Living Our Motto: Virtual Learning at the Lower School

“We will find a way, or we will make one”.  We at the Lower School have repeated this St. Andrew’s motto in countless meetings over the years, encouraging each other when faced with various challenges or new initiatives.  However, in my 4 years at St. Andrew’s, I’ve never seen our motto lived out quite like I have during these last few months.  I’ll never forget March 16, 2020 and what it felt like as I walked the campus with Dawn Wilson, our fearless head of lower school, to meet with teams in an effort to find a way to move to virtual learning or make one.  Our amazing teachers- folks who find energy from one another through close proximity and collaboration- were spread out along hallways and classrooms, practicing the 6 feet of social distancing that was so foreign to us then.  Hallways were silent, cubbies were empty, and desks– full of students’ supplies, materials, and belongings– looked just as they did when children excitedly scattered for Spring Break.  A sadness hung over us as we walked the empty school buildings, but as we entered every classroom, we were continuously met with determined faculty members, greeting us with smiles and words of encouragement and confidence in our collective ability to launch virtual learning.  My own anxiety about the situation subsided as I met with these amazing people throughout the day who were steadfast in finding a way or making a way to: reach 3- and 4- year-olds virtually, continue morning meetings via Google Hangouts, gather and sanitize chrome books and ensure equity for families, bag supplies so students were prepared, continue teaching content and skills, support every family from a distance, among a multitude of other details that matter tremendously to teachers who dearly love their students.

As we settled into the new virtual world of education in the weeks to follow, I had the humbling privilege of maintaining a continuous line of communication with our faculty who were on the front lines pouring every ounce of energy into serving our students and families. We’ve collaborated on ways to organize online content, build virtual assessments, create projects that are screen-free, create virtual classroom management plans, and sometimes just have venting sessions about how hard this all is. Before the pandemic, I was already aware that I work among the most incredible professionals, hands-down, but little did I know, these creative, talented, and passionate folks could also find a way or make one through a global pandemic.  The teachers will tell you firsthand that this hasn’t been an easy journey, but we’ve made it through together and are finishing this school year with even more confidence to live out our motto, no matter what challenges may lie ahead. 

PK4 teachers planning for virtual learning, pandemic style.

What have you learned generally about best practices in teaching during the past few months?

Getting the chance to check in with students who struggle one on one has been impactful not only on their learning but also on my teaching. I’ve imagined keeping a line open for students as we transition back to in-person. They could email me and, when appropriate, we could meet on a Hangout to discuss their concerns. (Susan Pace, 3rd Grade)

The past month has reinforced the benefit of having a working knowledge of your curriculum and a long-range plan for implementing it.  With this current and in place, when moving to distance learning – although challenging – I could navigate through a framework and outline already in use.   Additionally, archiving online lessons regularly emailed from professional organizations and former clinicians proved to be an invaluable resource when needed. (Susan Lawler, ECC Music)

Face to face time is so important.  Although you can see each other virtually, it’s not the same as being together in person.  Attention spans are not as long as they would be if we were face to face.  I’ve missed the games we played, the carpet time, the greetings and hugs, and so much more that comes with being together in person. (Kerri Black, 2nd Grade)

It is very important for Kindergarten students to learn to communicate with a variety of styles, talking, body gestures, and face expressions as they learn to read speakers’ body languages along with speaking words. Students missed opportunities to recognize some of the communication expressions. As a  teacher, it is so hard to pick up immediate reactions and responses from students on small pictures of their faces. (Junko Bramlett, Kindergarten)

This past month has been a learning curve for all of us, but we needed to remember to stay positive and adjust in such a quick turn around. I am super impressed with what we have put together as a team and am very proud of how SA accommodated the new situation and navigates online learning. Virtual learning has made me appreciate the simple things, like getting a good morning hug from my students, eating lunch in the cafeteria and not having to think about what to cook, sunshine during recess, or simply the socializing in the hallway after school. (Valerie Dembny, 4th Grade Math)

The past month or so has reshaped my teaching in many ways. One important thing Distance Learning reminded me was to “keep it simple.” Even though I wouldn’t wish for a pandemic for such a reminder, it was necessary to filter out distractions that took away from the main goal. What was left was exactly what our students (and teachers) needed to continue education during this time. Most importantly I’ve learned that my introverted self needs people, especially young people. (Mary McCall McArthur, 1st Grade)

I have some of the most wonderful conversations with some of the children in a one-on-one Meet. My takeaway on that is to remember the importance of utilizing all these (full group, small group, and individual time) also in the classroom. I know this is always the goal but sometimes we are so busy with 19 students it feels like there’s not enough time. There’s always a way to rethink how to secure those group and individual times. (Saana Watson, Kindergarten)

What platforms have you tried that you loved?

