet this collectively. So, when the news came down, we needed to develop a plan for our
students to continue receiving their instruction of core subjects, it became very important that we
supply the best possible alternative solution to meet the learning needs of our students.
Thankfully, we were supplied a few days to get our plan together before we launched into
delivering our course offerings. These first days were critical if only to allay fears and concerns
with teachers. It was important for them to know we were in this all together, and we may struggle
for the first while, but we would embrace technology as the primary means to deliver our
instruction, not asynchronously but synchronously.
I had the good fortune of being a part of the online world with Credenda Virtual High School and
College in Saskatchewan and one of the key factors we felt made the school successful was the
combination of synchronous delivery via live online meetings and asynchronous via a learning
management system which allowed us to give immediate access and feedback to students. As we
considered our approach to online learning at WHS, it was important we supplied daily live classes
to our students to keep them on task, engaged, and supply the feedback so crucial in learning. Once
we had wrapped our minds around the philosophy of good teaching and learning in an online
context, it was simply a matter of which tools we were going to use to make this happen.
We didn’t tell any of the teachers which live meeting programs they had to use, we simply asked
them to use any one of the programs out there that gave them the ability to record their classes so
they could archive them for a student to reference later, or for students, who may have missed a
class and needed to access the class later. Most teachers chose to use Zoom because Zoom lifted
the 40-minute restriction and allowed teachers to have unlimited time to record classes. Zoom’s
ability to share presentations and create breakout rooms were a few of the added bonuses they used
in their classes to replicate as close to a face-to-face experience for students. Some of our teachers
chose to use Google Meet for their live interactive classes which had some limitations, but as we
approached the end of the 2020 school year, Google Meet did make some improvements to their
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application to allow for some of these features as well. Zoom responded proactively and closed the
security risks in short order. Most of us ended up staying with Zoom for these reasons; besides,
none of us were complaining about the price, it was free!
Although we all had access to Google Classroom, only a handful of us used the learning
management system. Our school division had purchased the license for Hapara and had invested
a lot of time and training into this system, so it was encouraged we use Hapara. We had a few
Hapara champions in our school, who had been using it for a few years and had many of their
courses loaded into the Hapara Workspaces for students to access. Many of these teachers gave
up their time to create all-day training for teachers in our school who wanted to use it to house
their courses, content, and assignments. Thankfully, we had nearly a week to get ready before we
launched online with our students. Most of this time was spent training, developing, and prepping
for the next steps of going live online.
One added step we took was to send out a survey to our parents and students inquiring about the
level of technology available in each of their homes. Did they have Chromebooks, iPads,
computers, laptops? What was their internet service like, if they had access? What we discovered
was nearly everyone had access to the internet, however, the limitation was access to devices to
access online learning. Some families had up to five children all needing to access the internet at
the same time, so they needed extra devices. To accommodate the needs of these families, we
literally pulled apart two of our Chromebook carts of 30 each and signed out Chromebooks to
families who needed them at home. At the end of June, these were returned. We didn’t lose one of
the 60 devices we sent home, and only one of them required some repairs to the screen. We also
had one student, who came to the school each day and sat outside the building accessing the school
WIFI because he didn’t have the internet at home or a Chromebook. During rainy days, we let him
into the school and had a desk and chair set up for him to use one of the side entrances, which we
wiped down afterward.
When the day arrived for going live, we had a few hiccups along the way. We had to teach some
of the students about proper social etiquette in an online classroom. If you were using Zoom, you
had to prevent students from putting up inappropriate names for themselves or background pictures.
We had to make a few phone calls home to parents asking them to speak to the child about coming
to class clothed and not lying in bed. The newness of the online soon wore off. New issues arose
where students were not attending because their understanding of information put out by the
Government of Alberta said no child would fail, so why would I go to classes if I’m going to pass
anyway.
While other schools across the province supplied more text or paper-based solutions to their
students, WHS teachers really stepped up to the plate and supplied a solid rigorous online solution
to their students. They had to make some adjustments along the way, but it was a joy to watch the
technological literacy growth in teachers. I couldn’t have been prouder of the work they did to
ensure students were engaged and learning. It certainly wasn’t easy, but they came out from the
other side technologically skilled and much more multi-dimensional in their approach to teaching.
Some of the take-aways:
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Each teacher developed an online presence for their courses
Each teacher explored new methodologies for delivering their courses
Each teacher examined and adjusted their assessment practices
Each teacher learned how to use technology more effectively in the classroom
What’s even more interesting is the added learnings teachers have had now, since we have gone
back to online learning midway through the semester for a 6-week period, as the government tries
to get the COVID-19 numbers down.
Here are a few of the things shared with me by teachers:
One teacher has divided up her students into groupings of students with similar challenges and
divided the 80-minute block of time into four groups of 20 minutes. She instructs each group live
but in smaller groupings so she can make better use of the time responding to the individual needs
of the students.
Another teacher spent the summer and beginning of the school year developing video recordings
of class instruction along with presentations should we go back into this online situation again.
The teacher simply meets live with each class, dialogues for a few minutes, and then pushes the
video recording out to the students and stays online afterward for Q/A time. He has also made
some major changes to his assessment practices to reflect assessing the outcomes to measure the
level of learning that has taken place.
Another teacher shared how she feels that she is now at a more advanced level in using the
technology. She felt she was only using technology at a basic level in the spring, but now her
comfort level is so much higher, she feels she is being more effective as a teacher.
Another teacher talked about using more breakout rooms, using a jigsaw learning strategy, and
bringing the students together afterward, very powerful to share their own understanding and take
control of the mic. He added it was important to establish the norms upfront at the beginning about
how students were to conduct themselves in the online classroom, but then trust them to do the
right things.
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Amy Sanville
Saskatchewan
Online elementary program
Remote learning environment
Launching a New Online Elementary School
For the past five years, I have been the administrator of a high school with over a decade of
experience in providing distance education. Scaling up our high school program to meet the
increased demands for online learning was a task I knew I could confidently handle. Creating
an elementary program in such a short period of time, on the other hand, was a challenge that I
was not prepared for. In June, our elementary school was nothing more than a couple of
thoughts and ideas I had scribbled on a yellow notepad. Today, it is a functioning school with
almost 400 students, 21 staff members, and 15 virtual classrooms.
That yellow notepad quickly filled with more ideas as I spent the last few weeks of summer
building the framework of our school. These ideas came through research, conversations with
my superintendent, and connecting with administrators in other school divisions who were also
tasked with adding elementary programs to their distance education high school. I was
surprised by how many ideas also came out of inquiries and intake meetings with parents.
These conversations were a very humbling experience for me, since I often did not have an
answer to their questions about what our program would look like and what supports we would
provide. My standard response became, “I don’t know, but I will see what we can do.” I jotted
those questions and inquiries onto my notepad and started to explore what could and could not
be offered in our elementary school.
A synchronous online school focusing on creating connections and community while meeting
curricular outcomes was one of the phrases on that notepad and became the foundation of our
school. We needed to focus on connections and community just as much as curriculum. Our
students have had limited social opportunities since the beginning of the pandemic, so
providing these through the school was critical. To achieve this, our students connect each day
with their teacher and classmates through class meetings and live lessons. Group work, virtual
centres, and class chats provide opportunities for students to meet and work with new friends
in our digital classrooms. School community has also been created through events like our
reading night, where students and their families enjoyed stories read by a local news anchor.
