“Classrooms will be equipped with new technology.”
“Think Different” – Technology in the COVID-19 Classroom
This spring, as school across Minnesota and the nation closed their doors to in-person instruction, parents were thrust into the roles of teacher, tutor, and childcare provider while trying to effectively work remotely themselves. Teachers were confronted with the challenge of developing lessons for the remote education of a diverse group of learners whose needs vary from one student to the next. Students found themselves isolated from their peers, longing for the moments that define various aspects of their adolescent development, whether that be a senior year athletic season, a musical theatre performance never performed, a senior prom, or perhaps most importantly, the pomp and circumstance of graduation and all that graduation signifies. With all that was lost, much was to be gained. Saint John’s Prep Head of School, Jon McGee, may have said it best in a message to the school’s students – “You have two choices. Let this moment define you or define this moment for yourself.” As a school community, we have chosen the latter, defining this moment for our school community as we prepare to begin the 2020-21 academic year.
Perhaps now is the time to recall technology entrepreneur Steve Jobs’ Think Different campaign that launched Apple on a trajectory to become one of, if not, the most entrepreneurial and innovative companies of a generation. Think Different. While grammatically incorrect, don’t let that bother you as difficult as it may be. Rather, let it sink in. Think Different. It is helping us define this pandemic and our future.
COIVD-19 has forced us all to not only think differently but to act differently. In doing so, we have discovered new and perhaps more effective and efficient ways of teaching and learning. Faculty have discovered technologies that allow them to deliver their content across a digital platform. They have adjusted their teaching methodologies and instructional strategies, acknowledging that delivering content in a digital world cannot be the done as if students are seated in front of you in a classroom. Students have had to assume higher levels of responsibility and accountability for their learning as teachers did not always require one to be online and in class every day. Rather, students were provided the opportunity to work with classmates during scheduled class periods, schedule times with teachers to conference on areas they were not comprehending and join classmates in breakout rooms via Zoom to discuss topics pertinent to the content being studied. In a remote learning environment, it is fair to say that engagement and the opportunity for regular and consistent engagement are critical for success. That recognition helped shape our plan to think and act differently.
Think Different. As we prepare to open 2020-21 academic year with in-person instruction in just two and a half weeks, we are taking steps to ensure that regular and consistent engagement occurs. We know that the school year is not likely to be like a “normal” year where students and faculty arrive at school daily and interact in ways that they would during non-pandemic times. We are actively preparing the building for socially distanced classes, developing protocols and safety measures that assist us in mitigating risk of exposure for students and faculty while preparing for likely interruptions that will occur. Building on the success of the spring, we know that not only can we deliver content remotely, but we can do it very well. The immediacy of closing school this spring forced us to be reactionary. Knowing we would begin a school year in the midst of a pandemic has allowed us to be deliberate and planful. Guided by the mantra of Think Different, we have developed a plan and are working tirelessly to implement that plan.
Wanting to offer an educational experience for our students and faculty that minimizes disruption to continuous instruction while providing high-level learning opportunities, we have developed a multi-modal learning model that will allow students to interact and learn in a safe environment. Ideally, students will be in class with their teachers and peers. However, should they not be able to attend class for an extended period of time, we have that covered. Every class offered this year at Saint John’s Prep will be live streamed via Zoom. This will allow a student who may find herself at home because of quarantine or the need to isolate, but healthy enough to engage, the ability to “sit in” classes with her classmates. Should a student be unable to join the class live, recordings of all classes will be available to students for review at a time that is convenient for them. In fact, as a global school, the Prep School has students from around the world, a number of them opting to take courses asynchronously from their home countries as they ride out this global pandemic with their families from afar. This creative approach and flexible learning model will provide both students and faculty the opportunity to maintain normalcy in an all but normal period of time.
With a mask requirement for anyone who enters the building, teachers will be equipped with voice amplification devices to ensure that their instruction in the classroom is optimal. Classrooms will be equipped with new technology, allowing teachers to interact with students in the classroom and those who may find themselves at home. While we cannot predict how the school year will progress, what we are confident in is our preparedness to deliver an outstanding experience for our students. None of this would be possible without members of the Prep School community stepping up to see that investments were made in technology, which we have all come to appreciate that much more during the current pandemic. Parents, alumni, members of the Board of Regents, and friends of Prep have generously committed nearly $60,000 to ensure that our faculty have the tools they need to deliver the very best instruction possible not only this year but into the future.
Education, and therefore Saint John’s Prep, has been anything but immune from COVID-19. In fact, one might contend that this pandemic has severely infected the educational system, revealing underlying conditions in educational models and instructional practices that require immediate attention and care. In our effort to address these challenges that face the educational world, we are working hard to Think Different. Doing so will move Prep Forward. Not just today, but forever.
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