Three weeks ago, I made the excruciating decision to switch to remote learning for what we hoped would only be two weeks to help “flatten the curve” or “Falcon the curve” as we say at Freeport High School. Now the time has stretched to seven weeks, with no guarantee our students will return to our brick and mortar schools on May 4.

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at [email protected]

We recognize that remote learning cannot replace the everyday experience of students interacting face-to-face with staff and peers. The staff in RSU 5 has met the daunting challenge of quickly getting distance learning up and running with minimal training. We are in a global pandemic and this requires a mindset switch for all of us, while also allowing ourselves to acknowledge our loss of normalcy.

This crisis necessitates that we make concessions in what we consider instructional quality. While we integrate instruction in a distance-learning model, we will temporarily settle for “good enough.” This disruption provides us with an opportune time to learn and experiment so that when we return, we will have new and better ways of teaching and learning. After this catastrophic event subsides, this new phase of remote learning will enhance our previous instructional quality.

Two weeks into this model, our students report missing the social aspect of education. Traditional schooling generates friendships, moments of laughter and exchanges of thought. Knowing this, our elementary teachers are having Zoom meetings twice a week where teachers and students come together to replicate a familiar practice called Morning Meeting. At these virtual meetings, every child has a chance to greet each other and share personal experiences.

This week, first graders shared what they liked to do in the sunlight. One student shared, “I like to get outside and ride my bike.” The meeting ended with the teacher reminding students that she would connect with each of them throughout the week. This individual time provides opportunities for the teachers to connect with students on how they are doing academically, socially and emotionally.

We have many examples of staff creatively identifying new ways to reach students virtually and sharing ideas with one another. One staff member created an entire “how to” Google classroom, in which she posts videos on how to create and use different technology to support instruction. During this time, we have connected more with families in a way that we haven’t done before. Our parents recognize this and the hard work of teachers. One parent acknowledged, “We sure are lucky to have the teachers and staff that we do. They have put such amazing effort into this virtual learning. I don’t think we can ever thank you all for all the time and effort this must have taken.”

I have learned from this experience that our staff members are up to the challenge of continuing to teach and learn remotely. Let’s not forget to be gentle with one another during these times. As hard as the days are, let’s not lose sight of what is most important – keeping ourselves and our students safe while continuing to provide quality instruction remotely.

My daily inspiration comes from kids. Today I’m inspired from a distance by a poem written by Claire Carter, a fifth grade student in Freeport. Thank you, Claire, for lifting me, and others, up with your thoughts:

One beam,
Makes me smile.
One small touch of warmth,
Makes my insides melt into calmness.
The slightest peek from behind the
Gives me hope.
This thing of joy,
Brings a smile to my face each morning
As it rises proudly over the mountains.

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