Building the elementary school has not always been a smooth process and we have
experienced more than a few bumps along the way. One of the biggest challenges was how fast
the school grew and not knowing how big it was going to get. On that yellow notepad, I
outlined what our class cohorts could look like. The initial plan was to have three classrooms;
grades one to three, grades four to six, and grades seven and eight. As soon as registration
opened, it became evident that the scope of the school was greatly under estimated. The three
classes very quickly became five, then 10, and currently there are 15. As the school year
approached and new teachers were hired, classes were shuffled and class assignments were
changed. This made planning for the school year extremely difficult. We even had to briefly
delay the start date to accommodate the increase in staff and students and the change in course
assignments.
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To help onboard so many teachers in such a short period of time, I was fortunate to have the
support of the coordinators, consultants, and coaches that work for our school division. At the
beginning of the school year, there were wrap around supports for all of our teachers. This was
not only technology support, but also curriculum and assessment. Almost half of the teachers
in our elementary school are not only new to distance education, but also brand new to the
teaching profession. These additional supports were vital in providing teachers with what they
needed to be successful this year. To allow for ongoing support and training, all classroom
teachers have a common preparation period at the end of the day. This provides opportunities
for group training and gives teachers time to collaborate and connect with each other.
Not only were our teachers brand new to our school and distance education, but so were each
of our elementary students. This provided additional challenges as we started the school year.
A Week One Orientation Course was created to familiarize students and parents with our
platforms and distance education. This continues to be a requirement for students to complete
prior to joining their classroom. Our technology coach is available daily to provide tech
support to students to ensure they are successful in a technology rich environment.
Having all new students also made it difficult to determine student needs and required
supports. It was only after the school year started, and students settled into their classes, that
we could understand the full scope of what was needed. The personnel and programs required
for our students and school have been provided without hesitation by the superintendent and
the rest of the senior leadership in our school division. As a result, we have been able to
provide supports to meet the diverse learning needs of our students. Although our
programming is in English, French Immersion students are able to participate in daily French
language tutorials that provide them an opportunity to continue to practice their French
language skills. Students requiring accommodations are supported by our Learning Resource
Teacher and Instructional Assistant. These supports include small group and individual pull
outs and guided reading. We also have 13 students learning in an Inclusive Classroom
program. A Guidance Counsellor and English as an Additional Language teacher are the most
recent additions to our school supports.
Almost three months in and our enrolment continues to grow. However, now that the school
year has started, adding additional teachers and splitting classes is not an easy process. It is a
balancing act to keep class size at a manageable level and avoid the disruption that moving
students to a new class and teacher mid-year would cause. As the COVID case numbers
continue to climb in our province, we are struggling to find a solution for how to best manage
the increased demand for distance learning at this point in the school year.
Even with all of the challenges of building a new school in such a short period of time, it has
been an extremely rewarding experience to see what has developed out of a few ideas on a
notepad and the hard work of the teachers, support staff, curriculum supports, and leadership
who have all contributed countless hours to the creation of this school. Although the future is
uncertain, we do have students accessing our program for reasons beyond COVID and I am
excited to see how our school will continue to evolve to provide a quality distance education to
meet the emerging needs of our elementary school students.
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Michael Canuel
Québec
Online program
Remote learning environment
LEARN: Our Role in Support of the English Educational Community of Québec in the
Course of the COVID 19 Pandemic
The official word came out on Friday, March 13, 2020 that the government would be shutting
down all schools across the province on the following Monday, however, we had received
unofficial information that a shutdown was imminent and we were ready. Our mandate at
LEARN, given that we have three divisions within our organization, we needed to adapt and to
adjust our strategic planning for the services and resources we provide to teachers and
students, modify our approach for the support we provide to our 88 Community Learning
Centres, and ramp up the work we do in our Virtual Campus.
When the official word from the Minister came out, it was initially indicated that schools
would be closed for two weeks, and students were told to consider it a type of holiday. Early
into the first week though it was evident that this period would be extended significantly. The
LEARN team re-opened some old files dating back to the H1N1 virus and the fear at that time
that schools would be shut down. We dusted them off and studied them to see what if anything
was still applicable in the new COVID 19 context. The major difference we saw was the extent
to which this most recent pandemic had greater reach and impact on the population at large. At
the same time, the Ministry decided it needed everyone to mobilize and to start providing
resources first for parents who would be homeschooling their children, and second for teachers
who would, at some point, be called on to do remote teaching.
The first thing we did was to move all of our face-to-face workshops and training sessions
online and, given that we were quite experienced with a variety of online platforms, this did
not represent much of a problem. We followed this up by collaborating with the Ministry and
school boards across the province to populate a website with curated resources for parents,
students, and teachers. The Directors General of the English school boards across the province
requested we provide them with a plan on how we could support teachers who were being
asked to teach online. Underlying this request was an assumption that teachers could quickly
and easily adapt to online teaching once they had a handle on the technology, however, it soon
became clear that there were other substantive issues at work. Specifically, the didactic
approach employed by many teachers at the high school level simply did not work well in an
online synchronous classroom. What students were largely exposed to was a talking head and
many turned off quickly and not surprisingly, parents were disconcerted. Other teachers were
told to generate videos with instructions and questions, send them out to their students, have
them complete worksheets and that would be sufficient. At the same time, word came out from
the Ministry that there would be no evaluations and as a result, the work students would do
online would not count for marks. The scene now was set for a very challenging time.
At LEARN we offered a series of Twitter chats for parents as well as a series of interactive
workshops for teachers and the participation levels were impressive. It suggested to us that
there was a very real and urgent need within our community. As we headed into the Fall
session and the start of the new school year, the Ministry of Education had made it clear that
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all schools would be open for face to face classes and that only in extreme circumstances
would they go online. Through September the number of new cases in the general population
seemed under control and all went relatively well, however, by mid-October, there were
almost no schools in Québec that did not have at least one or more cases of students or staff
infected by the virus.
As of October 28, the Ministry somewhat revised their stance, and students at the senior high
school level were to alternate between on-site classes and online classes. The challenge
remains for the proper pedagogy to be employed in these situations as well as equity for
students who have inadequate equipment or bandwidth to work effectively from home.
LEARN is giving a number of workshops that address these issues and we are attempting to
make them as targeted as possible including workshops for kindergarten teachers. There
remains a certain resistance and stigma to online learning in the province, though that has
diminished considerably since the outset of the pandemic.
One of the most important benefits of the pandemic is an appreciable increase in the
recognition of the importance and value of social-emotional learning (SEL). The strains, both
psychological and emotional, that this situation has created on students, teachers, and parents
are not insignificant. We are now being asked more than ever to provide resources and services
linked to SEL, and while we introduced mindfulness into our online classes two years ago, this
is an area where an organization LEARN has much more to do.
We expect that the coming weeks and months will deliver more challenges and surprises, but
the operative term we committed to prior to the start of this school year is “Nimble.Thus far,
we have had to be both nimble and alert and this is not likely to change any time soon.
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Sinéad Roy
Québec
Home school
Remote learning environment
A September to Remember
The beginning was strange. Strange in the way of a warm, spring day in the midst of a cold
January or perhaps more of a freak, winter snowstorm in the middle of a mild October. As the
pandemic hit and slowly moved across the consciousness of our provincial outlooks, it was a
mesmerizing kind of experience. There was a giddiness in the voices of the children who
spoke with excitement of two weeks of unexpected vacation, and a slight annoyance in the
voices of parents who had to rush to arrange child care or deal with the reality of their own
worlds locking down. What is sure is that no one expected that this would last for more than a
few weeks. It was the calm before the storm.
