A Message from Dr. Starr
Productively, meaningfully and engagingly connecting with our students
By Deborah R. Starr, Ed.D., Head of School
In past columns, I have written about our society moving from an agrarian, to industrial, to service, and now digital one. Each of these economies required different kinds of education for its citizens. In each scenario, the schools needed to adjust instruction and subject matter to prepare its students for the work force and the zeitgeist of the world into which they were born.
The digital age is actually the greatest societal disrupter since the invention of the printing press and is requiring very different skill sets than before. We have all heard about the 4 Cs of 21st Century Learning: Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Collaboration. In addition, one must be flexible and problem-solve. It is no longer about how high you jump, or how fast you run, but about how well you bounce.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Temple Beth Am Day School now had to “practice what we preached,” regarding this new world. In a matter of 48 hours, we had proven that we could bounce as we turned our school into a Virtual School. To accomplish this, we had to put into real action: problem-solving, collaboration and extreme flexibility. Our teachers and directors rose to the task. We should all be extremely proud of them.
Truthfully, we were well positioned. Last year, in three grades, we had piloted being a Google Classroom school. Over the past two years, our teachers had received professional development in and around technology supporting the curriculum. This professional development revolved around two major books: Amplify by Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Zimke and Who Owns the Learning by Alan November.
Luckily, two years, ago, we created the new position of Director of Technology and Innovation and made an excellent hire in Jen Carey. Add to this our Educational Technology Integrator, Ashley Reed, and we were up and running. Fast-forward to now and our Early Childhood Director Mara Berger, Elementary School Director Susy Novak and our tireless, gifted faculty have worked tirelessly on figuring out subject matter, delivery platforms, schedules and how to productively, meaningfully and engagingly connect with our students.
From sending out a Parent Survey, to see what virtual/digital access our families had at home, to providing additional professional development for our faculty, and then giving them two days to figure out their instruction using technology to a degree not used before, we have proven, once again, that we are an amazing institution.
Classroom teachers are providing direct instruction, independent student-time, class meetings, one-on-one check-ins, and more. Our School Counselor, Michele Bortnik, is providing parents with guidance and resources regarding choice of language and how to address the emotional state of their children. Our Library/Media Specialist, Lauren Bercuson, has communicated rich literary resources for parents, as have our Physical Education Coaches, Craig Mankoff and Jeremy Ivans, and Music teachers, Patti Sacks and Jackie Berney, and Art teacher, Amy Kutell. Our Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs, Cari Altman, has continued with our admissions protocols, screenings and appropriate virtual meetings with parents, regarding their children. We are moving forward!
Have there been some hiccups along the way? Of course, even Google (we are a Google Classroom School) has identified some issues with the platforms they have provided to schools, and they are correcting and updating them as I write this article.
We continue to daily assess our practices and will always improve what we are doing. But, according to one of our parents — we are ahead of even our local public school. Let me share some additional feedback from parents and leaders in our greater Temple Beth Am and Temple Beth Am Day School community:
“We are having so much fun having ‘school at home!’ It’s been so great to spend all this time with my babies. We played jump over the candle stick, sorted toys big to small, and watched for birds in their habitat — trees! We saw a beautiful red cardinal and drew a bunch of birds from a book. We even had recess! Hope you are staying safe and have all the supplies you need!”
“This morning, Charlie found her link to login on Google Classroom nicely labeled with today’s date and her homeroom teacher ran the live class at 8:30 am with just Charlie’s classmates. It moved brilliantly. Ms. Jahoda was able to call on students who took turns reading and/or asking and answering questions. This eased the anxiety Charlie and I both experienced yesterday. I will now completely bow out gracefully and continue to allow you and the teaching staff to continue. You guys are doing an amazing job and I’m so fortunate my girls have such an early exposure to this kind of technology.”
“I just wanted to send you a note to tell you how wonderful I think Mr. Salzberg is doing with his class in this moment of crisis. Not only has he created a schedule for the kids and a way for them to still see one another, he has really gone above and beyond by continuing to teach our children. I was working in the same room as Henry today while he was “in class” discussing history and I was so impressed by the exchange. They discussed history, learned terms, learned new vocabulary and related everything to what’s happening right now with hoarding and scarcity. It was great. Just wanted you to know how impressed I am.”
“Yasher Koach. I am not surprised that you have been able to assess, adapt and then execute.”
“I am so proud of us as a school and a community. You have done an amazing job. Thank you.”
However, we are also cognizant that it is easy for students to spend too much time in front of screens for their virtual schooling. As much as possible, we are also assigning students tasks that get them up and moving and away from their devices. We have also been working out ways to have students continue to create art without screens. The students are drawing and doing art assignments, taking photos of their work and then submitting it to their teacher to share with others.
Many of our classes at school intentionally used workbooks and paper-based tasks instead of iPads to reduce students’ screen time. We are continuing this by having students complete some assignments on paper, taking a picture of their completed work, and uploading the photo to submit the task.
Finally, we do recognize the important role our families have played in making this all possible and effective. Between having to find childcare and supervise squirmy young learners, remote learning can be a very stressful experience for parents. Therefore, our teachers and administrators have been proactively and regularly communicating with families. We have attempted to give them clear directions and resources. Teachers are soliciting, listening to and acting on their feedback. In the end, this will strengthen our ties with the home.
I guess the best news, in all of this, for both faculty and families: no carpool for awhile! Just joking.