What does your Covid balance sheet look like? The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.

I am starting with a question for you all. What does your life balance sheet look like after 14 months in a global pandemic?

This is a unique time in all of our lives. No story has dominated the news cycle anything like Covid – not in our lifetime. If you wanted to look for comparisons, you would have to go back to the Second World War. Absolutely nothing has dominated our lives like the pandemic.

So, how is your life going? I get asked this a lot mainly because I am in my fifth month on Noom and they tend to ask you lots of questions that call for a certain amount of personal reflection. I think it’s worth the trouble. Since the beginning of January I have been able to shed almost 20 pounds of excess baggage and I am looking to lose 10 more – Nomm likes it when you make public declarations!

How do you figure out your balance sheet in the biggest global crisis you are likely to see?

For me, it has to be a balance – Good, Bad and yes, Ugly. There is some of all of this for me and I would say probably for you too.

The Good is important, it is what we value the most and it is what paints the brightest self portrait. There are good things going on because of Covid. I have signed up for a Ph.D. which I will start this fall. I have had enough time to reflect that this is a good life challenge for me and many of you in the Twitterverse actually supported my decision to take this on – thanks for this.

I mentioned Noom, that is something I am doing with my partner, Heather and along with this we are new converts to the Peloton which is helping up get our hearts and I would say our heads back into good shape. Both of these healthy projects took flight nearly 10 months into the pandemic. Think of that; we have done our fair share of languishing, but we decided to take something back, get some greater control in a world where so much is beyond us.

One big positive thing in all of this has been the noticing. Early on in the pandemic I started walking our dog Dory all the time. This was Dory’s version of the Peloton, and she is still looking pretty sleek! The walks allowed me to see all around our neighbourhood and some of the walks eventually took Heather and I as far as the Ottawa River – these walks unfortunately were beyond what Dory could manage.

A recent Covid Walk shot – the photos had to be in our neighbourhood and no people could be in the shots. At any one time, only four pictures could be displayed.

The walks and the photos are a long-standing Good that has come out the pandemic. Once you really start noticing the world around you things begin to open up.

The Bad is not somewhere I want to dwell. We all hear this all the time, every day. It is almost comical how many bad news stories our local CBC Ottawa radio station is able to conjure up. They seem to take a certain glee in featuring yet another colourful local story about how our lives have been strained and drained over the past 14 months.

My Bad is the same as everyone’s. The places we can’t go – Kilimanjaro – Cuba – Montreal – the Maritimes – you get the picture. The people we can’t be with – for me this is mainly family. Our meetings with family are challenging and sometimes downright silly like when we all hid under a canopy on Christmas Eve in the middle of a torrential rainfall.

So, let’s not linger, the Bad is part of our shared experience, it varies depending on people’s circumstances, but we all share the Bad.

What about the Ugly? What does that look like for you? How have things become ugly for you and for your world? The Ugly could be your social media. Here we have a neighbourhood Facebook Page where post after post decries the habits of some of the homeless people in our area. That is nothing but Ugly.

For me too social media has played a part. When you can’t see people except for their screen, sometimes things can go terribly wrong. Just a few days ago I totally lost it when something I had spend hours on got a bit messed due to a technical glitch. Really, no one’s fault, but I totally lost it.

Why does this happen? How is it that it seems easier now than ever to become totally unhinged?

Is Covid unhinging us?

I later apologized for my bizarre behaviour, but I am perplexed by the Ugly. Can we understand this? Can you talk about your ugly side?

While I love the Good and accept the Bad, the Ugly has me wondering. What is going on? In other cases, long-time friendships are at risk because of some of the strains brought on by the pandemic.

I do not have any answers to finish off this post. The Ugly is what it is and I do hope the damage is not permanent. For me in times like this, I like to go back to Pema Chödrön and all of her wisdom. She is truly a voice for our time. She talks about treating ourselves, even with the ugly with loving kindness:

But lovingkindness—maitri (Pali, metta)—toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy, we can still be angry. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.

Pema Chödrön meditation

This is my answer to the Ugly. We are challenged to treat ourselves as fallible humans capable of great things and sometimes of true ugliness. We don’t dwell in the Ugly instead we lean in to learn.

We lean towards the Good, we acknowledge the Bad and we learn from the Ugly.

My mom in dementia

People need to be honoured, people need to be written about.

In 2017, I wrote about my dad as he lay in a coma. It got lots of attention. He fell and lingered for weeks before he died. This post I honour my mother, but I doubt it will get as much recognition.