By the end of April, the reality was beginning to hit. Reports of burnout from parents, students,
and traditional teachers alike were swarming the pages of social networks. There was fear of
failure, fear of unknown expectations, fear of too much screen time and too little learning. All of
a sudden, the homeschool community, who had endured little respect and lots of stereotyping in
Québec, found themselves holding the hands (figuratively speaking, of course) of hundreds and
thousands of new parents, who were trying to stay afloat in a boat that was swiftly sinking.
Knowing that many people were considering homeschooling for the first time, Quebec Online
School began preparing by interviewing new teachers and preparing a curriculum that would
provide an alternative to the emergency remote learning that was offered by both public and
private schools in the spring. Homeschoolers have to follow the Québec Education Program in
terms of “Essential Knowledges” and Competencies,” but have a lot of freedom in how and
when these are accomplished. There is no stipulation for mandatory hours or schedules, and
families are permitted to design their curriculum in any way that meets these outcomes. At the
same time, there are strict legal requirements for planning and reports, with minimum support
offered by the government.
Quebec Online School offers two different support packages to homeschool families. The All-
in-One Course provides a single Zoom class each week to students, with a rotation of five core
subjects - English, French, math, science and social studies. Parents are provided with lesson
plans, website subscriptions and PDF resources to supplement this learning at home. The
Deluxe Course provides daily classes so that each subject is taught once a week with
homework assignments for the parents can follow up. STEAM, coding and 3D Virtual Worlds
are offered as enrichment classes in the afternoon. By the end of September, QOS registered
had multiplied 1000% from 30 students in May 2020 to almost 300 students in September
2020. There was a huge cry from the Francophone community for something similar, but
nothing was available. Had we been ready, our numbers could easily have surpassed 1000 new
students.
The feedback from parents had been remarkably similar. Many have been shocked to find out,
for the first time, that their children have huge learning gaps especially in the core areas of
math, English and French. They have been surprised to learn that homeschooling takes far less
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time than regular school hours, and have commented that in the two to three months since they
started in September, their children have in many cases, not only “caught up” on crucial
learning skills, but are more motivated to move ahead and enjoying the “game-style” of
learning that happens naturally at home and amongst the homeschool community. They are, of
course, missing friends at school, but the word on the street is that school is not what it used to
be anyway, with the social distancing rules and restrictions on the playground. Many who
admit that they had no respect for the homeschool community a year ago, are now avid
members and ambassadors for a life-style that had changed learning not only for their children
but for their families. They have committed to return, regardless of whether or not COVID
conditions have improved for September 2021. This was indeed, a September to remember.
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Trustee Vignettes
Vignettes from two school board trustees tell the stories of how local political action influenced
both provincial direction as well as the roll out and preparation for the return to school in the
Fall. School boards had to follow provincial health orders, but how they managed the continuity
for learning with the return of teachers and students to school buildings varied. At times
decisions announced by the boards themselves, as well as by provincial and territorial
governments, created controversy and parents voiced their concerns in the media and directly to
the school boards. In the end, both trustees share how the controversies led to better decisions
and outcomes for the safe return to school and point to how their work as trustees had a direct
and beneficial influence for students in their districts.
Norm Di Pasquale, a school trustee for the Toronto Catholic School Board, provides his account
of the Fall which started in the Summer months preparing for submission of school reopening
plans to the Ontario Ministry of Education. Norm had advocated for smaller class sizes, which
eventually were put in place by the launch of schools based on the hybrid model of half-time in
school and at home. Based on recommendations from the local health unit, Toronto Public
Health, the board passed a motion making masks mandatory for K-12 students, instead of Grades
4-12 that the Ministry recommended. While there was some controversy at first, eventually
school communities came to support masks for all. Norm describes how other motions were
passed to have air purifiers installed in schools will little or no ventilation along with other safety
measures. He describes how the board started a virtual school from scratch, also a major
challenge. He writes how it is uplifting to see students back in school, getting reacquainted and
playing with friends, and reinforces the decisions made in the summer that did keep student and
staff health at the forefront, making the start of the school year as safe as possible.
The second vignette is from Peter Whittle, a school trustee for Zone 16 (an area including the
Northeast Avalon) in Newfoundland-Labrador’s English Schoolboard. Peter describes how the
sudden outbreak of COVID-19 in the province left no time for a planned response in the Spring.
He notes that despite the introduction of their online program the Centre for Distance Learning
and Innovation in 2001, the school district was “simply not prepared for a switch to virtual
education”. With internet infrastructure challenges, teacher’s lack of preparation for teaching
online, and computer equipment shortages for staff and students, the school district set out to
plan for a better response for school opening in September, dusting off their 2009 Swine Flu
Pandemic plan.
Facing limited resources, infrastructure for online instruction, and the need to meet provincial
health requirements, the school board appealed to the provincial government for financial
assistance for technology equipment, teacher training, and money to meet physical distancing
requirements in schools and on buses. As initial funding announcements focussed only on
purchases of laptops and tablets for students and teachers, the board cut the number of students
able to be bussed to school to meet physical distancing requirements. The move added to the
heightened scrutiny and concerns about decisions made regarding the safety of both teachers and
students getting to, and remaining in, school buildings. However, in the end provincial funding
was expanded to address the concerns and additional buses were added. In the end, Peter
concludes the work done by the board and staff was “a job well done, in a year like no other.
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Norm Di Pasquale
Ontario
There has been very little that has been normal in this school year, and that started with school
board meetings all through the summer in preparation for the school year.
In July, the Ontario Ministry of Education asked us to submit our reopening plans for
approval. Staff had recommended face-to-face learning with no indication of cohorts restricted
to 15 students. I knew what the public health recommendations were, which were cohorts of no
larger than 15 children in places like daycares, so I moved an amendment to request the
ministry fund smaller class sizes of no more than 15 for elementary and secondary school. This
motion was ultimately defeated in favour of full class sizes. But none of that mattered, as the
Ministry directed us on the reopening model we would use.
Throughout the summer Trustees moved motions to make our schools safer, based on excellent
recommendations from our local health unit, Toronto Public Health. These included making
masks mandatory for K-12 students, instead of Grades 4-12 that the Ministry recommended.
This came with some controversy at first, but eventually our school communities came to
support masks for all. Toronto Public Health also supplied us with a COVID-19 hotspot map
for Toronto, and for those schools we moved to have them staffed to support classes no larger
than 15 students.
We also motioned for to have air purifiers installed in our schools will little or no ventilation,
as experts agree that aerosol transmission is a major source of the virus and many of our older
buildings don’t have ventilation systems. To help address ventilation, we motioned to open our
windows beyond the typical four inches. Air exchanges are critically important to prevent
COVID-19.
We also moved to install outdoor tents at our schools. From that, we have a pilot of 18 schools
using outdoor tents, which can support two classes each. It’s all part of getting our students to
be outside and stay active. In that vein, we are installing bike racks at all 200 of our schools,
and encouraging students to use active transportation to get to school.
We also motioned to have student Plexiglas setup in our COVID-19 hotspot schools, so each
student has a Plexiglas guard on their desk, which makes a difference particularly when
students are eating without a mask.
From a tech perspective, we have supplied our students who need one with a Chromebook or
an iPad with embedded internet for those who need a device and internet access. We are also
supplying virtual students from underprivileged families with grocery gift cards.
Now that school is open, we are seeing the results of our efforts. Our COVID-19 hotspot
schools make up the bulk of our cases, which makes me wonder what would have happened if
we hadn’t prioritized those schools? Masks are largely working as intended to lessen the blow
of COVID-19. Air purifiers are in classes, and many families are using active transportation.
Students and staff love the outdoor tents. Plexiglass poses visibility and issues with people
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being able to hear each other. This was a year to rapidly innovate, without fear of failure. Our
students and staff’s health were depending on us.
