March 16, 2020
First things first: our team operates remotely and our leadership has been professionally trained in remote work management; we have over 15 years of remote working experience. We’re in a great situation to continue supporting the needs of education and do not see any impact to the Alberta-based CLASI student record project provided Alberta Education and the school districts continue to play their respective roles in the weeks ahead.
As an experienced remote team (and parents) we wanted to share some advice with school districts as they move forward:
Give children hope. There is no middle ground between despair and hope which means you’re either encouraging or discouraging children through these difficult times. Focus on delivering positive news and encouraging statistics -- media saturation of whimsical news takes its toll on mental health and kids are the most vulnerable. Did you know that China has 1.4 billion people and that the total number of infections represents just 0.06% of the population even after months of exposure? Using the same statistic for Canada’s 37.6M population that would be about 22,500 cases (less than influenza) -- and we have a little more space to work with and far more advanced preparatory notice. Perspective is important!
Set expectations early. Students, teachers, and parents need to know what is expected of them. A very wise individual once told me that the root of all frustration is misaligned expectations. Provide students, parents, and teachers, with clear instructions about what the new expectations are and make sure you’ve done your homework because resetting expectations later will make future adoption more challenging.
Adapt the curriculum. Children are now moving into a remote work environment. Teachers will find the tools and instruction that worked in the classroom don’t translate over to a group of children who are remote. Adapt. Empower teachers to make course corrections (punny, eh?). Some of the most important life skills you can offer children, their soft skills, are easier to teach through web meetings than biology lessons requiring lab exercises. Want to know how we’ve worked on soft skills with an entirely remote team? Check out the Brain Gym suggestion below.
Equip teachers. Teachers may feel ill-equipped to host online teaching sessions, but it has its advantages (I’m just saying... that ability to digitally “mute” a child isn’t something you could do in a classroom *ahem*). Provide teachers with professional development related to hosting online sessions with large groups of children. Help them understand the tools at their fingertips and provide coaching for effective methods of managing remote groups of people.
Equip parents. As ill-equipped as teachers feel, parents are also under strain. It is extremely important for children (and parents) to have a well-defined home schedule. Provide recommendations for what that schedule should look like and how things like online classroom discipline and individual interactions will be managed moving forward. The responsibilities of parenting children in online classes is different -- this is an incredible opportunity for school districts to demonstrate their strength in organizing, coordinating, and encouraging.
Action: if your school district would like to collaborate on this research please reach out to us as soon as possible.
Run Brain Gyms with kids. Kids need an opportunity to focus on building skills they enjoy. Brain Gyms are soft skill exercises that help strengthen core talents. One of the more effective brain gyms we ran was having each staff member conduct a 3-minute stand-up comedy routine. The results were amazing and it was encouraging to see each staff member's creativity and personal approach to the comedy topic (even the staff member who personally “roasted” our corporate senior leadership). Check out this book like I did to prepare your team or classroom. Humour is a great weapon against fear and soft skills are just as important as the math, science, social, and language lessons.
Business as usual. Make sure students and staff are punctual, appropriately dressed, and ready to work. People working from home need this expectation reset. Likewise, policies around bathroom and water breaks should be in place so kids aren’t wandering out in the middle of online classes. Have school assemblies, host talent shows, give kids things to look forward to the same way you would in a bricks and mortar building. You may not be able to host a ping pong intramural event but I bet the right teacher could coordinate an online checkers tournament over lunch with some fun prizes (Steam gift card anyone?). Look for opportunities to transition all elements of bricks and mortar school to the online world, not just lessons.
Be online and available. Use web conferencing tools that allow people to see the status of others online (e.g. busy, DND). It’s important that students are able to reach out to teachers for support just as though they were walking into a classroom after class. Make sure teachers use status options. Consider introducing tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams (FYI: Teams just announced enterprise-grade support free for six months). We highly recommend Zoom for its excellent group meeting setup, polling, quizzing, white boarding, and more -- it's also one of the most common platforms used by online schools.
Set expectations early. Don’t wait too long to set expectations: you need to ensure you set the right expectations but waiting too long causes chaos difficult to undo. You are better off to build iteratively on expectations (we call it “agile” in geeky terms): as you learn, build and grow in the right direction.
Social media policies. Online classroom management is more difficult when it comes to individual supervision. We would encourage school districts to consider revising their policies around use of social media during online class time. In addition to a rather unhealthy amount of news coverage around the virus and potential distractions in an online classroom, you will likely also see a spike in the number of online bullying incidents if expectations are not initially set.
Student mental health awareness.
We started Imagine Everything to help identify and rescue vulnerable children. As children are kept quarantined, observing their mental health becomes that much more essential. That’s why we started the Student Aware project with over a dozen Alberta school districts in late 2018.
Over the next 1-2 weeks we will be coordinating with a number of school districts to conduct sentiment analysis related to children and this virus. Our hope is that we will be able to identify children who are struggling with this new reality and may be at greater mental health risk. We'll share what we learn so you're better equipped to tackle conversations with kids.
School districts who have network filtering enabled that isolates monitoring exclusively to their school networks should consider revising that policy. It will help them appropriately monitor student well-being while they work from home. Children struggling with anxiety, depression, online bullying, and other incidents are likely to be amplified in isolation. Be particularly careful of cyberbullying and other online abuse as children engage with social technology now more than ever.
If your school district needs an instant-on, cost effective method of monitoring online student behaviour while kids work remotely, drop us an email using the form below.
Tips for remote work.
With all adversity comes opportunity: to be brave and certain, for leaders to rise up in each community (even digital ones). Now more than ever we need pragmatic people demonstrating strong mental fortitude and discipline: making decisions based on fact over emotion. Children look to us for guidance, mentorship, and confidence. Let’s make sure we’re sharing a message of hope grounded in truth as opposed to subjective opinions that contribute to fear.
As always, we’re available to support school districts in any way possible. If you need any assistance transitioning to a remote working environment we’re happy to share anything we’ve learned in our own journey to a completely remote operating environment.
Imagine Everything is a new education technology start-up guided by the vision and energy of school boards and fueled by the innovation and efficiency of private industry software engineers. We’re a company without clients, a community of creators who believe in a hybrid private + public partnership. Together, we are building affordable school technology that creates a safer online space for students, parents and teachers.
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