Distance learning will continue through the end of the school year
As I anticipated Governor Walz announcement about continued Distance Learning, my thoughts went immediately to the needs of our seniors and the students and families that are really struggling with this process. We have been contingency planning and addressing critical issues like: What is working? What is not? What students are needing additional support? What students need a referral to our intervention team? What resources do we have available and do we still need? How do we get meaningful feedback from seniors and senior advisors on their wishes for graduation under these circumstances? We have had and will continue to have discussions related to making this Distance Learning: blended model of delivery work for all of our students. As we are making these decisions we receive frequent updates from the Governor’s office and the Department of Education. Some updates create more district choice and flexibility, some updates are specific requirements that we are required to follow.
This is what we know at this time: May 1, 2020 and May 4, 2020. Are designated for planning and professional development in regards to Continued Distance Learning. There will be no instruction on those two days. It is teacher professional development days required by Executive Order for Distance Learning with staff participating remotely. The difference is we will maintain meal service/delivery and instruction delivery and pickup/drop off schedules on the 1st and meal services/delivery and pick-up on the 4th. Distance learning will continue on Tuesday, May 5th.
Also, the District is committed to a graduation celebration of some kind for our 2020 graduates. We need to solicit more information from our graduates and staff before committing to a plan. MDE is also providing guidance on what is allowable. We understand many people are trying to make plans. This will be a priority.
We are all missing our social lives in a variety of ways. We have teachers and all staff missing their students. (Really missing them, remember students are the reason we chose this profession.) Students are missing their teachers, paras, bus drivers, food service, custodians, office staff, administration and all the staff that make school a good place to be. We miss our families and extended families. We miss our friends and support systems. We miss our routines and the freedom of our familiar lifestyle. We are keenly aware that everyone is experiencing some kind of significant loss. We know when there is significant loss there will be grieving. While we all may have loss in common, we experience and express loss and grief differently. Part of this grief is supported by the confusing and conflicting reports about COVID-19. Another primary factor is that everyone is balancing more roles and responsibilities.
Teachers are teaching in a way they have never done before. Transferring lessons and standards to electronic delivery and packet delivery as needed or age appropriate. They are trying to make personal contacts with all students, when they can’t they are having meetings on how to reach them. I read an article that said a strong Distance Learning plan takes 1-2 years to develop, I agree. The pressure on our staff and District is to create and implement a plan based on the timeline this pandemic forced upon us, is a tremendous responsibility that we have all taken upon ourselves. They are trying to achieve all of these expectations and be engaged parents to their own Distance learning children as well as manage younger child care due to daycare closures. All of our staff are struggling managing tele-work responsibilities and on-site duties as they provide essential services such as Level I and II childcare and meal delivery while trying to provide for the needs of their own children and the new roles with Distance Learning. Many are very fearful of COVID-19, and struggle with responsibilities and duties.
Our students are having to learn in a whole new way. I worry about the student who struggles in the school setting. We have to continue to address their needs. I am concerned about the students who have always been successful in school. Are we challenging them enough? And, how do we support the change of learning styles that is now essential for academic growth. All students are impacted. I worry about the loss our seniors are experiencing. How are they managing the loss of their spring sports experience, prom, and the traditional graduation ceremonies they were expecting? Will they continue to follow Social Distancing guidelines and keep themselves safe as the weather gets nice and the end of the year comes near?
The stressors for our parents are significant also. Parents/Grandparents did not choose to be educators. However, to make Distance Learning work, we need more engagement and participation than we have ever had before. Parents are supporting, monitoring, sometimes tutoring while trying to balance work and regular parent duties. We are trying to navigate a whole new way of grocery shopping, acquiring required services, and maintain a supportive home. When we add the stressors of lay-offs and financial burdens that creates even more burdens to carry. Parents and grandparents have many more roles than they have probably ever had before.
As I reflect about everything our staff, students, and families are having to deal with, I anticipated some people would give a sigh of relief and some would be disappointed and angry following the announcement of continued Distance Learning. Whether you were relieved or frustrated with the announcement, we at least now know what is next. The fear of the unknown is it is difficult to plan for and causes anxiety. There is power in knowing. You can have at least some control of the outcome.
So most importantly, take care of yourselves and each other. It is important to remember that this is a health pandemic that affects our physical and mental well-being. Focus on being well and healthy. Talk about what losses are affecting each of us and impacts us the most. This is the first step to creating plans to adjust to our new reality. Now we know! So I encourage all to check on self-perceptions. Celebrate the great things we are all accomplishing under significant adversity. I have found that we are all a little hard on ourselves and that leads to being hard and judgmental of others as well. I encourage everyone to start thinking about what needs to happen to adjust to this new reality. Give yourselves a break. You are doing great! Many of our students, families, and staff are already finding many positives and successes! Many have expressed great appreciation for the process and efforts of all. For those of us that are still struggling, what do you need to start accommodating to these significant changes forced upon us? Can you do things differently under these conditions to meet needs? Do you need more support and education on how to access technology resources to communicate with loved ones or support student learning? Do you need counseling resources to support the goals of being healthy and well? Tele-therapy is an option. We can do many things, but they will look different. We will continue to work on sharing resources, support, and communicating next step decisions.
We are in this together! We commit to seeking resources, strategies, solutions, and ideas that will continue to support our entire learning community. The results may look different, but the goal is to make this the best experience possible for all learners. We will continue to grow stronger together if we continue to communicate and work together. We will be sending updates as we prepare for the second round of Distance Learning beginning on May 5th.
May you all be well, healthy, and reflect on adjustments that can be made to improve life circumstances. May we all be assured we are more capable than we think to do things differently.
Lisa Weber, Superintendent