I did not expect to see so many underprivileged families choose remote learning. One of the
main reasons why they did was due to living in susceptible multigenerational families. We are
working to ensure those students stay connected through device loaners and grocery gift cards,
along with mental health supports.
Starting a virtual school from scratch was also a major challenge, despite having the most
incredible and capable staff working on it. We started with two weeks of central staff running
classes while we assigned teachers and students to classes, which went very well.
Unfortunately, staffing and technology challenges dogged us for months. We supplied the
virtual school with 15 vice principals, two superintendents, as well as its own Chief
Information Officer. We also just completed a reorganization of teachers and support staff to
ensure that all virtual school students have a reliable teacher. Better staffing assignments in the
first place might have lessened the pain the virtual school admin staff had to go through.
We allowed parents to switch learning modes in November to coincide with that
reorganization and our high school virtual student population increased by 25%. If we just
moved all those students to the virtual school, many in person high school courses would have
been in jeopardy, so we opted to pilot a hybrid or adaptive learning model for the 1500 new
secondary virtual school students. Hybrid or adaptive learning was operationalized as having
the student engaged in some in person learning and some virtual learning.
It’s uplifting to see our students back in school, getting reacquainted and playing with their
friends. This is the reward for the countless hours and late nights I put in this year as a trustee.
We want to get our students back into our schools and make them feel love and belonging in
our communities of faith.
Every decision I made in the summer was with student and staff health in mind. I was
determined to make this school year as safe as possible. To that end, we repeatedly asked the
Ministry of Education for funding for safer smaller class sizes in cohorts of 15. We never
heard back.
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Peter Whittle
Newfoundland and Labrador
The 2020-2021 school year has been an incredible challenge for all aspects of the delivery of
education in the Newfoundland and Labrador English Schoolboard (NLESD). What is to
follow is the personal perspective of one trustee and does not purport to encapsulate the
official view of the NLESD. I am the Trustee for Zone 16, which includes the North East
Avalon which has the highest student population in the province. NLESD represents all
English speaking students and schools in Newfoundland and Labrador comprising of 252
schools, 63,000 students and 11,000 employees.
Despite our geographical position as an island in the North Atlantic, the arrival of COVID-19
shattered any pretense that Newfoundland would be immune to the pandemic which was
sweeping the globe. A slow trickle of travel related cases morphed into a public health
emergency when the province’s first super cluster took hold in the most densely populated
region of the province, the capital St. John’s. As with all matters of public health, the School
District took guidance from the Provincial Government and public health authorities
supporting our school communities. After engaging with school communities March 14, 15,
and 16, I publicly called for the closure of schools on the Avalon Peninsula despite reluctance
from the Chief Medical Officer.
On March 17 the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, in consultation with the District
and the Chief Medical Officer of Health, suspended all in-school class instruction throughout
the District schools. The NLESD faced the greatest of challenges providing families with
access to general support and resources for students to engage in learning activities. Despite
the introduction of the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation in 2001, the NLESD was
simply not prepared for a switch to virtual education. We faced significant internet
infrastructure challenges, the majority of our staff had not engaged in online teaching
previously, and both teachers and students lacked computer equipment at home. There were
also many concerns about reaching disadvantaged , underprivileged, and special needs
learners. The board held many virtual emergency meetings to discuss updates and concerns.
Staff, parents and students coped as best they could with the circumstances the pandemic
created.
The focus quickly turned to the preparation for the delivery of education, transportation of
students, and the welfare of the myriad of school-based populations for the 2020-21 school
year. The district had devised a plan in 2009 to address the potential impact of the Swine Flu
Pandemic on our school populations which provided a good start. The board was included in
many discussions with staff, the programs, and finance committees to develop a plan for the
fall 2020.
On May 27th, the board submitted a 47-page report entitled Reimagining Teaching and
Learning to the Department of Education outlining several key concerns, including student
services, transportation, and human resources, along with recommendations on ways to
mitigate those concerns. The cover letter to the Minister stipulated that we would need
significant provisions for additional staff, infrastructure, particularly in student transportation,
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computers for teachers, Chromebooks for students, personal protective equipment, training for
teachers, and enhanced internet access for rural locations.
Six weeks later, the province announced a strategy with three scenarios that depended on the
proliferation of COVID-19 in the province. The first scenario involved schools opening and
instruction resuming almost as normal. The second featured schools being partially opened,
while the third involved full-time at-home learning. The province also announced a $20-
million expenditure on laptops and tablets for staff and all students in grades 7 to 12 in the
event that the second or third scenarios were enacted and take-home technology was needed.
NLESD released a more detailed plan (i.e., A Safe Return To School) on August 17th . There
was some confusion as the government’s plan presented online learning as the third of three
scenarios, the board (i.e., district) felt many children might have to participate via online
learning right away. Additionally, the board approved reducing the number of students eligible
for bus transportation by about 6,000 to accommodate physical distancing aboard buses. The
Newfoundland & Labrador Teachers’ Association voiced concerns about class sizes and the
official opposition expressed similar concerns.
The six-week period from August 17th to the opening of schools was hectic. The public,
parents, and teachers expressed concerns demanding more clarity on social distancing, online
resources for the immunocompromised, cleaning services and busing. Teachers and staff were
recalled on September 2nd, one week early, to allow for orientation and preparation time
related to COVID-19 protocols and classes began on September 8th. The student
transportation issue became a particular point of contention for parents.
On September 3rd, Education Minister Tom Osborne announced that ten new teachers would
be hired full time to provide online learning resources and another ten million dollars for 100
additional school buses to ensure all students who needed busing would have a ride to school.
Notably, the NLESD was not invited to the press conference held at Waterford Valley High in
St. John's. The Minister served notice that he and the premier were disappointed with the bus
issue and he intended ‘to find out how the mess was created’.
The re-opening went surprisingly well. The distribution of laptops for teachers was completed
in October and the provision of Chromebooks is ongoing. I am confident that the NLESD is
prepared and ready to continue education in light of any change in the COVID situation in the
province. As a board member, I was very pleased with the role the board played in guiding the
process. However, the real credit has to be given to the District staff and administrators who
adapted to and implemented the Safe Return to School plan. The best interests of our children
were my primary focus in every decision made. A special recognition must be made to the bus
drivers, custodians, secretaries, student assistants, teachers, and teaching and learning
assistants who diligently strived to provide a safe and welcoming school environment.
A job well done, in a year like no other.
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Higher Education Vignettes
Since its inception, the focus of CANeLearn has been at the K-12 level and other Canadian
organizations have focused on distance, online, and blended learning in the higher education
context. However, when COVID-19 caused disruptions to the K-12 system there were direct
impacts on university-based teacher education programs across the country. Issues around pre-
service teachers being able to conduct formal and informal observations, as well as student
teaching, when K-12 schools were closed or engaged in remote learning or when there are
limitations on who can access the school building needed to be addressed. Institutions of higher
education were also active in providing professional learning opportunities to help teachers
transition to remote or hybrid learning environments. These two vignettes explore many of these
issues, and how each of these two universities attempted to address them.
The first vignette is from Barbara Brown, Amy Burns, Astrid Kendrick, Theodora Kapoyannis,
& Nadia Delanoy from the Werklund School of Education (WSE) at the University of Calgary.
Werklund offers undergraduate and graduate programs in education to over 2600 students and
the COVID-19 disruptions in K-12 schools impacted both programs and community services.
