As of today, it has been 54 days since I was with colleagues and students in a school building. Many days I feel like I am living in a updated version of the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day.
Check work phone for messages and emails.
Walk down the hallway to my home office.
Sit in front of the computer.
I miss the obvious, like everyone else, the students and colleagues. I miss the casual interactions with people as you walk down the hallway. I miss smiles and hugs and high fives. I have also realized I miss things I never thought I would – the drive to and from work, recess supervision, the busyness of a day.
This post isn’t meant to be all doom and gloom. There have been so many things to celebrate during the past 54 days. Collaboration, support, growth, stepping out of comfort zones, asking for help. While all of those things existed prior to the pandemic, they have been amplified as we were thrown into remote teaching. While I’m not sure that being thrown into the deep end of a pool is the best way to learn to swim, there is something to be said about just in time learning. While the tools were there, many were not used the way they are being used now.
I utilize a number of tools throughout the day for different reasons. To stay connected – Zoom and Google Meets. The first time I had ever used Zoom was last semester for EC&I 832 and I am so thankful for it. I will admit that the during the first few classes I felt a bit odd as we all stared at each other. But Zooming has become such a regular part of my day that all of the awkwardness has disappeared. I am thankful that this tool exists as seeing people’s faces is the next best thing to seeing them in person. Using Zoom for the first time did present some challenges for people but I love that we can see the humour in it. I think SNL did a great job of depicting this:
My school division quickly identified that they did not want us using Zoom with students and have identified Google Meets as the tool to use. I have used both and will say that I do prefer Zoom over Meets. Meets does not have the breakout rooms feature (in the way that Zoom does). The breakout rooms have been essential in our staff meetings with a staff of 50 people. Just like in class, the breakout rooms give everyone opportunity to speak in a smaller group. Google Meets has served the purpose of connecting with students and with the accessibility through their Google Accounts it has been relatively easy to access. While some students had used their Google Suite tools while in school, many had not. When this all began I supported teachers first in how to use this tool, but then also supported them with how to teach students to use it and how to teach parents to use it.
I joined a Google Meet the other day with a grade 7/8 class. I was so looking forward to connecting with them but was a bit disappointed. All of the students turned their cameras off. While they spoke and shared their ideas and questions, it still would have been nice to see their faces. I had to remind myself while seeing their faces is what I was needing, for many students video chats can be stressful. In this article, a grade seven student discusses how Zoom has been a trigger for her anxiety. It goes on to explain that when people are socially anxious they turn their attention inward. Video chatting mimics that self-focus. “In a real-time conversation, we don’t have access to that same mirror view”. I felt this article was useful in helping me understand what students and teachers are facing and dealing with during video chats.
While I am enjoying the opportunity to connect with people through video chats, I will admit that the days where there are multiple meetings can be exhausting. After experiencing a few of those days in a row I questioned why I was feeling so exhausted. Really, all I am doing is looking into a computer and talking, why is that tiring? I found it interesting to read the many articles that have come out recently about Zoom fatigue. I was relieved to read that it wasn’t just me and is a real thing. The article explains that the exhaustion can be a result of “our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting”.
I am not connecting with students as much as I would like as I don’t have my own classroom but I am doing my best to join Meets, checking into classroom Seesaw accounts and Google Classrooms. Aside from video chats, I am also staying connected with teachers through emails, texts, FaceTime and phone calls. Of course all of those have their own notification sounds so by the end of the day I am ready to unplug!
I have also been able to lead a few sessions with my staff on how to use some of the tools available to us. Many were interested in creating videos but overwhelmed with how to do it. My division subscribes to WeVideo which I played around with last semester. I was able to guide teachers with how to create screen recordings, recordings of themselves, and videos using stock footage. I was so happy to see a number of teachers jump in and create videos to share with their students. One of my favourite moments so far was receiving an email from a teacher (self proclaimed least techie person) to say that they had created multiple math videos and were able to share them on Seesaw. Had I provided the same PD on WeVideo back in September, there likely would have been a different outcome.
Just in time learning. It is powerful and I am excited to see where it takes us.