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Where: River Dell Regional School District (opens in new tab), River Edge, New Jersey
Who: Marianthe Williams, Director of Technology
The River Dell Regional School District is located about 7 miles from the NYC epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of this writing, we rank second to New York with the most cases so the decision to close in mid-March gave our schools a couple of days to prepare for our shutdown.
This decision was an extraordinary test of digital preparedness for teaching and learning to continue in a remote setting while counting on technology to play an essential and critical role in restoring normalcy. In 2006, our district started down the path of 1:1 learning. Every staff member and student has a district-issued Windows 10 HP 360 form factor with touchscreen and stylus and Microsoft 365. Most importantly, we have a strong pledge for ongoing professional learning developed and taught by our educators within their content areas.
That said, it was go-time with two days notice for our shutdown! Our message to our staff was, ‘you’ve got this’, stay with what you do everyday(with some tweaks) and use only the resources that have been vetted by the district to continue to protect student data.
Under our district tenant, all staff have a plethora of resources for collaboration and content creation. Microsoft teams has proven to be a game changer as a learning hub for our classrooms which also allowed for a seamless transition to remote teaching and learning. Being able to connect and to share their desktop to teach live, interact with students and to ‘write on the board’ for direct instruction brings a sense of normalcy.
Within Teams, our teachers post assignments and forms for assessments with embedded video from Stream, and add apps from a broad range of choices depending on the learning objective. In addition, students create their content for TedTalks, discussion prompts, or online debates using the video collaboration tool, FlipGrid.
For instance, one of our art classes that needed to go virtual began with a live direct instruction introducing the history of heraldry, symbolism, coat of arms, crests and mottos. Students then designed their personal banner for their remote learning space. Here is an example.
Our district has been deeply committed to social-emotional learning infused in the daily classroom. Remote teaching renewed this commitment in this setting while trying out different tactics. Live remote teaching in Teams has helped increase the much-needed connection between students and teachers with students being able to see and hear their teachers on a regular basis. The first session was to reach out and take the pulse of how students were dealing with this new quarantined classroom. The feedback from students was extremely positive for both students and teachers.
In addition, as administrators, it has helped all of us to ‘see’ our colleagues instead of the quick email or text. It has made all of us stop and realize that we needed to hit the reset button and the importance of face-to-face conversations. Even our administrative council meetings have gone virtual, and at the end of every remote class, department, school or small group meeting or just a ‘How ya doin'?’ with one colleague, the chat always ends with, ‘ It was great seeing everyone.’
Lastly, I want to leave everyone with a chuckle so I am sharing our new helpdesk. If the technicians cannot walk students through a remedy to fix their issue or by remoting into a staff member’s laptop, they make an appointment to visit our social distancing version of helpdesk.
Want fries with that?