The authors provide examples from their undergraduate programs to illustrate how challenges
were turned into opportunities as they adapted to changing contexts in schools and supported K-
12 schools and their teacher education program and undergraduate students.
The final vignette is from Lori McKee, an Assistant Professor teaching in the Bachelor of
Education program at St. Francis Xavier University. Lori shares her perspective of the
complexities of P-12 teaching and learning in Nova Scotia in the COVID-19 era, including
examples from her own teaching experiences with pre-service teachers on the university campus.
She poses several important questions about issues in preparing a safe learning environment in
elementary school classrooms and ponders what type of experience her students will have during
their upcoming practicum.
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Barbara Brown, Amy Burns, Astrid Kendrick,
Theodora Kapoyannis, & Nadia Delanoy
Alberta
Adapting to Changing K-12 Contexts During COVID-19: Teacher Education Perspectives
The Werklund School of Education (WSE) at the University of Calgary offers undergraduate and
graduate programs in education to over 2600 students. COVID-19 disruptions in K-12 schools
impacted our programs and community service and provided an opportunity for increased
community outreach. In this article we provide examples specifically from our undergraduate
programs in education to illustrate many of the challenges and opportunities we encountered as
we adapted to changing contexts in schools and how we supported our K-12 schools and in turn
how they supported our teacher education program and undergraduate students.
Pre-service Teachers Experienced an Online Pandemic Practicum During School Closures
The quick transition to online learning for post-secondary institutions and K-12 schools in
Alberta and throughout the globe during 2020 was unexpected. Practicum experiences are
critical in pre-service teacher development and in Spring 2020 when schools were closed, we had
to quickly design an online practicum experience for our undergraduate students. Each spring
pre-service teachers complete a shortened winter term and begin a four-week student teaching
practicum. This four-week practicum is often a highlight for the pre-service teachers as they
move from theoretical on-campus instruction into the practical and experiential component of
their B.Ed. degree. In the weeks before beginning their Spring practicum, pre-service teachers
meet with their partner teacher (i.e., in-service teacher who mentors a pre-service teacher), to
begin planning their classroom lessons, and investigate pragmatic strategies for teaching in K-12
classrooms. In March 2020, days before this course was set to begin, COVID-19 reached Alberta
and prompted a province-wide lockdown of all non-essential services. Schools moved to online
learning and our pre-service teachers were asked to stay home.
The WSE determined that to protect the pre-service teachers from any delay or disruption to
completing their B.Ed., an online alternative would need to be created for field experience.
Unlike many other faculties of education who cancelled or postponed practicums, our directors
of field experience worked to collaboratively design the pandemic practicum as an online course
alternative. The development of the pandemic practicum was guided by the question: How can
preservice teachers build their pedagogical practice in Kindergarten to Grade 12 instruction in
the absence of children and youth? The focus of the course was on ensuring that the preservice
teachers practiced teaching to both small and large groups within a virtual environment rather
than the usual in-person environment in a practicum. The design included creating a new course,
working with 23 instructors to learn about digital pedagogies, developing an effective virtual
environment, and finding resources to effectively meet course objectives.
Despite the disappointment our undergraduate students shared with us about missing a
classroom-based field experience and the challenges they experienced with learning online, by
the end of the pandemic practicum, survey responses from our students indicated there was a
changing and increasingly positive perception about online teaching and learning. They gained a
new empathy for the K-12 teachers who had to quickly transition from in-person to online
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classes and realized that teaching online required a completely different set of teaching resources
and instructional strategies to be effective. The design of the pandemic practicum provided an
opportunity for students to think deeply about their learning experienced during previous course
work and provided students with experiences in designing lessons, integrating inclusive practices
and discussing the ways that planning, and delivery could be manifested within an online
learning environment. Additionally, faculty were able to provide a course experience where
students used synchronous and asynchronous technologies to demonstrate competencies in
teaching lessons. For many instructors, working online was also new, so the instructors worked
collaboratively and shared pedagogical approaches to support student learning.
This course was developed quickly as an online practicum and struck a balance of applying the
theoretical learning from previous classes with that of pedagogical development within an online
learning environment. Students were able to focus on lesson planning, assessment, inclusive
practice and the authentic integration of Indigenous studies. Each week, instructors provided
scaffolding for students to continue to develop their teaching practice. Moreover, the design
helped optimize the intentions of the original practicum experience and flow of learning
activities by gradually progressing from designing small group activities and then advancing to
designing a complete instructional plan for a lesson with attention to assessing student outcomes.
The online practicum did not provide the pre-service teachers with a classroom of school age
children to test out their lessons; however, the adapted pandemic practicum did provide a
valuable experience for undergraduate students to design and enact a lesson in an online
environment, learn about online pedagogies, and receive critical peer and instructor feedback.
Key learning emerged from the implementation of the pandemic practicum. Firstly, in times of
crisis, a focus on student and teacher wellbeing needed to be at the forefront of instructional
practice. The first week of the pandemic practicum was dedicated to working through the fears,
anxieties, and anger expressed by the pre-service teachers about teaching online and the absence
of their usual practicum experience. As a result of working through the pre-service teachers’
concerns, they became more open and willing to engage with the remainder of the course.
Educational workers will face crisis and trauma work while working within school communities,
so providing students with knowledge and competencies in building and protecting their own
wellbeing needs to be a part of pre-service teacher education.
Secondly, despite the pre-pandemic marginalized status of online teaching and learning in K-12,
virtual education may now become more commonplace in tertiary education. Faculties of
education will need to build the digital instructional literacy of pre-service teachers to improve
their confidence, motivation, and knowledge in online pedagogies, as online education will likely
play a larger role and teachers need the knowledge, skills, and competencies to be effective in
both in-person and online environments. Further, instructors within universities also need to
learn about effective online pedagogies so that they can model and use a variety of digital
strategies and platforms with pre-service teachers.
Creating the pandemic practicum was a response to a crisis moment, and while the course itself
led to interesting and novel insights about developing digital instructional literacy in pre-service
teachers, it also highlighted the importance of in-person instruction and the importance of
experiential learning in education programming. Online teaching and learning will continue to
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grow as a segment of tertiary education and building the confidence of pre-service teachers with
teaching in virtual environments will become a necessary component of teacher education.
Pre-Service Teachers Tutored K-12 Students During School Closures
During this time, we also heard about concerns from parents who were suddenly responsible and
feeling ill-equipped to support their children with learning at home (Brown, 2020). Parents
shared their challenges with balancing the demands of working from home and at the same time
supporting their children who were learning from home. When in-person practicums had to be
canceled due to K-12 school closures, the WSE began brainstorming ways to both engage pre-
service teachers and support the community. In response, the experiential learning team launched
a volunteer online tutoring program that had tremendous impact in the community (MacGillvray,
2020). The purpose of this program in Spring 2020 was to provide the opportunity for pre-
service teachers to engage with their community to provide free online tutoring services for K-12
students who found themselves at home due to the closure of schools. The student volunteers
were able to draw on their learning from the pandemic practicum course in their tutoring
sessions. The tutoring program provided our undergraduate students with an opportunity to
interact with children and youth and practice some of their newly acquired online teaching skills.
The program received requests to support over 1000 children and youth from across Alberta. At
that time, almost 300 pre-service teachers stepped forward to serve as tutors, and some offered to
support multiple children. This arrangement continued for many families throughout July and
August, and well beyond our expectations. Additionally, due to high community demand and the
excitement of the pre-service teachers when engaging with the community, the tutoring program
continued in Fall 2020 and pre-service teachers offered non-stop support to K-12 students while
completing their full-time undergraduate studies. The tutoring program stands as an example of
the innovation that was propelled forward by the complexities presented by COVID-19 and one
of the ways WSE has found to engage in new and different ways of educating future teachers
while supporting K-12 educators, students, and their families.