My mom is alive, but the wonderful character, the beautiful person who she was is almost dead.

My mom has advanced dementia. Her last real grasp of reality died with my father, but she lingers.

We moved her to Ottawa after my dad died, and when Covid allows, we visit her. She has endured months in the hospital after a broken hip, but she rallied and survives.

Today I had a visit and she railed at me, she screamed when we tried to give her medication.. She shouted at me when I wouldn’t bring her home -what is home??

She clawed at my visor and spit at me. I tried to distract with an old movie, she was a lover of old movies. Today it didn’t work.

I took her outside, I toured her around the residence. She complained – really loudly, that this was not her home.

For one moment, I think more of myself. I have no family to help with this. There is a brother, but he is in so much psychic pain he is not able to help.

I witness this and I have to remember. My mom was a good mom. My mom loved us and made our home the hub that all my friends felt comfortable coming to. Our place was always so much fun, she welcomed everyone to our place. we all grew up with her.

My mom was crazy, she would dance right into the super 8 film my dad was trying to take of beautiful cliffs in New Brunswick. My mom is who I talked to when I came home after too many beers who listened patiently when I blathered on about nothing. My mom let us use her wedding dress for a movie we were making. Who dived into the pool in that dress??

My mom was always there for us. My mom listened.

Now who is my mom? What does she think, what does she feel?

I am not sure she feels the absence of her wonderful partner. She talks about ‘Frank’ but I don’t know if she realizes he is no longer there.

Soon after my dad died, she told me a story. She was asleep in a different section of the room on the night he died. She talked about how he came to her that night and talked to her. I can’t remember what she said about that encounter, but it was a vision of comfort and love.

Now there are photos of the two of them together throughout the room, but I don’t think she recognizes them. Some times, I am Frank or her brother Paul also long gone. Sometimes I am Paul, but I am a bit surprised when she recognizes me.

Today her plea was to take her home. I told her that she was home, but really, that made no sense to her.

This is living with dementia. It is too easy to be angry with her because she is no longer the mom I knew. I write this to help me to remember to respect who she was even though she is still here. She is not who she was.

This is part of life, seeing your loving parent descend into something that resembles madness. There is no solace in this. There is no comfort, there are memories, but they are faded right now.

I write this out of great respect for my mom. I write this to remember. I write this to help me to me a loving son on the next visit when who knows what will happen.

Is it possible to mourn the living? I don’t know. I respect and love who she was. This is life, this is dementia.

Building a Better Way: Teaching from a Social Justice Framework

taken from article Ontario Teachers Can Now Face Consequences For Racism November 2020

 

This is my second year teaching at the University of Ottawa. We work with students both in the first and second year program. In a year that is fraught with troubles due to the pandemic, there are, I think, some great opportunities to really focus on what we are teaching our students in the Faculty of Education.

Here we work in cohorts and we are the Urban Communities Cohort (UCC). There are fewer distractions this year as everything we do is online. I really believe that what we are focusing on this year is truly essential to the formation of new educators here in Ontario.

This is an essential pause at the beginning of a career, a chance to reflect and ponder before actually diving in.

In both years, we are focusing our work on anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion. In the first year program, we are studying Is Everyone Really Equal by Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo. In second year we continue to work on How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

Along with this, we have had a series of excellent panel discussions from leading urban educators here in Ottawa. The panels and the books are challenging our thinking about what it means to teach in an urban school.

This year we are doing something very special, something that we were not able to do last year. It is a bit like starting our own school of urban education. By starting with Sensoy & DiAngelo and Kendi and the panel of education leaders, we are truly grounding our students in a social justice framework – something that I have not seen before.


People like to talk about social justice, but it is not very often that it is practiced in our schools. The discussions with local leaders really brought this home – as urban educators, we need to ground our teaching in social justice first, everything flows from this. It is one thing to say that social justice is important to your teaching, it is a very different thing to make this the basis of your practice.

And what will this look like in your school? What will this look like in your classroom? How will you be challenged if you put social justice first?

Teaching from a social justice perspective means that you need to challenge societal norms and practices that are invested in protecting the status quo. A school board by its very nature is designed to protect itself from any radical change. In many ways seeing the world from a social justice perspective calls into question the very existence of large institutions like our school boards. How well do our schools cater to Indigenous students or students from different ethnic minorities?

