No one was satisfied with the distance learning experience that teachers and students were forced into when schools abruptly closed at the beginning of the pandemic last March.
“We started the pandemic and it was a little chaotic, as you all know, and now the teachers have the tools, the teachers have been training,” said Rayner Garranchan, principal of Nova Middle School, to other principals during a webinar Monday morning.
The teachers of Broward County Public Schools have been training. In fact, it’s been going on for weeks, with the single objective of making the e-learning experience better on both sides of the computer screen, for teachers and especially for students.
“Since we closed down schools at the end of March, we have spent an enormous amount of time and effort in training our teachers,” said Dr. Daryl Diamond, the district’s Director of Innovative Learning.
The district has been running webinars day and night to make sure teachers know how to use the features of virtual conferencing platform Microsoft Teams. Teachers are also learning best practices for reaching and engaging students.
“I think that there’s so much more opportunity to be, like, creative with our students and get them talking to us as opposed to us talking the whole time,” said Ashley Henry, a language arts teacher at McNicol Middle School in Hollywood. “The goal was to make sure that we were fully prepared as teachers to take on this task, and it has been like a wealth of knowledge.”
“As teachers, what we do is always build relationships, so it’s relationships over rigor right now, making sure that we’re making those connections with our students,” added Sasha Behm, a teacher and innovative learning coach.
There will be much more structure to online learning this year, with students following their class schedules as if they were in the school building, and some teachers instructing from their classrooms, with an eye on continuing blended learning after schools physically open up.
“To take these new skill sets back to the classroom with us so that now we really do have a blended learning model where the school day does not need to end in the classroom, it can continue at home,” Diamond said.
Five Broward County middle schools will also have the benefit of being included in the Verizon Digital Promise Innovative Learning program. Verizon is providing iPads to students in those schools with built-in connectivity and other resources. Fifteen more middle schools are in line to be added to that program.
In the meantime, all the students in the district can still use the free laptops they received at the start of the pandemic.
“And we’re gonna make sure that our students continue to progress to be engaged and become 21st century learners,” said Melissa Gurreonero, principal of McNicol Middle School.
The educators we spoke to are confident and they have a message for families about the upcoming distance learning experience.
“I’m being totally honest and I’m telling them that it’s the expectation that it’s gonna be not just a hundred times better but a million times better,” Gurreonero said.
Lofty expectations, for sure. Parents and students will soon be able to see if the new E-learning experience lives up to the hype. School starts, virtually, on Wednesday.