In-Person Practicums Were Blended with Online Course Work
In the Fall 2020, to ensure pre-service teachers would be sufficiently prepared, both for
certification with the government and with respect to their ability to enter competently and
confidently into their chosen profession, the decision was made to return to in-person practicum
opportunities within K-12 schools. We also decided to provide fully online courses during the
Fall term. This provided our students with a combination of an in-person practicum in schools
coupled with online courses in their program. This decision presented both opportunities and
challenges for students, instructors, practicum teachers, as well as our program administrators.
Our students were able to remain relatively physically isolated from their peers during the period
leading up to their practicum allowing them to feel more confident that they were healthy and
physically prepared to enter into the practicum, an experience that they value highly and that is
considered a cornerstone of teacher education. Additionally, by being a student in the online
environment, these students had the opportunity to experience online education and to see the
myriad of ways their own instructors designed learning for the online environment. Knowing that
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the need to engage in some kind of online delivery during their practicum was a very real
possibility, this provided students with the chance to reflect on how they might themselves
engage in online education as a K-12 teacher. A challenge faced by some pre-service teachers in
moving from the online environment to the in-person practicum was the uncertainty surrounding
schooling and the added health measures in schools during COVID-19. This level of uncertainty
about being in schools during a pandemic was something new for our program administrators
and required instructors, administrative staff and our school partners to support students in new
ways. While it was not historically uncommon for pre-service teachers to exhibit nervousness
regarding their competency, their fit for the profession or, for example, their ability to form
connections with their partner teachers or students, it was a unique experience working with pre-
service teachers who were nervous to be in a school during a pandemic.
Schools and Community Members Supported our Undergraduate Students
Securing practicum placements also presented a challenge due to the additional health and safety
protocols implemented by schools. School administrators were also nervous to invite additional
guests to schools, such as student teachers and their field placement supervisors. Our partner
school districts recognized the value of field placements and worked with us to support in-person
practicums. Most students completed their field placement completely in-person; however there
were also instances of classes that were required to move to online learning during the practicum
time period and our students demonstrated their flexibility and adaptability to work alongside
their partner teachers and complete their practicum in online learning environments.
School leaders and teachers also volunteered to meet with our undergraduate students online and
share their expertise through panel presentations in webinar formats. For example, one webinar
included panelists of in-service teachers and instructors focusing on the “how” and “why” of
developing ePortfolios. While Instructors wanted students to feel confident in the pragmatic
elements of designing their ePortfolios, it was important to also emphasize the pedagogical
implications of the assignment. The panelists spoke from their experience and shared examples
while elaborating how they are using them to support their own classrooms as well as their own
professional learning. In another webinar with over 400 participants of students and instructors
as well as different school partners including classroom teachers, parents, instructional leaders,
principals and students, the focus was on discussing the topic of online teaching and learning in
K-12 classrooms. Panelists shared their perspectives about the possibilities and challenges of
online instruction. These included opportunities for students to continue their learning from
home and provided comfort to many families navigating the challenges of COVID-19. Issues of
equity, accessibility and mental health concerns were also shared as panelists spoke from their
experience in both urban and rural settings. Online webinars provided a convenient venue for our
community partners to provide their expertise and share insights with our students.
A Professional Learning Series was Provided for In-Service Teachers
The need to support practicum partner teachers was readily apparent due to the ongoing shifts
between in-person and online learning that was happening across K-12 schools. As a response,
the WSE created a professional learning seminar series to support partner teachers with topics
that they identified as areas for growth and to show our recognition and appreciation for our
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partner teachers. We provided free, accessible online webinars for practicum teachers on the
following topics: online and blended practices, teacher wellness, Indigenous education, and
teaching in diverse contexts. We have learned as this series was being developed that educators
need professional learning that is practical, easy to integrate and conveniently accessible online.
As a part of school re-entry plans in Fall 2020, school districts in Alberta also started offering
fully online schooling options for families. For instance, Calgary Catholic Schools created a new
online school for K-9 with over 5000 students and 200 online teachers (Ross, 2020). In addition
to the professional learning series for practicum partner teachers, we also offered freely
accessible professional learning for online teachers in the field. The increase in online teaching
in Alberta schools resulted in an increased demand for professional learning about online
teaching for in-service teachers. The WSE received numerous requests from local school districts
for professional learning to support their online teachers. We responded to the requests and
worked with graduate students to help design an online professional learning series for teachers.
This resulted in a series of sessions on topics, such as universal design for learning, engaging
students synchronously, online pedagogies, choice boards, and e-assessment, to name a few.
Online Teachers in the Field Informed our Online Pedagogy Series Designed for Students
We also received requests from pre-service teachers and instructors for increased opportunities in
learning about online pedagogies. Drawing on our experiences offering professional learning in
online spaces (Beck et al., 2020), we started an online pedagogy series open to faculty and
students that commenced in Spring 2020 and continues to evolve with new sessions added on a
monthly basis. This series is also informing the design of a new undergraduate course that will
be offered in Summer 2021, entitled digital pedagogies. The digital pedagogies course will be
open to enrollment from students in the undergraduate program, recent graduates in education,
and practicing teachers in the field. The course will provide educators with an understanding of
digital pedagogies and the literacies that can be implemented to support digital learning. We also
updated one of our graduate certificates in leading and learning in a digital age in the M.Ed.
interdisciplinary pathway based. In addition, we developed a new graduate certificate in online
assessment. The four courses within the assessment topic focus on research, practices, and trends
in the field of assessment in technology-enabled learning environments. These graduate courses
and programs now have a greater emphasis on teaching and learning online environments.
Lessons Learned
Seeking student input has been a valuable strategy as we have been moving forward in making
changes to courses and programs. Representatives from the Education Student Association
(ESA) provided valuable input and students continue to gather input from their peers to share
with our faculty. For example, the ESA is working collaboratively with our faculty to design a
student questionnaire to seek input about the challenges and successes experienced with online
learning. We also continue to survey instructors, and partner teachers in the field and seek input
from faculty and community partners. Feedback from students, instructors and K-12 schools
inform our faculty as we continue to design and redesign online courses and plan for future
program improvements and learning experiences in online environments.
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We also learned that instructors need additional supports with designing and delivering online
courses as well as on-going professional learning in online pedagogies. We initially provided
supports, such as teaching assistants (i.e., often graduate students with experience in teaching
online) helped instructors who needed to quickly transition their courses from in-person to online
modalities many of who were teaching online for the first time. Technology coaches were also
available through our institution for instructors to seek individual assistance in learning how to
use technologies commonly used in online courses (Canon, 2020). Instructors started to
recognize that designing a high-quality online course requires more than substituting activities
from in-person to online environments. Extra technology support was helpful to make a quick
transition, but we also recognized that with more time, instructional designs could be improved.
In moving forward, we are also providing instructors with funds to hire a graduate student to
provide assistance in designing new courses. We also continue to examine ways to improve
professional learning opportunities for instructors. Designing quality online learning experiences
requires competencies in online pedagogies and sufficient time for instructional design.
Another challenge was the timeline for decisions and communications regarding the modality of
course delivery. In the early stages of COVID-19, instructors and students were required to
quickly adapt to the changes involved in moving in-person courses to online courses. There was
little time to prepare for these changes. However, more time was provided for the Fall term. Our
institution announced in early June that most of the Fall 2020 courses would be delivered online
and this early communication provided instructors with sufficient time to design their courses
and seek professional learning supports to adequately prepare for the Fall term. We recommend
providing instructors with more time, if possible, to design appropriately for the modality of their
course. The additional time is also beneficial for students as they too can plan accordingly for
their courses and practicum experiences knowing in advance if they will be taking courses in-
person or online. We recognize it may not always be possible to provide advance notice and
extra time to prepare in times of crisis and quick shifts in modality may be required.
