“If we can keep our central nervous system from flooding the rest of us, this is a huge growth opportunity for educators. They’re taking online classes on how to interact remotely with their students. Never before has a teacher from Warren been able to see exactly what their counterpart in Waitsfield was teaching on the same day. They are developing new skills daily,” said Waitsfield Elementary School principal Kaiya Korb.
Korb was interviewed on a sunny, Sunday afternoon, March 22, almost a week to the hour since Vermont Governor Phil Scott closed the state’s schools. Korb and other members of the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) met from 5 to 9 that night.
Korb said that while it seemed like school closure was a strong possibility, local educators were focused on schools staying open and making it safe and healthy for students.
All that changed on March 15. After the emergency meeting, Korb and her counterparts throughout the district began working on getting templates in place for when staff met the following morning on March 16 for two days of in-service. Teachers and administrators in the district, plus food service management, were charged with being able to roll out remote learning plans for each school and each grade as well as begin distributing lunches and breakfasts to all kids 18 and under in the district.
Administrators divided up the tasks, with some working on the website, some addressing internet connectivity, some assessing devices and some spearheading food service.
Korb et al began creating templates to give elementary school teachers a format that didn’t dictate what the work was, but helped them think about how the work they provided for students was trackable.
“We’ve been told that work needs to be trackable and that we need to a plan for maintenance learning, but also one for continuous learning. In other words, you want to make sure that the work students are doing is keeping their brains working, but ultimately, for older students, to demonstrate that they’ve met the proficiencies,” she explained.
Digitally, the template of the website that became the school-specific grade-by-grade site was the creation of two administrators and Korb’s seventh-grade son Jasper Mayone.
“Teachers were almost immediately producing materials and sharing ideas. We were trying to get ahead of where the teachers were, trying to get a place for them to put their work. The template and the websites allow teachers to see other schools’ templates and see what their grade–level counterparts are teaching on any given day,” Korb explained.
Initially teachers were asked to produce two weeks worth of plans and Korb said that just as they do at the beginning of the school year, particularly for younger students, teachers don’t layer on a ton of work.
“We asked people to keep in mind that families are not necessarily set up for five hours of school work a day,” she said.
What’s next for Korb? District administrators and educators focusing on making it better, she said.
“We’re thinking about how much of the work kids could be doing independently. We’ve learned that asking kids to take a picture of this and upload it ends up causing parents work, particularly for younger students. We pushed a lot of material out for students and we know that good learning requires relationships and interaction. Teachers are learning a lot about remote learning and tools they can use to meet with their students and how to use videos so kids can watch them speak,” she said.
She’s meeting remotely with her staff, coordinating how to proceed and also beginning the work of prescreening preschoolers and their parents (by phone) in anticipation of next fall.
While Governor Scott has not said that schools will be closed longer than April 6, he did suggest (at his March 20 press conference) that the closures, along with bars, restaurants and many other businesses could have to be extended.
And while Korb is working remotely, she’s also helping her children Jasper and Stella with their online work.
“That’s what a lot of families are learning to do. Juggle jobs and remote learning. We’re thinking about this as we plan curriculum,” she explained, noting that a critical part of an educator’s job is to figure out how to adapt every lesson to every kid.
“This week our focus is on checking with families and figuring out what is working and what their challenges are and how we can help,” she added.
Waitsfield Elementary School and others in the district are working on how to safely make library materials available to students this week. Stay tuned for updates.