Through the work in this program, we have been introduced to the works of Dr. Bettina A. Love and the Abolitionists in the United States. Her work is compelling and we focused one of our online discussions on what she teaches and how it can apply in the Canadian context. Dr. Love and others advocate for a system of education that breaks down barriers for children and where social justice is the guiding principle.

The education survival complex mirrors the prison industrial complex. Both industries are making money off these narratives about Black and Brown children—that we’re defiant, violent, thugs—and it’s just not true. This is about racism and how it plays out on Black and Brown bodies. The complex doesn’t want to remove any barriers, it’s just going to try to measure how well you can jump over them. 

Abolitionist Teaching in Action: Q&A with Bettina L. Love ASCD December 2019

We watched a long interview with Dr. Love and other Abolitionists educators and I have included an excerpt below. The original is 90 minutes long and is really worth watching. Even this short segment is liberating and talks about how the impossible became possible at the beginning of the pandemic.

It is a bit crazy to think about now. We had computers, but kids couldn’t bring them home. We had testing, then EQAO stopped. Teachers became the center of everything. We need compassion over compliance!! Why did it take a pandemic to see what really is possible?

These ideas are new and liberating to me. How appropriate for new educators to be exposed to these ideas at the beginning of their career. Education should be about liberation, educators need to lead and not comply with what the conventional practices of the school board dictate. New teachers really need to question who our schools are really for. They need to critique the public school system and look for ways to change that system when it does not serve their students.


By giving our students this framework, they will be able to question more and push the limits of a system that really needs to be pushed. Teaching from a social justice framework is the opposite of supporting the status quo. This is certainly what our schools and our students need right now.

Some of these ideas are making it into our own school systems. Just last week, the Peel Board announced changes to entry requirements for Black and Indigenous students into specialized programs:

Faced with continuing criticism of its failures to address issues of equity and systemic anti-Black racism in its schools, Peel’s interim education director told trustees on Tuesday evening that giving access to groups that are underrepresented in programs, such as arts and technology, strings music and the International Baccalaureate, is a “necessary action.”

“They have a right to be there. If our random selection process was working well and we were encouraging students from these identities to apply, we wouldn’t need this step,” Colleen Russell-Rawlins said in an interview earlier on Tuesday.

Maybe this is why the abolitionist approach is so interesting – the only way to actually provide BIPOC students with a safe and caring environment is to create new structures that do not rely on a school model designed for Industrial Age Great Britain. The Peel approach is a good one and one that should resonate with our students.

At a time where the education of our children is so important when we need to question how we serve all of our students, these questions and discussions are essential to the development of the next generation of teachers. As they learn to challenge the way things have been done in the past I am confident we will build a better way forward.

Living in the age of incivility Part 3 – The Iron Cage that is the school system

The modern school system has, for all intents and purposes, come more and more to resemble and function much like what German sociologist Max Weber called the “Iron Cage” – a bureaucratic structure that traps individuals in a world driven by technological efficiency, rational calculation and control.

Paul W Bennett Globe and Mail, October 2, 2020

I worried most about this third article in my series Living in the age of incivility. I worried about this because I was going to take things personal, talk about a situation that occurred while I was a principal in the Ottawa Catholic School system five years ago.

In a tweet I never put out I wrote this:

In 2015, I was unjustly suspended by a school board I had worked for for 27 years. A disgruntled employee brought a whole host of false accusations against me. I have never written about this. In a time of such incivility, is it now time to expose the injustice of what happened?

Yes, it is time, but how do I make this a useful article? It would be very easy to become the victim in my own story or for the reader to think – maybe these accusations were not false, maybe he got what was coming for him.

If you keep the story as personal, if you hold on to the anger, the message gets lost, the story is blurred, people turn away.

Even a few years ago, I couldn’t write this story. I was too caught up in anger and shame. I have avoided any occasions that involve the OCSB for years now, including, to my shame, the retirement of a good friend, and my own board retirement party. But enough with that now.

What has given me the context for this third article is an opinion piece by Paul W. Bennett in today’s Globe and Mail. He is writing a summary of some of his ideas in his new book – The State of the System: A Reality Check on Canada’s Schools. I don’t have the book yet, but I will be reading this soon.

In his article, he starts out by writing how the pandemic has really exposed the inadequacies of our public school system, a system that has maintained the same structure for well over 100 years.

Beyond this crisis however, the pandemic has exposed a more fundamental problem. It has lost its connection with students, families and the wider community.

