Although the school building and main campus are not in use at the moment, school absolutely is still open and learning is occurring at rapid speed on our 60+ satellite campuses (translate: in the homes and backyards of our families). Teachers daily gather students online for morning meeting, hold online classes, set office hours, and encourage learning and connection among students in new ways.
Our adapted educational philosophy and some of the gray areas we're navigating
A Free Union education is very much a human, interpersonal endeavor, so the prospect of facilitating learning remotely, mediated in some way by technology, is not only unfamiliar but in some ways also uncomfortable. On Friday, we wrestled a bit with three dynamic tensions we recognize in this new paradigm:
balancing our desire to help kids grow and learn, with our determination to not add stress to your relationship with them by making you feel like you have to nag or motivate them to complete school-related tasks
balancing our desire and sense of obligation to facilitate learning remotely, with our reservations about young people spending too much time in front of screens and our convictions that learning happens by doing all sorts of things and that active time outside is healthy and important, and
balancing our desire to present rich learning experiences for the students to pursue, with the reality that many families won't have an adult free to facilitate, drive, support, etc.,
...and these challenges exacerbated by now having such limited interaction with these kids we so enjoy and love. So here is where we landed on some of those challenges in our strivings to strike the right balances:
Encouraging flexible, independent learning pursuits: So as not to exacerbate parental stress by putting you in positions where you feel like you have to cajole, directly instruct, or ensure certain accomplishments for your kids, we will probably deviate to varying degrees from "conventional" learning goals (improved spelling or grammar, mastery of fractions, understanding of moon phases) and assessments in favor of more flexible, though perhaps less concretely definable or measurable, "exhibitions of learning" that allow learners to pursue topics and projects and skills of greatest interest to them
Judicious use of online tools: We will use technology to connect face-to-face, to offer some instruction, to present some opportunities, to invite some participation, to extend and exhibit some learning. But most of that will be, we hope, mere accouterments to the deeper, interactive learning our students will pursue away from the screen
Promoting structure with flexibility: Believing that it might help the kids to have a schedule to follow, we'll try to offer some suggested routines, but will build in flexibility for families with other things to tend to during the day, and accessible posted resources for them to refer to when the opportunities to allow.
And, some of the mechanics you can anticipate initially
Here are a few things you can probably expect on a regular basis, and the means by which to expect it:
A daily communication to students/parents: Initially, at least, most classroom teachers will (a) send a daily email to you with instructions & learning activities to pass along to your kids each day, and (b) host a daily "morning meeting" via video-conference to give everyone continued opportunities to connect, process, discuss, launch into their day.
A schedule: Included in those regular communications, most teachers also will propose some type of regular (though flexible) schedule, either daily and/or weekly, to encourage and support a predictable, stabilizing routine in the absence of the daily structure of school. These schedules will have flexibility built into them to accommodate whatever other family obligations or pressures you may be navigating, but will be available as a tool for you to use if you want it.
Access to instructional videos and other resources that you may employ any time: We will work to record or link to instructional videos and to create documents and other resources to inspire, facilitate, or supplement learning, which you and/or your child may access and put to use whenever appropriate or helpful.
Office hours: Some teachers will establish regular "office hours" when they will wait in a video-conference space for any students to pop in and ask questions, interact, whatever.
With Phase 1 of our school away from school complete, we are now well into Phase 2:
Phase 2 (week 2): Since the vast majority of you indicated that your kids could potentially use Google Drive and other Google Suite tools, we would like to create (with each family's written consent) an anonymized, totally internal "G-Suite for Education" google account for each of our learners K-5, which could then streamline, align, and massively simplify all of the tech-mediated/facilitated remote learning coming your way. More details on this Monday or Tuesday, but doing so would enable us to use the following tools with the students:
- Google Hangouts for video-conferencing (morning meetings, office hours)
- Google Photos for posting videos (instructional; exhibitions of learning)
- Google Docs for collaborative, interactive writing assignments
- Google Sheets for data collection, scientific and mathematical pursuits
- Google Classroom for hosting, posting, organizing, and keeping all your class stuff in one place
- Google Jamboree for whiteboard-like instructional support
PLEASE NOTE that email service would be disabled from this service, so that all communications and information would remain exclusively within the @freeunioncountryschool.org domain.
With all that said, we are very receptive to feedback and questions, suggestions and ideas as we experiment with and refine the best ways to make this work, so please, do be in dialogue with me and/or your child(ren)'s teachers to help us make this as fulfilling and life-affirming a collaboration as we can.
In this strange, unexpected void, there is uncertainty, yes, but also opportunity―to explore, to try, to slow down, to connect, to support, to re-evaluate, to learn. I wish us all the wisdom, perspective, space, courage, and health to seize it.
Eric Anderson (Head of School)