COVID-19 Diaries: Planning Makes It WorkMarch 26, 2020
Dr. Jayda Pugliese (PA '16), the principal of St. Mary Interparochial School in Philadelphia, started planning for remote instruction with her staff just ahead of Pennsylvania’s statewide school closures. Students are learning, teachers are adjusting, and Zoom-based “clubs” provide a daily dose of fun.
As a leader, I always have tried to be perceptive and prepared. When I saw what was happening across the world with COVID-19 (coronavirus), my leadership team and I began planning for a potential closure. Our planning began a week before the state of Pennsylvania decided to temporarily close all schools.
The first thing our school did was survey all our families to better understand their capacity to participate in remote/virtual learning. We asked if they had a reliable internet provider and a technology device for each one of their students. After our survey, we addressed any inequities we found—in particular, that many of our children did not have their own technology devices.
I held an emergency faculty meeting with my staff about potential scenarios. Our school may not be forced to close, our school may be forced to close…and what does this mean for us as educators? My teachers began drafting outlines and building plans for what virtual learning would look like at our school. We also created a plan for students to take their books and school-based devices home.
Planning becomes reality
At the end of that school day, Pennsylvania closed all schools. Although we had started our planning, the closure happened sooner than we expected. Students did not yet have their own devices or all of their school books. My teachers were still not confident with the outlines and plans they had created for remote/virtual learning. We held multiple virtual staff meetings over the weekend and developed a schoolwide plan together. As a leader it is important to listen to the input of your staff, especially during a time like this. Teachers are the ones who are implementing these plans, and they need to be involved.
Next, that Sunday evening, I set up a schoolwide Zoom conference for parents to communicate the school’s plan for remote learning during the shutdown. I told them that we knew many families did not have their books or a device for their child to use. We opened our doors the following morning to allow families to pick up their students’ things.
How our remote learning works
In our virtual learning environment, every day teachers provide at least two live check-ins with students via Zoom, from kindergarten through eighth grade. This lets teachers have informal conversations with their students and helps them continue to build their classroom community. Teachers also provide optional live lessons, one-to-one support lessons, and prerecorded lessons which are posted to Google Classrooms and/or Flipgrid. Students have to complete all of the work their teachers assigned, but the pace is flexible. So far, this structure has worked very well for everyone. I even send a daily morning email to families which includes a video of me doing the morning announcements.
This transition is hard for students and parents alike. I am continually trying to find ways to make their time at home as engaging as possible. I also want to show teachers that I am doing this with them—that I understand the technical difficulties, limitations and challenges building engagement with virtual learning. That’s why I started a daily Sign Language Club for all students via Zoom. As an individual with hearing loss, I get to practice my own sign language skills while also sharing them with students. Now other teachers are starting more clubs, and students are eager to join.
Even with all the challenges this pandemic has brought us, I have enjoyed watching our school blossom in ways it never did before. It is beautiful!
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