Our public schools, initially established as the vanguard of universal, accessible, free education, have lost their way and become largely unresponsive to the public they still claim to serve. Those voicing concerns about early reading, mathematics scores or school closings find the system resistant to change and regularly hit brick walls and glass ceilings, particularly when trying to access the points of decision-making.

What they are very good at is shutting down innovation and smothering dissent.

Now, I enter the personal, but I do it briefly, because I am not the story here.

In 2015, I was the principal of a small urban school in the Ottawa Catholic School Board. We had a great school with wonderful children, mostly new to Canada. Our school had served immigrant communities for decades and this meant going beyond the prescriptive norms to give them the opportunity to thrive in a brand new world.

At the time, we had one employee who worked closely with me who used their position to create tension and strife amongst the staff. I was unaware of this situation until the staff member began to poll staff about their attendance in a board-wide PD day. This is something you just don’t do in a school – the principal can do this, but I would never take a step like this – I trusted the people I worked with.

I did call the employee out on this behaviour, but I did not know at the time it was just one in a series of ‘aggressions’ the staff member had taken out on the rest of the staff.

While generally we could have moved on from this incident we didn’t. The employee went directly to the head of HR for the board, brought in their union representative and left the school when I asked why they were escalating the issue.

This was a time of high tension in the school board. The employee’s union was on work to rule and incidents like this were happening in other schools as well.

Still, nothing really to worry about here. In the ensuing weeks, without my knowledge, the employee with their union rep held a series of meetings with the superintendent of HR and others and in those meetings a long history of my supposed infractions were laid out out. It must have taken hours and hours to come up with this list.

It was fanciful, but it was damming. When the list was complete and the meetings were over, I was called in to hear the whole story. I brought our association rep, a fellow principal. As principals in Ontario, we don’t have a union which means we are exposed and unprotected. Most principals have no idea how precarious their position is.

A meeting that I thought would be a 15-minute conclusion to a strange affair turned into a two-hour grilling that only ended when I had had enough. I told them this was ridiculous and I left.

There is a nine-page summary of the meeting written by my representative. Even now I can’t read it and my hands actually shake as I pull it up again on the computer. I also produced a 22-page document in my defence. I really don’t know if anyone actually looked at it.

As a principal, you get accused of all sorts of stuff. This is part of the job, but you do expect your supervisors to support you and believe in you.

Mine did not. A few weeks after this meeting I was suspended pending an investigation.

I don’t know if an investigation ever took place. Three weeks later on the last day of school before Christmas, I was reinstated with a hastily written disciplinary letter added to my file.

There was no explanation about what their findings were or if they had actually conducted an investigation. To this day I don’t know the results, but apart from the letter, there were no consequences. The employee was relocated and later it turned out that this person had done similar things at another school, but in the earlier case the principal was told to keep quiet. There has never been an explanation or an apology.

This is my story of the Iron Cage. A school board totally out of touch with their staff more than likely doing its utmost to stay clear of a strong union in a time of labour strife. A school board that placed little value on a loyal employee.

There is no question in my mind that the system of centralized power and incompetent managers needs to be reworked. The pandemic has exposed all of this, but I experienced this gross misuse of authority and power over five years ago.

In his article, Paul Bennett calls for a humanizing of the education system. We need to turn away from big schools that dehumanize relationships between educators, children and parents. We also need a system that has some real oversight so that power can no longer be abused by those who want to sanction others who do not follow the script.

One board official once told me I deserved what I got because my views on education were unconventional. With attitudes like this how can we not want to rework our system? How can someone think it is OK to say things like that?

My situation remains unresolved because I never received an explanation and certainly not an apology. I am retired now – writing this while working at a school would certainly lead to grave consequences.

Now I want a better system. Not for me, but for all those who work in schools, for all children and families and their communities. These old institutions need to go and we need to start considering alternatives. As paul Bennett writes:

A new set of priorities is coming to the fore: put students first, democratize school governance, deprogram education ministries and school districts, and listen more to parents and teachers. Design and build smaller schools at the centre of urban neighbourhoods and rural communities. It’s not a matter of turning back the clock, but rather one of regaining control over our schools, rebuilding social capital, and revitalizing local communities.

This is what we really need to do. Humanize education, give power back to parents and communities, get rid of the bureaucracies that do everything in their power to protect what they have.

Education should be about people, it is not about power and institutions. When abuse of power happens so easily with no consequence for the abusers it is time to rework the system.

Living in the age of incivility – the impact on racialized youth in Ottawa

Dempsey’s community programs have been closed to local youth at the whim of an uncaring city

In this series, I am writing about incivility, injustice, and in this case racism in our local community. This article has a lot to do with racism – a word we don’t like using in Canada. But when you enact a policy that negatively impacts young racialized people that is racism and it needs to be called out.

