It’s Monday the day after the “film festival”. Usually I spend the morning by myself wrestling SONOMAWOOD from its spot on the horseshoe to its resting place next to my art room. Usually this happens in March. Usually is no longer. Students help build and install the 10-foot letters but they have never been willing to dismantle or help carry them back to school. My knees are usually muddy and I’m covered in sweat before starting class at 8:20.

 

This year, I’m still sleeping at 8:20. Kate gets off to work and I prepare for a day of distance learning teacher boot camp. My Zoom connection is not connecting on my laptop so I try joining on my phone and am happy to see Andy Mitchell’s and Andy Gibson’s smiling faces teaching all about Google Classroom. Distance learning was a challenge in the spring (http://valleytalking.blogs.sonomanews.com/2020/03/31/day-16-help/) and it remains a challenge in the fall. Unless you are one of the Andys who have been utilizing technology resources since they were born. This is why they are running this morning’s boot camp.

 

I had a 47% participation rate in distance learning in the spring which made me feel like a 47% success (That would be an F and I hate getting or giving F’s), I want to up my game to at least 80%(B) for the fall, obviously, percentages and goals are important to me. My alternative school classroom is a little different than most but not that much. Quality teaching is kinda similar for all populations: engaging, comprehendible and inspiring.

 

By 12:30 I’m at my new office, the picnic table across from EDK in the northeast corner of the plaza. Two girls are making Tik Tok dance videos twenty feet to my right and I’m thinking, “How do I make learning that much fun?” I popped into the SIFF office to explain how happy I was not to be taking the sign down and explain how I want to use three movies in my class (Banksy And The Rise Of Outlaw Art, Days of Rage: The Rolling Stones’ Road to Altamont, Elephant Refugees, all entertaining as heck and chock full of educational content). ATHOMAWOOD was way different than any other year but I appreciated that Kevin and the crew provided what they did.

 

“It is what it is” as I’ve said 4 bazillion times in the last 5 months, BTW this phrase is about the only thing I have in common with our president.

 

I watch the first of three webinars from Mike and Rajeev and Nancy, three SSU professors whom I’ve done trainings with before. My real interest is talking with Nancy about improving my 47% as she was Creekside’s English teacher the year I started. After the webinar I try to connect to their office hours but only get a brief visual of Rajeev with no sound. I email Nancy, telling her I’ll try again tomorrow.

 

School starting filling you with anxiety paralysis? Sorry we haven’t prepared you better but these are unchartered waters and the tide keeps changing. Read on and create a plan, which is really all we can do. Think of it as an exciting new challenge, one that is both rigorous and maybe even a little bit fun.

 

First, assess where you are. How much time can you spare in the week? What are your kid’s priorities? What type of learner are they? What resources are available? (sonomaschools.org/svusd-remote-learning/home/parents-students/9-12, www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/dl/).

 

Also think about how you learned, Schoolhouse Rock? Clubs? Sports? Activities? What things were important to you? Who inspired you and why? Put all these things in your toolbox, you’ll need them because when the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world becomes a nail (Thanks Maslow). Now take this information and begin making a plan.

 

For K-8 you have 12 weeks to fill for the first trimester, for SVHS you have 17 for the first semester, Creekside breaks up the first semester into 5 grading periods. This is how your teachers will plan using the district calendar (https://www.sonomaschools.org/Page/3339). This is also hoping that we will be returning to the classroom once a vaccine is approved (I’m betting on mid-October but that’s optimistic-can’t help myself, it’s my nature).

 

Now, if you want, you can look at the California State Standards (cde.ca.gov), scroll to your grade level and see what standards will be covered but this really isn’t your job. Your job is to provide the structure and support for your teacher in a time of crisis.

 

And what that means is planning and motivating. Make Sunday your family planning day when the kids help make dinner and you all sit together and talk about the week ahead. Make charts and schedules and responsibilities, put them above desks and on the fridge for the kids and for you then fill them in together. Trust me that the buy in is far greater when the kids are making the plans plus you’re teaching time management, the most important life skill that exists.

 

Most teachers will be running daily Zoom classes, providing weekly assignments for students all posted on Google Classroom. Many will have at least one synchronous (live) or asynchronous (recorded) virtual class meeting per day and all teachers should be available for office hours.

 

From there, it’s up to the teachers to connect with students. Some will use bit emojis, some will screencast lessons, some will use Flipgrid and Go Guardian and Nearpod and Desmos and Jamboard and IXL, and Listenwise and Newsela and Sketchboard and combinations of the multiple platforms available to make distance learning engaging.  Some will do a lot and some will not.

 

Some teachers, like my sister in Modesto, will decide that it’s all too much and retire. And hells to the yes I’m jealous Liz! But I have about 8 more years until I can join you plus I love new challenges (most of the time).

 

How to maintain equity is the big question and while we will do the best we can, things will not be equal. In a classroom everyone shares the space and time together. Out of a classroom some have more and some less. It’s not racist or classist or sexist but reality. Some kids do not have the same opportunities as others. The good news before you fork out thousands of dollars for a private learning pod is that many resources are equitable and available for free.

 

Kahn Academy is always my go to for free enrichment but some students don’t work well with the platform. My simple advice, be like the kids and Google it. Or better yet, tell the kids to Google it because they have to make sense of this crazy world eventually plus, if you can instill a love of learning in your kids, your job is pretty much done.

 

Once the kids have a nice comfortable, organized workspace, figure out some times for breaks. You can even make it fun, turn the house into an 18-hole mini-golf course (great way to learn angles) or play the Oreo cookie game where each player puts an Oreo on their forehead and the first to eat it using facial expressions wins. There are hundreds of these ideas just waiting for you to search them out.

 

Next throw in a little social responsibility because it’s all about the whys: Why is the virus a bigger problem in our country? Why should you wear a mask? Why are so many people so angry? Why can’t we get along? Why can’t I go to school?

 

Here’s how I eased my students into this great adventure:

 

Welcome Back!!!

 

Can you feel the excitement? Yeah, me neither, but it is what it is and this week that means getting setup for your distance learning experience.

 

First, find a place to work. You will be in Zoom classes daily from about 8:30-12 each day so carve out a spot which is comfortable and away from distractions.

 

Second, Print out or copy the codes for Zoom classes and your Google classrooms. This week is all about organization and I will be right along with you because we are all in this together.

Third, Do not panic, do not hate, communicate. Problems will happen; this is a new adventure and will require patience. The team is here and willing to get you working. Classes will be different than they were in the spring but there is no reason you shouldn’t get A’s. Connect with your teachers, remember we like doing this (kinda, sorta, maybe, OK, we liked it when you were in the classroom) and we want you to succeed. Help us accomplish that goal.

 

Fourth, learn on your own. I think of myself as a farmer tending crops and assisting growth. If something interests you, write it down and Google it until you understand. I will be doing more real-life lessons this semester so that once we emerge from this pandemic you will be better prepared for your long life ahead.

 

Fifth, keep it simple. I know I will which is why I am ending now.

 

-Walt

wwilliams@sonomaschools.org

You Tube channel: Walter Williams

Blog: Valley Talking with Walt Williams

Cell # (707) ********

 

 

 

 

  

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