Spring 2020

Learning During a Pandemic

Around the world leaders in education quickly acknowledged that they were out of their realm as the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted everyone’s reality. At the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) educators felt out of their element and normal routine. There was a collective recognition that we would need to evolve as a result of our new normal. Our primary focus was on the well-being of our students, their families, and of our entire NLESD community. From there we were positioned to be mindful and deliberate as we worked together to stay connected and support learning. Our students and families were our primary focus and educators explored, discovered and began to reimagine learning. 

Learning at Home a Province Wide Collaboration 

The need for a Learning at Home resource surfaced in response to classes being suspended for all students as a result of Covid-19.
We wanted a family-friendly learning resource to serve school communities and our students while they were away from school.  

The initial work began with video conferencing with Programs staff from across the province of Newfoundland and Labrador considering how we could foster learning at home. There were more questions than answers and not one of us really knew what the final product would be. There was, however, an optimistic energy amongst us to bring equitable and joyful learning opportunities to our students and their families.  

It is a collaborative and ever-evolving work of passion. Many of us were working together for the first time. Overcoming the barriers of geography and our traditional focus on regional work was a necessary shift if we hoped to support our diverse families. In true Newfoundland and Labrador form, we connected and quickly developed norms that helped to create the conditions for rich learning conversations. This enabled us to be curious, dig deep, and share our thinking openly and freely as we invested in using this challenging time to innovatively transform learning for our school communities and families.  

The shared goal of the team was to design a resource to support families by demonstrating what rich authentic learning could look like at home. The purpose was not to create a replica of traditional schooling. In fact, it was the team’s hope to clearly portray that the intent was not for caregivers to assume the roles of teachers or for students to teach themselves during this complex time. We needed to ensure that this resource supported caregivers in creating a positive mindset about learning, and empowered our students as learners.  

This team was able to imagine because we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. The connectedness led to deep conversations. ​A Framework for Engaging ALL Learners​ was created and is now the compass for our work.. A consistent and collective vision to create learning opportunities that are equitable, authentic, engaging and relevant resonates throughout this online resource ​Learning at Home: Good at Learning Good at Life​.  

There was a collective desire to ensure that all students and their families had an equal opportunity to access this resource. We knew that the online resource did not provide this option. Another team from the group enthusiastically came together to create an ​At Home Learning Resource​ ​Guide​ that would be distributed via Canada Post to every family in our province. 

Children and young adults are naturally curious learners and we are committed to providing opportunities at home to engage them in learning. This province-wide team will stay connected to continue to provide a variety of learning opportunities to support well-being, literacy, numeracy and our students’ individual passions for learning. These at home learning resources will enable students to stay connected and engage in learning conversations with their teachers as learning continues at home. 

Educators Engaged and Learning 

As educators we are also naturally curious learners. So the question was, how do we meet the learning needs of educators during this time? Could professional learning (PL) opportunities for educators address learning needs during these new uncertain times? It was like we had our own Deep Learning Project! 

At the heart of our PL planning are a number of guiding principles. Students and educators learn best when conditions have been created for a safe learning environment. This is a priority as we design our PL opportunities. Teachers create conditions in their virtual work space where both students and teachers can safely speak, work and learn together. This can be accomplished with privacy protocols and the principles of internet safety, but also through ensuring that teachers understand a guiding pedagogy in a number of key areas. The learning environment must provide opportunities for voice and choice; facilitate a gradual release of responsibility with specific and ongoing feedback to help each learner move forward; offer relevant and authentic tasks, and offer opportunities to learn in a variety of structures that activate teachers as the owners of their learning. In addition, PL for teachers must provide access to a broad range of tools – concrete and technological. 

One such opportunity for NLESD teachers is “Developing Learning Goals and Success Criteria”. Prior to offering the opportunity, we wondered if teachers would be ready or able to participate in virtual learning opportunities during this time. To gauge teacher interest, a survey was distributed to intermediate and secondary teachers in NLESD. The initial response to the survey was overwhelming with more than 160 responses in less than 24 hours. This reaffirmed the role of teachers as learners and the need to offer learning opportunities to respond to teacher learning needs. We are now in week three of the seven-week learning opportunity and among the participants are teachers, administrators, district programs staff and directors. There are participants from all regions of Newfoundland and Labrador and representation from English, French, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies curriculum areas.  

Teachers are engaging with weekly video conference meetings using the Google Meet platform. Each week, using Google Classroom, we explore content that describes what is required to develop learning goals and success criteria with students. Participants are actively engaged in discussion using the “Question” feature inside Google Classroom and discussions are further expanded during the live video conferences. 

The participants have fully embraced the virtual learning model and learning material. Teacher learning is continuing in this new educational landscape we are all exploring together for the first time. 

Forever Forward – En Avant 

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District is committed to serving our learners and their families during this pandemic. As we and other educational organizations across the globe look into the future, we see a multitude of unknowns. The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald strongly advised the people of our province “to work on our shared goals, not the obstacles we encounter along the way.” We are focused on doing exactly that. We are committed to staying strong together, as we continue to create conditions for all to learn during these complex and uncertain times.