Pivot and acceleration are words more commonly used to describe a running back in the Super Bowl than elementary and middle school education. However, the past year has caused our Preschool through 8th-grade campuses to make these words part of our standard practice. Our success during this time comes down to our strategic plan and our dedicated teachers.
Providentially, last year was the first time our elementary campuses had dedicated technology coaches. Little did anyone know that they would be instrumental in training faculty to pivot to remote learning for almost three months in the spring. At the beginning of last school year, both students and teachers were hesitant to make videos to share for lessons and learning. This year it is now common for the teachers of our younger students to use apps like Seesaw, allowing them to post assignments and receive student writing, audio files, and video files. Next year, we plan to expand our technology coach role even more.
At the Tinley Park campus, we are blessed to have middle school classrooms that can be opened to create double-sized rooms. At the Oak Lawn campus, classes have moved from one building to the other in order to use the largest spaces strategically. Of course, these larger spaces have helped tremendously with social distancing. Unfortunately, these same large spaces impede some of the best teaching practices … collaboration and student communication. Now, our teachers can use voice amplification and student response programs, like Pear Deck. This system allows students to type responses that show up in real-time on the screen in the front of the room. To support remote learners, teachers can set up additional devices in the classroom to allow remote students to video conference into lessons. This works especially well for hands-on classes such as science.
The disruption of COVID-19 caused us to accelerate the technology goal of our strategic plan. This past summer, Technology Director Nathan Jann wisely decided to implement several steps of the plan all at once:
• First, the Tech Team audited our supply of faculty computers and upgraded forty-five laptops so that teachers had more flexibility inside the building and out. These devices helped in multiple ways. It made planned weeks of remote learning easier, allowing teachers to work from home with the same technology they use in their classrooms. The upgrades were also essential in allowing teachers to move from room to room and have full access to their technology. In the past, middle school teachers stayed in their classrooms while students moved from room to room. This year, to limit movement throughout the building and minimize the spread of COVID-19, teachers are moving to different classrooms while students remain in their homerooms.
• Second, the Tech Team purchased additional equipment for students. Prior to the current school year, only middle school students had individually assigned equipment. The remaining students in lower grades shared iPads that were moved about on mobile carts. SCCS purchased an additional 60 iPads and 120 laptops. Now each student in 5th through 8th grade has a laptop, and every student in 1st through 4th grade has an assigned iPad.
The main impetus for this acceleration was the looming possibility of the state mandating remote learning. Thank God, we have been able to avoid that this year. These devices have made us more flexible and adaptable to our circumstances, but they can in no way replace or serve as substitutes for creative, loving, and wise Christian teachers. Those are the real MVPs.