It is hard to write about stories where poor, racialized communities are forgotten in a time where their needs are not seen as important or even relevant.

The story. In the east end of the city, a community rink was converted into a homeless men’s shelter at the height of the pandemic. As parents and community members began to organize protest against the usurping of their place for hockey and pickleball, the City of Ottawa Housing Department looked for a new location.

They fixed on Dempsey Community Centre.

Dempsey Community Centre in the heart of social housing in the near-by Alta Vista neighbourhood was chosen as a replacement. You can read about this here in the only article written about all this in Ottawa. The article makes no comment, no editorial, no judgment on the move. The article misses the important fact that local families were not consulted even though they had signed their kids up for recreational programs with Christie Lake Kids, a city-wide foundation that runs recreational programming in low-income neighbourhoods.

In better days, Dempsey was a place for Russel Heights youth to play and take part in important community partnerships. Here is an example from two years ago where the Ottawa Police played basketball with Russel Heights youth at Dempsey.

I hope you watch this video and read this article from the Ottawa Citizen – ‘Ball is life:’ How Ottawa police are building relationships through basketball.

The beauty of Dempsey is that kids could walk over from their homes and participate in a wide variety of programming through Christie Lake Kids – all that programming is now gone.

Understandably, Christie Lake Kids has been silent about the loss of one of their key centers for community programming. What can they possibly do? For them at this point to advocate for their youth would risk losing more programming from the City of Ottawa.

This is one of the essential problems with programs based on charity. It is always a handout. We do this because we are in power and we can – but don’t ever challenge us. Don’t ever question our decisions.

The City Councillor Jean Cloutier has defended the move saying all the right people were consulted, no one objected. His level of advocacy for marginalized youth in his own community is a disgrace. When contacted he assured us that he had followed all the requisite steps. His conscience is clear.

These are racialized youth, these are underrepresented families. These are people with no power. This is a racist act made by people who have nothing to fear – no one speaks up for these people. They know they don’t have to worry about decisions that affect people in this neighbourhood.

A few weeks ago there was a huge furor on the local  Ottawa CBC when a backyard youth Shakespeare group was shut down by local by-law officers for making too much noise. We heard about this story every second day. A quick Google search turned up 18 separate articles about this! Through the advocacy of people with power, the troupe was moved to one of the premier theatres in Ottawa to complete their performances.

Good for them but there were some big differences between the troupe and Russell Heights. They came from a well-off mainly white neighbourhood. They got the support of local (CBC) media because it was a ‘good’ story. They had an effective voice. They had real power.

The kids and families have none of these advantages. CBC showed very little interest in the story – who cares about poor neighbourhoods in Ottawa. The press coverage was minimal – again who cares?

Situations like this make me angry. The injustice and overt racism in this story are incredible. This is tragic.

Yes, this is an example of the growing incivility of our times. Should the men’s shelter exist – of course. Did it need to displace fully enrolled children’s programs at Dempsey – of course not.

This is a case of inattention by City staff and a City Councillor who really didn’t care. Why should they? They knew no one in Russel Heights would protest. These people are used to stuff like this, why would they object?

No one sees them.

If people don’t start caring in the times of COVID when will they start caring? Why can’t we be understanding and compassionate for all communities, not just the rich, white ones? Why does no one seem to care?

 

 

Covid Journal # 7 – Returning to school is risky

These graphs put out by science teacher and biostatistician, Ryan Imgrund are something I am going to watch closely over the next month.

‘On August 2, in Ottawa there is a 4.8% chance you’ll encounter an individual who can transmit COVID-19 in a group of 27.’

This is actually a statement put out on Ryan Imgrund’s Twitter feed. You can fill in the blanks for your region if you would like. How’s it going for you?

What this means should startle everyone. There is a significant risk of COVID-19 spreading in classrooms this fall. There is no hard cap for kindergarten classes or grades 4-8. Kindergarten classes can still be as high as 29 students, classes in grades 1-3 are capped at 23 (90% of classes must have 20 or fewer students).

From Ontario Families for Public Education

The only meaningful caps that exist right now are in grades 9 – 12 where students will attend in groups of 15.

Not to sound overly critical, but I am not sure how this is going to work.

Today, Sunday, August 2 – Australia declares a state of disaster in Victoria and imposes curfew in Melbourne  

Great Britain and Spain are beginning lockdowns again in various regions.

