Rocking Distance Learning

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By Taunya James

When the announcement came that we were moving to distance, or online, learning; I started helping teachers around me gear up for the challenge. As our school’s Ed Tech Coach and a Second Grade teacher, I was essentially working multiple jobs with a hard deadline of two days. The coaches joined together over the weekend to get a jumpstart on what we needed to accomplish during the two days. Two days to help everyone become comfortable with Google and Canvas Learning Management Systems (LMS). Two days to vet the amazing outpour of support from the online community offering free accounts to teachers during this time and make sure we had district permissions to use them. Two days to get my own digital classroom set up for new online and unplugged lessons. Those two days went by in the blink of an eye!

At the end of the second day we were as ready as we could be. We overcame every challenge thrown at us and did it with grace and laughter. The first day of distance learning started and I was excited to see the students in our new classroom environment. And then it happened. In the middle of getting ready to go to school and start my digital classroom, an earthquake rocked northern Utah. As I screamed to the sky, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I ducked for cover and waited it out. After the rocking stopped, I got into my car and headed to school like so many other teachers. We were sent home and the message went out that online school would start the next day so buildings could be inspected and families could check in with each other. I wondered how my students were going to handle the latest curveball.

I was so impressed to find out that most of them started the lessons without me.  Many had signed into our LMS and were working, asking questions, and helping each other! We were then reduced to less than 10% of our staff allowed in the building so school was completely being handled online. A group of us worked hard to sanitize district Chromebooks to check out to families in need. The teachers from my school were working from their homes and going strong. Sure, we had more to learn and kinks to work out, but we were moving forward. I was helping teachers through Google Hangout meetings, phone calls, text, and email. I started having live classroom discussions every morning and afternoon. Many others in my building are now doing the same and loving it. 

Then the announcement came from our governor that we would not be returning to school buildings on April 6, but continuing distance learning through May 1, and possibly longer. After that, the few families that were reluctant to join our distance learning lessons started coming online. Teachers started learning more programs and how to incorporate them into their lessons and all of this happened in a two week period. We have many more weeks to go before we can go back to our rooms and yet we continue to teach because that is what we do.   

It’s not the same. Online learning is different from face-to-face interactions, but we are working with what we have during a world crisis. Teachers around the world are working together with a common goal; to keep our students safe and help them grow physically, intellectually, and emotionally.  Parents are right there with us. Helping students get into chat rooms, listening to us read and participating in our discussions. Our administrators are popping in and joining in our learning. The tech department is working hard to keep us connected. Counselors, speech and language teachers, and special education staff are right there, too. I am so proud to be a part of this amazing group of educators; not just the ones in my school or district, but all the educators that have been working together online and supporting each other during this time!  As many challenges as we’ve had putting distance learning into action, the education community is rocking this! However, we miss our students and cannot wait to get back into our classrooms and see the smiling faces of our charges in the room with us, ready to learn!  
BIO:  Taunya James is a 24 year veteran teacher, Ed Tech Coach, and Utah Teacher Fellow.  Follow her on Twitter @TaunyaJ

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