Our experiences and insights through designing a pandemic practicum, developing a tutoring
program, transitioning in-person courses to online, blending online courses and practicum
experiences, and engaging with our community to receive and provide supports and professional
learning opportunities, will help us continue to be responsive to the changing needs of our
students, instructors, and school partners. We also learned the importance of maintaining
ongoing communications to work together and keep everyone informed and involved in changes
and adaptations needed to respond to the changing contexts in schools during the pandemic.
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Lori McKee
Nova Scotia
Remote learning environment
Learning to Teach During COVID-19
On the first day of class in Fall 2020, my students, all first-year elementary teacher candidates,
filed silently into the classroom, pausing only to sanitize their hands. Greeting my students felt
clumsy as it was hard to hear attempts at conversation through our non-medical masks while also
maintaining physical distance. Students found a seat in the classroom, sanitized their workspace,
and then sat silently as they waited for class to begin. The classroom felt awkward and distanced.
I began teaching my class with my toes hugging the “safety line” that indicated that I was two
metres away from the front row of students. I reflected that nothing in my two decades as an
educator had prepared me for teaching in these conditions and I wondered how I might prepare
teacher candidates to teach in elementary schools with similar safety policies in place. Herein, I
share my perspective of the complexities of P-12 teaching and learning in Nova Scotia in the
COVID-19 era.
The nature of the virus meant that the return to face-to-face schooling in Nova Scotia was
uncertain. The province’s return to school plan identified that classes would begin in schools
with enhanced safety measures including physical distancing and the wearing of non-medical
masks (for older students and staff), but also clearly explained that the delivery model of
schooling would shift to a blended approach, or at-home learning in response to the COVID-
19 cases and health information available. The fluid approach to the plan made sense as it
allowed schools to pivot in response to the conditions in their region (Nova Scotia, 2020), but it
created a tentative feeling as all stakeholders carefully watched the virus case count knowing that
the delivery model (and associated teaching methods) could rapidly change.
Though teachers knew what the safety policies were for P-12 schooling, they did not have
experience with how to teach within these conditions. All teachers, whether experienced or
novice, were learning to teach this Fall. In my own teacher education classroom, I experienced
the ways that masks and distancing constrained communication. Would elementary classrooms
be as silent as my teacher education classroom? Would children be able to hear instructions
when their teacher was wearing a mask? Would the small group instructional practice that was
necessary for many students be possible when abiding by two meters of distance? What was an
alternative? Would teachers revert to instructional methods that focused on solitary work or was
it possible to support student collaboration? How could teachers create a physically and
emotionally safe learning space for their students within such an uncertain context? Over time, as
our cases have remained low in the province and policies have been stable, teachers have
gradually found learning routines (often using a trial and error approach) that support face to
face, physically distanced classroom learning. In my teacher education classroom, my classroom
feels less awkward and is no longer silent as my students have found ways to connect with one
another in the current conditions of masking and physical distancing. But, what if policies were
to change?
Interrelated with the questions of how to innovate teaching practices in the COVID-19 era was
the question of how resources could be used in elementary classrooms. Materials usually
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available for teaching and learning (e.g., crayons, papers, books, math manipulatives, digital
technologies) were subject to enhanced cleaning measures. However, it was not clear how this
cleaning might impact the use of these materials (e.g., cleaning would take place immediately or
if the resource would be out of circulation for hours or days). Would this uncertainty further
restrict the materials used in classrooms and the learning opportunities available to students?
Would access to materials be consistent for all students in all grades? In some ways, planning
lessons with fewer materials seems easier, but how might learning opportunities be impacted?
The return to school has been filled with more questions than answers. From my perspective,
teachers have worked very hard as they have learned to teach in new ways within a context of
uncertainty. I wonder how long educators can sustain this level of innovation while also
attending to the physical and emotional safety of their students, their families, and themselves.
My teacher education students are almost ready to enter their practicum teaching placements.
These novice teachers have experience as a learner within a classroom where COVID-19 safety
measures are in place. Will this experience help them navigate the classroom in this new era?
Will the strategies for communication and collaboration developed in our teacher education
classroom transfer to the elementary classrooms? As this group of teachers enters the classroom,
we wonder how long our COVID-19 cases might remain low enough so we can sustain this face-
to-face, physically distanced mode. My teacher education students, alongside all other educators
in Nova Scotia (including myself), are continuing to learn to teach in the COVID-19 era.
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References and Resources
Barbour, M. K., & LaBonte, R. (2015). Abbreviated State of the nation: K-12 e-learning in
Canada. Canadian E-Learning Network.
https://k12sotn.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2016/09/StateOfTheNation2015.pdf
Barbour, M. K., & LaBonte, R. (2019). State of the nation study: K-12 e-learning in Canada.
Half Moon Bay, BC: Canadian E-Learning Network. Retrieved from https://k12sotn.ca/
Beck, J., Fowler, T., & Brown, B. (2020). Asynchronous professional learning: An online
conference to connect pre-service and in-service teachers to current research. In R. E.,
Ferding, E., Baumgartner, R. Hartshorne, R., Kaplan-Rakowski & C. Mouza (Eds.),
Teaching, technology, and teacher education during the COVID-19 pandemic: Stories
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Interview with Chancellor Deborah Yedlin. https://www.ucalgary.ca/news/webinar_tips-
parents-during-school-closures
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Government of Canada. https://health-infobase.canada.ca/covid-19/epidemiological-
summary-covid-19-cases.html
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up-for-online-learning/
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Canadian eLearning Networkhttps://canelearn.net
... This article provides an overview of the main concepts contained in that keynote presentation, along with new ideas that have become apparent as school authorities begin their second complete school year during this pandemic. Many of these ideas have been presented in isolated and disconnected fashions in a series of previous publications (see Barbour et al., 2020a;Barbour & LaBonte, 2020;Nagle et al., 2020a;Nagle et al., 2020b;Nagle et al., 2021). 1 In this combined and expanded effort, I begin by providing some background and history on the use of distance and online learning -both during regular times and in crisis situations. I continue by outlining the distinction between online learning and emergency remote learning, and how the transition that occurred during the Spring 2020 was an example of the latter. ...
Article
Full-text available
While the use of distance and online learning had been used for over a century in the K-12 setting (including in isolated ways during previous pandemics and natural disasters), the complete worldwide closure of schools focused attention on the use of distance and online tools and content to provide continuity of learning in a remote context. The way in which both practitioners and scholars make sense of what has occurred over the past 18 months, and what is likely to continue into the future, will impact both regular schooling and how we prepare for future crisis. This article explores this pandemic pedagogy, with a goal of situating the events since March 2020 within the broader field and providing guidance on a path forward. Available online at https://jdsr.se/ojs/index.php/jdsr/article/view/107
Article
Similar to previous iterations, this action research study examined student perceptions of K-12 online learning as part of an action research project working to improve a graduate course on using internet-based instruction in the classroom. Additionally, since the data were collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, additional analysis of the qualitative data shines a light on why K-12 education struggled with the transition to remote teaching in the spring of 2020. Qualitative analysis of student artifacts, particularly student blog posts, revealed a general lack of awareness about the scope of online learning at the time, an evolving consensus of whether online learning was suitable for various ages, and how adults support online learning. Recommendations for future iterations of the course take these themes into account, along with how the pandemic may have already changed the opinions of future students in the course.