In the New York Times – After a brief reprieve, coronavirus charges back in US

Again the New York Times – A school reopened. It had to quarantine students within hours.

I am going to stop at four, but I could add many more stories. My point here is to state the obvious, this virus is not under control. Reopening is fraught with danger and in many cases leads to more outbreaks.

The great thing about daily statistics is that we can track the daily spread of the virus against significant changes in behaviour.

While we all should be concerned as Minister Lecce is for the emotional well-being of students, is sending them back into a very risky environment the best way to do this?

Should we not be trying to reimagine what school could look like if we were not so tied to an industrial era school model? We could be asking – what was so good about how we did things in the past? What could we do better? Why are we so tied to tradition at the risk of our student’s and teacher’s health?

Schools support the economy, there is no question about that. When kids are in school people can go back to work. If we truly were concerned about the well-being of staff and students we would be looking closely at the statistics and we would be using this time to reimagine school.

Are the people in charge of our school systems motivated to do this? People in senior positions traditionally want to protect the status quo. It is in their self-interest to do this. There is nothing amazing in this – all large corporations act in the same manner.

But what should we be doing?

  • Should any grouping of students be above 15?

  • Could we be using facilities like community and health centers to spread out our teachers and students?

  • Could we develop more robust video conferencing tools to make the online experience more meaningful (is there life after Zoom??)

  • Is five days a week, 6 hours a day really meaningful? Can we develop a community-based model for education that makes parents active partners?

 

We do ask these questions in countless blog posts and podcasts, but are these questions ever taken seriously? If not now, when? How tied are we really to an old model that really doesn’t work well for many kids?

I really want to see what happens in the next 30 days. Will there be meaningful debate about what education in Ontario will look like this year? Do we realize that we are in this for the long haul? There is no returning to school until there is a vaccine.

I will be working with teacher candidates in first and second year so I will certainly have lots of opportunities to see how we protect our students and staff. I will continue to look at the stats – we are very fortunate to have this daily reminder about what we are heading into.

Will we invest in real change or will we just hope for the best?

Covid Journal # 6 We all live each other’s backyard now

I woke up this morning to a startling note. I was being chastised and I guess I deserved it. I had made a snarky comment on a public Facebook post that celebrated someone’s generous idea of social distancing.

I have seen other posts like this. From this person and others. Here I just let things slip. I really should have kept my mouth closed, even though the behaviours of others has an impact on all of us.

The Ottawa Citizen came out with a great article today. The article makes it really plain how the virus is being spread: ‘It’s not just people in their 20s’: Multi-age gatherings driving spike in Ottawa COVID-19 cases.

So people are interpreting our new social rules in a way that is making more people sick. No, it is not people in their 20’s although this is a useful stereotype, it is people like my former friend above who feels that they can socially distance using their own rules. I hope they read this article. Today, over 30% of new cases in Ontario were reported in Ottawa. But let the summer roll on.

I apologized to this person. Then I told her that we can’t do multiple bubbles as some people seem to be doing. Most of our children and their partners work in health care, some in very high-risk communities. We have elderly mothers in residences that both have had outbreaks.

Our social bubble consists of three people and it has to stay that way.

This is the thing. If you are going to flaunt our new social conventions, if you are going to do whatever you want because you can somehow justify this please keep it to yourself. When you post on Instagram or Facebook, you are making your actions public. If someone makes a comment maybe you should think about that. Maybe you can take some direction from what people are saying.

We now all live in the same backyard. You no longer get to do what you want. Your actions can certainly have an impact on others. We are all trying to stay safe while we wait for a vaccine or treatment. Once you tell people what you are doing you are opening yourself up to public comment or in some cases censure.

The pandemic is tough. I am finding that social media has more of an edge to it now. People take offence easily, people strike back quickly. We don’t have the normal face-to-face relationships to tamper down this negative energy. We are all in our homes writing and commenting furiously.

I have had my share of dustups in the past few months, some pretty upsetting. We all have to be so careful in what we say and write, but the blow-ups will continue to happen, sometimes when you least expect it.

In some cases, I am sorry for the disagreements. In some cases, I am happy to be free of some people. We will continue to tear up relationships online as the pandemic continues. In most cases, this is just part of the shedding that probably should have happened anyways.

We all probably need to cull the annoying people who still don’t seem to understand that we are in a pandemic. But for the ones we keep, people need to realize we are living in a closer world. We really have to think about how we present ourselves and what we say.

