Technology and Flexibility in the Coronavirus Classroom
Spencer Burns

It has become something of a ritual: every two weeks, New Orleanians must learn the rules to the newest phase of quarantine. The reopening plan we initially learned about back in the spring seemed straightforward. First graders can understand phases numbered 0, 1, 2, and 3. We began moving forward through the phases, and then backward, and then forward again. We imagined and then witnessed what “25% capacity” felt like. We started throwing in decimal points when it became clear that this had become more complex than a clear, three-phased reopening, and began to wonder if logarithmic labels were next. We added and removed different types of restrictions as our knowledge of the virus, and of the level of risk presented by different types of activities, became more nuanced. 

This responsiveness and resilience has characterized the year 2020. It has also characterized this year at St. George’s. As educators, we have had to adjust to new realities brought on by the coronavirus, particularly in the realm of technology.

In the spring, we faced a steep learning curve. Last year was my first year teaching, and just as I was beginning to find something of a groove, I had to find a way to translate my practice for the digital realm. All things considered, it went fairly well, though there was plenty of room to improve. By the time school let out, however, it was clear that the coronavirus wasn’t going away. The severity with which it would continue to linger also remained a mystery. In the vacuum, we began to wonder what the new school year would look like. Summer gave the St. George’s community valuable time to prepare, and to imagine. That happened at an institutional level, as well as an individual one. 

St. George’s followed in the city’s footsteps by developing a phased reopening plan. One part of that plan was the creation of a Digital Learning Task Force, which I serve on. A mix of educators, administrators, and our wonderful tech team worked together to determine what tools we needed to make online learning the best it could be. It has been inspiring to work with this committee because of the forward-thinking nature of its members. We have set out to make online learning more than a second-rate version of in-class learning - something new, and totally different.

As a novice educator and as a young person who considers himself to be a digital native, I have been blown away by the commitment of many of my colleagues to growing with the times. I know so many St. George’s teachers who dedicated an incredible amount of time this past summer, and so far this school year, to finding resources that better prepare them to teach online or in a hybrid model. 

We are now nearly a third of the way through the year, and I have found that teaching and learning in a traditional classroom has evolved to suit the needs of the times. From the outset of creating a digital learning plan, the Digital Learning Task Force knew that the St. George’s community would be problem-solving quarantines of many different types this year. A hybrid model, where one or a few students in a class are quarantining while others are at school, requires familiarity with different technologies than a whole-class or whole-school quarantine.

I had the unique privilege of being one of the teachers to partake in the first whole-grade level quarantine of the new school year. We had 48 hours from learning about our impending quarantine to implement and refine our digital learning plan.

Like the city developing new phases and restrictions as it learned new information about the virus, the first grade and tech teams considered the specific circumstances of our quarantine to create a unique plan that met the needs of students, educators, and families. The two-week time period necessitated that we be particularly cognizant of the work obligations of parents. We had to consider the ability of first graders to use technology to do assignments independently. We adjusted our schedule, and our writing curriculum, to meet their needs. Everything I had learned, and everything we had learned as a St. George’s community, coalesced into a great plan that helped lead to a solid two weeks of online learning. It was yet another new type of quarantine, and I was proud to be a part of the team that rose to the occasion.

First grade has been back in school for about a month now. But we learned that in order to maximize learning at home, should we need to again in the future, we first have to maximize children’s fluency with technology while they are physically at school -- hence the implementation of tech Tuesdays, as well as other classroom activities to familiarize students with the technology they’d use from home.

Nothing that 2020 throws at us would surprise me at this point. It’s been a year for the books. But no matter what happens, I trust our amazing team at St. George’s to come up with a plan that considers the needs of all.