First and foremost, there is no road map for this monumental educational change — in many ways each district was on it’s own to make this happen. We were getting some direction from government, but the message was clear — we needed to figure out the majority of the intricacies ourselves.
Here were some of the challenges:
- There was an urgency to the planning that normally wasn’t present;
- The vast majority of our staff was on Spring Break — we needed to pull this together with a much smaller team from our district office;
- We’ve been told to quarantine at home if possible, so getting together as a team was now being done by virtual communication means — ZOOM or Microsoft Teams;
- We were moving an ENTIRE system in just a couple of weeks — unheard of in education;
- We needed to have a plan roughed out in a very short amount of time.
As Superintendent I have known for some time that my best decisions include the following processes:
- Involve as many others as appropriate for the situation;
- Take the necessary time to ensure that all information is available;
- Implement any decision in a timely fashion to ensure the greatest amount of comfort and familiarity with the idea.
Well, let’s see. Hmmm …
NOPE NOPE and NOPE
That’s not our new reality. As I pondered our next steps on March 17th, I sat on my porch at home and took this photo:
It didn’t look like we were in a crisis — certainly my dog didn’t seem too worried. It was a beautiful sunny day, I had just spread some new mulch in the garden — life seemed pretty good.
But, as a community we were facing a hurdle that most of us had never seen before — a world pandemic that had the potential to overwhelm our medical and social resources.
In a previous blog post (Opportunity or Catastrophe) I wrote about having the right mindset in moving forward when confronted with a challenge. Today, towards the end of March 2020 we were given a challenge as an educational system — rise to the occasion and meet it head-on or find the multitude of reasons why it was unworkable. Really, there was no choice.
We gathered as a team — at first together in the school district offices, and then later from a distance in our virtual meeting rooms. We analyzed the challenges ahead, assigned the tasks as needed and set out a timeline.
It was March 17th. What were our priorities?
- Vetting new electronic learning resources for teachers and parents and creating a new landing-pad for easy “one stop shopping”;
- Ensuring effective and ongoing communication with our unions for clarity of intent and messaging;
- Establishing reasonable teaching expectations — this isn’t going to be classroom teaching at home but a whole new way of learning and assessing;
- Maintaining our buildings as clean and safe places to be — ready for staff who needed to be on-site;
- Creating working from home expectations and protocols;
- Establishing new processes for our Board of Education which still needed to function in this new environment, and;
- … a whole host of other issues that would come up on a daily basis all while ensuring that we abide by the Provincial Health Officer’s official orders on things like physical distancing and cleaning standards.
And yet on this day (March 17th) it was sunny and warm.
The buds on the lilacs in my garden were getting ready to burst. New mulch was in the garden. And I needed to cut the lawn.
Today is Tuesday March 31st. It’s been exactly 2 weeks since the announcement came out to suspend in-class instruction. The amount of work that has been done by a relatively small number of staff in our district has been astounding. I cannot accurately express to you how proud I am of the amount of work they have accomplished in such a short period of time.
The list is impressive. Here’s just a sampling of what they’ve done:
- Creating Working-From-Home procedures that align with provincial rules and obligations;
- Enhancing cleaning and working protocols for work sites — including such things as physical distancing requirements, disinfection protocols, building access, new emergency exits, etc.;
- Developing innovative new teaching paradigms;
- Creating virtual teacher workshops for this new remote learning reality;
- Developing an extensive electronic resource library for teachers, administrators, educational assistants as well as PARENTS — check out our new Saanich Learns website;
- Launching a new video communication platform for our district called Microsoft Teams;
- Readying our schools to receive children of essential workers who need childcare — ensuring that their complex needs can be addressed as best as possible when we launch this later this week.
… and much, much more. I could list a dozen more things, but you get the idea.
I guess my point is this … we are a strong and united community. Under times of stress and anxiety we rise to the occasion and ‘get it done’. We surround each other with support, encouragement and kindness. We pull for the underdog! We battle together and come out stronger in the end.
We build community!
I am proud to be a part of Saanich Schools and the role we are taking in creating a sense of calm, predictability and care.