This is a brittle world and it will be difficult to put back the pieces.

Getting Ready for the New Classroom

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to get my head around how I
will be teaching in the fall.
Last year, I taught a ten-week course on teaching intermediate history to Faculty of Education students. I loved the challenge of the course and I am really hoping I will get this again. While I wait to find out, I have been learning everything I can about how to teach online.
This is going to be a very different summer for many people as we prepare for an entirely new teaching environment.

remote teaching checklist available from our Teaching and Learning Support Service

The Teaching and Learning Support Service at the University of Ottawa now has a series of webinars archived on their site. You can access many of them here on Youtube. These webinars go through the elements of course design. I think I have seen each webinar twice and I know I will be looking at them again.

The webinars are very good at outlining the elements of our learning management system. Here, we use Brightspace.

The first thing I have learned is pretty important. You have to go with the LMS that you have. You may really love Google Classroom or Hapara, but what is most important in this new environment is to keep things simple. It is almost like making sure that everyone is speaking the same language right from the start.

Next, it will be really important to be very structured in how I present my material. I will also really need to make my organizational thinking visible to my students. At this point, it is important to say that most of these ideas come from Dr. Michelle Hagerman. Michelle kindly took the time to go over the basic ideas last week. Here I am trying to digest her main points for me and anyone else who is trying to figure out how best to do this in the fall.

Your structure is where everything will hang for your course. If your structure makes sense to your students, they will be less stressed and more able to learn from you.

The syllabus will have to be carefully laid out. This includes making sure your headings and subheadings are consistent. When setting up your modules of instruction, it will be really important to have a Module ‘0’ that explains how you have put your course together. This could include your welcome message, course description, assessment and communication policy for example. It should also include some type of screencast that gives your students a tour of how you have set up your course.

Remember, you can’t do this on the first day anymore, so somehow you have to make it human for them. This part I haven’t figured out yet. I may use OBS Studio, Screencastify or ECHO 360 or half a dozen other screencasting tools. I really don’t think it matters what you use as long as it is working for you. The big point here is that you want to make a connection with your students as quickly as you can.

Oh, don’t forget to include a short intro video featuring you!!

Once you have clearly outlined the structure of your modules, with the time each one should take, it will be important to outline how you are going to communicate with your students and how they are going to reach you. This I think is crucial. Are you using your school email? Do you have a special email for this course? Will you respond to texts or Messenger? Will you have virtual office hours? All of this you need to figure out before your course starts. Whatever you use, it will be really important to get back to them pretty quickly. Otherwise, I think you will start losing your students.

The active learning process – TLSS

 

When it comes to the design of your class, the structure should remain consistent. A typical 3-hour lecture needs to be broken up into recognizable components. Here I am quoting directly from Dr. Hagerman:
Design modules that include (a) a written lecture of sorts — with integrated resources, videos, infographics etc. that presents key themes, ideas and evidence; (b) opportunities for students to practice, create or be involved in learning in some way — this can take lots of forms; (c) an opportunity to show or share what they have learned — this can be formative or evaluative.
This helps me a lot. For a three-hour class, I can think of ways to do this. My lecture is only part of the picture. I will need to find ways for students to create and communicate each week.
While I haven’t yet started to map out how all this will look from week to week, I am starting to get my head around how this will be so different from what I have done in the past. One thing, however, will not change, in fact it will become all the more important – I will need to focus on developing relationships with all my students and I will need to create a safe social space for the people I am working with.
I fully expect to spend the rest of my summer thinking and learning about all this. Then, after the first class in the fall, I will probably have to start learning all over again.
This is probably a good first step. Maybe some good ideas will come from any comments I get on this. Whatever happens, I need to take one step at a time. I leave the last words to Professor Hagerman:
Keep expectations reasonable — you’ll probably be able to do less, but that is okay.

 

 

COVID Journal # 5 Breaking up is hard to do

Today has been an interesting day. Earlier I had an incredible conversation with a colleague of mine on how to teach online in the fall. I am still digesting this, but what struck me the most was the notion that when we teach online, the first thing we need to do is consider the emotional health of our audience.

We need to find new ways to draw everyone in, make sure in our isolated spaces that everyone is part of the conversation. This will mean, among other things, that I will need to have a one-on-one conversation with every student I work with in the fall. If I don’t do this I will lose them and it will be my fault.

Today’s conversation was an eye-opener to me. I don’t know if many of us have figured this out yet – apart from teachers who have been working through this since the middle of March.

