Expecting the Unexpected: 11/22/2020

I have sat down and tried to write this blog post several times. I wanted to write something that perfectly encapsulated my thinking and helped others, but struggled with that perfect "piece." In the past few weeks, I have visited three different concurrent instruction pilots in an attempt to better understand not only the model, but the best ways to support the teachers in my school. Every school's model is a little different, but all as expected are highly reliant on technology.

Due to CARES Act funding, schools are now being given funds to support the Return to School efforts. Looking at a menu of technology can be overwhelming, even to a tech coach. So visiting schools and seeing what they had determined was best practice was essential.

The first school I visited was Colvin Run in Vienna, VA. In their model, teachers have 2 laptops set up. Laptop #1 is hooked up to a webcam that streams from the front of the room and includes the smartboard.. Laptop #2 is connected to a second projector and displays the at-home students using Google Meet so that the teacher can see all the students at a glance.

I loved the idea of this in theory, but quickly realized that this would not work at my school. First, none of our rooms are symmetrical enough to enable a second wall projection. In addition, in the first round of Technology orders, there were not projectors available for purchase. Lastly, although some teachers at my school have been experimenting with Google Meet, our first group to begin concurrent instruction, our Kindergarten team was not using it.

The second school I visited was Brookfield ES in Chantilly, VA. In their model, I noticed that many teachers once again had two laptops set up. But their uses greatly differed based on the classrooms I visited. In the first classroom, the fifth grade teacher had one laptop hooked up to the smartboard showing BBCU (Blackboard Collaborate Ultra) so that she could monitor the chat and another so she could monitor content such as working in Slides or Padlet. The upper grades at this school had chosen to use BBCU instead of Google Meet since most upper grade students don't use the camera.

The second classroom I visited was a first grade class. Once again, two laptops were used, but this time, one displayed the content inside of Google Meet. while the other was attached to a webcam and could be used to allow in person students to share their audio and video as needed.

As I looked at these models, I could definitely see how I could take lessons from these rooms forward. School leaders shared how using the webcams had helped them promote connection between in person and at home students using audio and sometimes video. I also began to imagine ways to try to simplify the process for my teachers who might need it. The last school I visited was Columbia ES in Annandale, VA. Once again, I saw many similar ideas to what I had seen at Brookfield ES. Here, everyone was using BBCU but once again, I saw the use of two laptops and the use of webcams on the second laptop facing out towards students.

I left this third visit with a better idea of how I could best support the technology infrastructure for my teachers and sat down with my assistant principal and started brainstorming how this might look at our school. We determined several configurations that teachers might want to choose from to use with their primary laptop and the benefits of each. We also explored other functions teachers might need support on from using their document cameras to best ways to use their Smartboards. During my visit to Columbia ES, their SBTS shared a checklist that we also incorporated into this presentation.

After that, my school's kindergarten teachers returned and we set up technology. I wanted to give my teachers options and not overwhelm them. We began by sharing multiple configurations for using our laptop, giving teachers option between using two or three screens. (We purchased a second 24 inch monitor for each teacher) It was really helpful discussing each way and determining its benefits and drawbacks. Most teachers ended up choosing Configuration #6. Then, we went over how to best use the HoverCams during concurrent instruction. Once that was completed, we decided to break and give teachers a chance to work on their classrooms.

We were set up; we were ready or so I thought...Due to rising COVID numbers, kindergarten returning was put on pause last Monday. All the hard work that had been put in place by our administration, our kindergarten teachers and instructional assistants also paused. So now, we are awaiting word on future plans. Will kindergarten start after Thanksgiving or will we need to wait longer? Are our numbers manageable using mitigation strategies? What's next? If there is one thing I have learned the past few weeks, it's that the minute I think I have a handle on things, the next minute, things change. Maybe that's why this blog post was so difficult to write. Not knowing what's next is hard- but not acknowledging that is harder.