I think the power of a Google Hangout meeting, with which all my students will be quite familiar, will be a handy tool to use in addition to, or in lieu of, synchronous learning on campus, if a situation arises that warrants it. In addition, a Zoom meeting could also be particularly useful with dance. (Catherine Bishop)

I have loved hearing the children’s learning when they turn in activities on Seesaw. A lot of the activities have voice recording so I hear the learning going on with the child and the interaction with their parents. It has been so beautiful to hear the excitement, inquisitiveness, and sometime frustration in a child’s voice, but then to hear the parent’s love and guidance with their child has been a gift. (Kim Sewell, PK4)

Something I’m excited about is incorporating technology for future classes. Using an app like FlipGrid will be a fun way to show parents snip-its from the class day. Using voice-to-text in a Google Doc will be an excellent tool for my young writers who have marvelous ideas but lack the writing or spelling stamina to physically write such stories. (Mary McCall McArthur, 1st Grade)

Teaching 3 year olds virtually is very challenging! Having lots of games ready to go was key! In PK3 we used the SeeSaw app, and in our class we encouraged everyone to post. It was amazing to see what my students did! (Cab Green, PK3)

One thing I would like to continue doing is Google Forms! They are a quick and easy assessment and can be graded automatically- how cool! (Mary Grace Jimenez, 4th Grade Math)

Using Google Classroom/Google Meet has been something I will continue to incorporate in my teaching. I also will continue Screencastify. But the face to face time is so important in making those connections with students. It’s just as important for them as it is for me! (Carla Kelly, 2nd Grade)

My favorite tool to use these days is screen share, as it is an easy way to see each other’s screens and things make a lot more sense when you can actually see what the other person is talking about. (Valerie Dembny, 4th Grade Math)

Students use Flipgrid to post assignments, give and receive feedback, and stay connected with friends.

Now it’s on to your favorite subject, bragging about your students!  How have they responded to the past few months?

One of my favorite things is from a writing lesson Mrs. Morris planned for the first grade. The directions stated their stories had to be a fantasy/fictional piece that contained a main character, problem, and solution. The assignments built upon each other over two weeks. I was surprised to see my students sticking with the process. Because they did, there were some quality and imaginative stories. One student wrote “Steve Makes a Mistake.” It’s about this villager who undergoes a series of unfortunate events, ultimately ending with a “respawning” from a tragic death and an apology from Steve. It was an emotional rollercoaster of a piece, but again, a nod to technology giving my students a chance to whole-heartedly commit to a writing piece they are proud of! (Mary McCall McArthur, 1st Grade)

Here is just a short list of new skills these 9- and 10-year olds have gained within the brief time span: sending and receiving emails, using Google classroom, posting assignments, utilizing Google slides/Google docs/Google sheets, submitting photos of their work, recording videos explaining their thinking, typing, FlipGrid, Google Earth, creating and using chats and hangouts, holding small group virtual meetings, and and and… We are proud of our students’ desire to continue to do well, persevere through technical difficulties, and have a positive attitude. We have felt an overwhelming support from parents in most cases and hope that given the circumstances, we were able to give our students exactly what they needed: enough challenge without being pushed too hard. These fourth graders have earned not only the courage award, but any other award that is out there! Keep it up little friends! (Valerie Dembny, 4th Grade Math)

Ms. Dembny’s students are all smiles as they connect during synchronous class time.

Students really did an outstanding job of creating their ocean research project presentations! Parents recorded them presenting their research and their creativity was really exciting to see. (Carla Kelly, 2nd Grade)

This past month has shown me that our students are capable of SO much. Once they are taught anything tech related, they can do it after. (Mary Grace Jimenez, 4th Grade Math)

My students have surprised me with the detail they have put into their work.  Much of our work is “May Do’s”, but I have found that so many of mine have really gotten into them.  I have seen creativity expand immensely because students now have the time to be creative.  There’s no rushing to after school activities or birthday parties or everyday tasks and duties.  While I know we all miss that, this time to slow down has resulted in truly amazing moments that I hope all of my students will look back on fondly for years to come. (Kerri Black, 2nd Grade)

I was surprised anytime a student completed any of our suggestions for the week, especially since co-curricular classes were optional. (Catherine Bishop, 1st-4th Grade Little Chapel)

Students creating a cooking challenge video for our math measurement unit were fantastic. We’re also beginning to see some different ways students are toying around. with the geometry challenge. I’ve noticed they are hungry for “away from screens” projects. As much as I’m ready for summer, I wish I had another week to try some new things with them. (Susan Pace, 3rd Grade)

It has been a real challenge in some ways but rewarding in talking with the children and seeing how resilient they can be. The change has been good in that they have risen to the new way of doing things.  Responsibility has taken on a whole new meaning for them. (Carolyn Cloud, 3rd Grade)

Any other thoughts as we wrap up the school year?

I’m so proud of the work our school has done.  While it hasn’t been easy, I’m so thankful for the time and effort everyone has put in to remain connected.  We have truly banded together and because of that I sincerely believe our students are ready to take on the next grade level. (Kerri Black, 2nd Grade)

I’m grateful for the amount of training and help that was available throughout this experience. We couldn’t have done it as effectively without the support! Some of my other educator friends abruptly ended their school years in March and that broke my heart for them. While it’s been challenging and I plan to fully embrace the summer break, I’m forever thankful our school gave us the gift of staying connected. (Mary McCall McArthur, 1st Grade)

I have been so thankful to have the team of amazing women in PK4 to go through this with me. We have laughed, cried, been mad and grateful, and all held each other with grace and love.  I am also grateful for the leadership I have seen and continue to see in the administration during this time. The communication and support have been wonderful. A personal shoutout to Megan Whitacre as well. She is awesome! (Kim Sewell, PK4)

I really miss the children but it has been great to be on Google Classroom each day with our students. We have done fun activities and have had funny moments. All to be said, it has worked out better than I thought! I appreciate all the support from Mrs. Menist and  the administration staff! (Jane Hildebrand, 1st Grade)

I am so proud to be a part of the St.

Andrews community!

Carolyn Cloud, 3rd Grade

Leave a Reply