For the rest of us, I don’t think we understand yet that most social media is unidirectional. It is designed for conversations between two people. Three becomes a crowd.

In the old pre-COVID days, conversations could become organic, especially when one or two people monopolized the conversation. In the classroom, you could redirect. In the living room, you could start a side conversation and effectively move things along. People could pick up on cues, they could usually use their social skills to sense the room.

Now, this isn’t happening. A few days ago I saw a tweet from someone who has become part of a podcast I used to really enjoy. They were asking for feedback on how the show was going. In the past, the music had been great, there had been room for many voices and lots of music suggestions.

The same show now has become a conversation between two, or maybe three people. It has lost the ability to be inclusive –  it is misreading the room. This is part of my response for feedback on the show:

The show now seems a little like a conversation for two or sometimes three people. It used to be more inclusive, more of a community – not any longer. Maybe this is what the pandemic has done.

Our current communication systems can’t allow for more than one or two voices. We haven’t figured out yet how to be inclusive and allow relationships to grow online. This will be a challenge for all of us.

This kind of pushback usually doesn’t turn out well, but after mulling this over for a few days, I felt I needed to write something. More than ever before, people need to reach out and build community.

What spurred me onto this was my last meeting with my book club. We have been meeting online since the pandemic and for me, this hasn’t worked out too well. We have been together for more than fifteen years, but I don’t know if we will survive the pandemic.

Tonight I sat through a conversation that was almost exclusively between three people. It was sad to be there. I had actually looked forward to our conversation, but there was no way to become part of what was going on. No one took the social cues, the conversation was not inclusive. I left the meeting abruptly, but I did tell the group that the conversation no longer worked.

As a group, we are not adept at creating a community online. The radio show I commented on has also lost its ability to do this. We seem now to only be able to connect in groups of two or three. More than that seems to be beyond us and our grasp of the current technology.

We can no longer retreat to the classroom or the livingroom to restore community. These options are out of reach for the foreseeable future. We will have to become much more mindful of the importance of inclusiveness in a world dominated by unidirectional communication.

I am breaking up with my book club. It is not their fault, but I need real community, real human relations. The challenge for the fall will be to make sure none of my students end up feeling as I did tonight. Everything I do will have to be about building community and trust with the imperfect tools we have at our disposal.

We all need to be doing this. We are responsible for building and sustaining important positive relationships. Look around you, think again, we need to do much better to sustain each other for the times to come.

A virtual climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro – Join Us!

We are organizing an event for all of you starting on the first day of summer – June 21st – a virtual climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Here is your opportunity to climb to the Roof of Africa under your own COVID roof!!

climbing the Barranco Wall

 

Each day for seven days we will put out to those who are interested 1) a step count that approximates the steps you would take on that particular day (8-10,000 steps); 2) a commentary embedded for you to listen to that goes over what that day on the trail is like;  3) a video log of that day by Arienne Parzei; 4) a conditioning follow-along video by Chase Tucker; 5) some music to inspire you for your day; 6) some Kilimanjaro interesting facts and; 7) a fun African recipe.

This will be sent to you in the form of a google slide that we will add to every day. Of course, it is up to each of you how many days you take to complete the challenge.

This is a screenshot of the day 1 slide

We will create a spreadsheet so you can record your steps every day. We will use our Facebook pages so you can record how you are doing, any inspirational messages for people or any group challenges you want to put out there! If you are new to all this, we will add you to our Kilimanjaro 2021 Facebook Page – an added bonus!!

 

We want to raise some money for Christie Lake Kids, but we are not emphasizing the fundraising nature of this experience. We are suggesting each participant contribute $58.95 – the height of Kilimanjaro in meters. If this works out well, we might do this as a full fundraiser this fall. We are still committed to raising over $40,000 for Christie Lake Kids before we actually climb Kilimanjaro in 2021. Right now, we are at $26, 722.

If you want, you can get sponsors to raise more money – we leave this up to you. With the pandemic, Christie lake Kids stills to raise money – most of its regular fundraisers have been postponed, but they still plan to run a really cool virtual camp this summer called Camp in a Box.

This is a good opportunity to invite more people into the Climb for Kids experience. If friends and/or family join, we will add them to the spreadsheet, to our Kili FB Page and make sure they get the link to our climbing slides.

Our poster for the virtual climb!

So, please let us know if you are interested and we will get you signed up! Write me here – mcswa1@gmail.com

Remember – Communities Move Mountains!