Article
Full-text available
International Schools Journal (ISJ) ======================================================= The purpose of this action research was to investigate the effects of the MBS program and related mindfulness tools in PE on the participating kindergarten and elementary school classes (N= 435), with particular emphasis on strengthening students emotionally, cognitively, and physically during the Covid19 pandemic. Teaching interventions targeted student self-awareness (self-regulation and autonomy), confidence, and desire for self-improvement during PE classes, with the view to supporting them achieve better learning outcomes and also transfer these skills to other areas of their daily lives inside and outside school. A mixed-method data collection was conducted by the PE teacher in collaboration with the e-Learning director in a non-participating observer’s role. The present work aspired to contribute to the body of existing research on the benefits of mindfulness in the educational process on condition it is applied systematically through a sound pedagogical approach, and with corresponding instructional design.
Technical Report
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This report is second of three reports designed to chronicle how each province and territory in Canada managed their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of this second report, as with the first report Documenting Triage: Detailing the Response of Provinces and Territories to Emergency Remote Teaching report (Nagle, Barbour, & LaBonte, 2020) that described how each jurisdiction managed their emergency remote teaching during Spring 2020, is to report on what occurred, not to assess its quality. This report is designed to delineate what actions each jurisdiction took: the tools, content, and devices provided, curated, and/or created; and, the nature of instruction that occurred. The third report will provide vignettes authored by education stakeholders sharing their stories about what actually transpired in their school and community. Sponsored by the Canadian eLearning Network (CANeLearn), a leading voice in Canada for learner success in K-12 online and blended learning, this report highlights the announcements, supports, and policy changes each Canadian jurisdiction made to continue to promote learning throughout the pandemic. Information was gathered for each province and territory through government websites, educational organizations, and current news releases. This information highlighted each jurisdiction’s strategies to provide supports, resources, and technologies appropriate for the continuation of teaching and learning. A website1 was created to host this report series along with an archive of online workshop presentations based on each report. This second report provides a description of what was announced and provided for by provincial and territorial Ministries of Education during the Fall 2020. While a national view is considered, the approach taken varied among each of the provinces and territories. Some jurisdictions required students to wear masks in school buildings, others did not. Many jurisdictions required masks to be worn when physical distancing was not possible. Some jurisdictions announced specific plans for remote learning, others relied on existing online learning programs for students who remained at home. Few jurisdictions announced or published specific plans for professional development or training for teachers new to remote learning. Most schools opened as planned with physical distancing measures, restricted movement, and encouraged outdoor activity when possible. Remote learning choices were offered, but there were issues of managing choices as parents chose to shift from remote to online or the reverse after the school year started. Teachers had to be shifted from teaching in the classroom to teaching remotely or in a hybrid format as student groupings and classroom attendance shifted during the opening months. For the most part, the supports and resources provided by each of the jurisdictions continued as in the Spring, including access to mail delivery of educational learning packages, radio and television broadcasting, centralized learning management systems, and access to a variety of digital tools. Some provinces such as Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and British Columbia provided technology to students. All jurisdictions – except for Alberta, Ontario, and New Brunswick – provided resources that did not require internet access. Further, some jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut continued to make specific considerations for Indigenous students. 1 The website is available at https://sites.google.com/view/canelearn-ert/
Article
Full-text available
Well-planned online learning experiences are meaningfully different from courses offered online in response to a crisis or disaster. Colleges and universities working to maintain instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic should understand those differences when evaluating this emergency remote teaching.
Technical Report
Full-text available
Current research in K-12 online learning in Canada has focused on defi ning distance learning and its current strengths and weaknesses. Yet, the proliferation of technologies and digital learning spaces has led to the emergence of new instructional strategies and digital learning practices for teachers in many K-12 classrooms, both online and onsite. Traditional school-based classrooms are incorporating technology-supported open learning options, creating “blended learning” opportunities where at least part of instruction occurs in a classroom, part online at a distance to the teacher, both combined with some element of choice in learning for students. For these emerging practices little is known empirically, only anecdotally, as research into these practices has been limited or nonexistent, particularly in Canada. As you will find in this publication, many provinces and territories in Canada have some reference to distance education in their Education Act or Schools Act, the reference is typically used to describe distance education or to enable the Ministry of Education to create, approve or regulate K-12 distance education. However, few provinces and territories have any regulations describing online or blended learning. Two exceptions may be Nova Scotia and British Columbia. In Nova Scotia distance education is described in the collective agreement signed between the Government of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. British Columbia has the highest level of regulation for K–12 online learning, featuring a structured system that allows students to freely choose any online course or program, and a funding model where dollars follow student choice. BC also has de ned and published standards and a focus on quality for their online learning programs. As digital learning practices expand, there is a clear need for further research and study in the emerging eld of K-12 online and blended learning. Canada, as the second largest country in the world, has a rich history of technology-supported distance learning strategies to bridge the country’s geographic expanse. Yet, for the past decade Canadian educators actively embracing new learning models and technologies have worked in relative isolation, sharing only locally at best. Given our rich experience in online and distance learning, an investment in Canadian-based research would be wise, and a national research model founded on the State of the Nation: K-12 E-Learning in Canada report could foster, support, communicate and share research in a manner that reaches local practitioners, not just academic journals. This eighth edition of the State of the Nation: K-12 E-Learning in Canada report, combined with the consolidation of Canadian research posted on the Canadian eLearning Network’s (CANeLearn) website (see http://canelearn.net/state-of-the-nation-k-12-online-learning-in-canada/), lays the foundation for an expansion of critical research for Canadian K-12 practitioners of K-12 online and blended learning practice and innovation. The 2015 report is a call for an expansion of research from Canada, including written publications covering topics specif ic to blended and online learning, vignettes, features and expanded information and stories about innovation and new approaches across Canada. CANeLearn looks forward to continuing to take a lead role in supporting and partnering in this research, posting this information on its website, and sharing it with members and educators across Canada and beyond. Retrieved from http://canelearn.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/State-of-the-Nation-Report-2015.pdf
Webinar: Tips for parents during school closures
  • B Brown
Brown, B. (2020, March 24). Webinar: Tips for parents during school closures [Interview].
Grad students help instructors become tech 'superusers
  • S Canon
Canon, S. (2020). Grad students help instructors become tech 'superusers.' UCalgary News. https://www.ucalgary.ca/news/grad-students-help-instructors-become-tech-superusers
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Epidemiology update. Government of Canada
  • Health Canada
Health Canada. (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Epidemiology update. Government of Canada. https://health-infobase.canada.ca/covid-19/epidemiologicalsummary-covid-19-cases.html
Preservice teachers step up to fill void created by school closures
  • C Macgillvray
MacGillvray, C. (2020). Preservice teachers step up to fill void created by school closures. UCalgary News. https://www.ucalgary.ca/news/preservice-teachers-step-fill-voidcreated-school-closures
Documenting triage: Detailing the response of provinces and territories to emergency remote teaching
  • J Nagle
  • M K Barbour
  • R Labonte
Nagle, J., Barbour, M. K., & LaBonte, R. (2020). Documenting triage: Detailing the response of provinces and territories to emergency remote teaching. Canadian eLearning Network. https://sgf.292.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Documenting-Triagecanelearn-emergency-remote-teaching-report1.pdf
Nova Scotia's back to school plan
  • Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia. (2020). Nova Scotia's back to school plan. Retrieved from https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/docs/back-to-school-plan.pdf