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A collaborative move to an online world

April 14, 2021
When the Louis Riel School Division (LRSD) started its remote learning journey in March 2020, the transition to online instruction and interaction between students, teachers and families required a collaborative and supportive approach.

Creating an equitable learning environment was a top priority. In early April, staff checked in with families across the division to determine what LRSD could do to help them switch to remote learning. Based on the feedback collected, our community identified access to the internet, and a laptop/tablet were two areas that required support.

School staff followed up with 159 families who initially indicated they needed support accessing the internet. With many families making alternate arrangements during the interim, 17 families from 13 different schools received access to the internet from home, with the division assuming the costs.  

"Teaching has always been an incredibly complex and demanding profession, but during remote learning, reaching students and supporting their needs has been even more challenging," said Warren Hart, Itinerant Instructional Support Teacher.

Principals and vice-principals worked with divisional staff to deploy more than 1,600 school-owned devices for students to continue learning at home. Before being distributed to families, each device underwent an extensive configuration and sanitation process.  

Through Microsoft Teams and other software programs, educators used video to engage learners in whole group, small group and one-to-one meetings. The live, face-to-face interaction and chat space provided teachers with the ability to collect evidence in many ways.

The division also scheduled appointments for families who preferred to pick up and drop off printed materials.

"It's all about providing opportunities for students to show what they know in a way that empowers their voice," said Thaddeus Bourassa, Itinerant Instructional Support Teacher. "We know that no two brains are alike and therefore deserve personalized pathways of learning. The ability for students to demonstrate what they know in a meaningful and remote context was supported." 

Both Hart and Bourassa are on the divisional Learning Team. They are also EdTech Mentors, a group of LRSD educators who help staff integrate technology into their lesson design and everyday teaching.

With many LRSD staff working from home during the indefinite suspension of classes, the EdTech Mentorship Program and the mentors' expertise were more critical than ever. 

The division distributed more than 400 devices to teachers and educational assistants, and 1,029 staff members took part in 119 professional development sessions led by EdTech Mentors about online education technology. 

Microsoft Office 365 applications saw a substantial spike in usage, too. The LRSD Educators Team, a collaboration hub for teachers on Microsoft Teams, was also created and had more than 1,200 active users sharing successes, learning resources and words of encouragement. 

Divisional email activity rose by more than 74 per cent, with approximately 6.4 million messages sent, received and read. OneDrive, a Cloud-based storage application, had usage rise by 22 per cent and activity on Microsoft Forms rose by 196 per cent.   

"For many students, the move to remote learning has broken down barriers," said Bourassa. "It created community and allowed students to truly explore their own creative interests in ways that amplify their voice in powerful and meaningful ways."  

LRSD TechTalks, a channel on Microsoft Streams, was also established as a resource for staff and was used to upload webinars, professional development sessions and quick tips to ensure remote learning best practices and updates were kept at the forefront. This channel soon filled with more than 50 videos and a place to find 24/7 virtual on-demand professional development for educators to access and re-visit. 

"We saw a huge increase in staff collaboration," said Hart. "By creating online connections, teachers naturally shared ideas, files and talked about what was working for them. Staff came together in purposeful ways to build meaningful learning experiences for all learners."

The move to this online world has not been without challenges. Still, LRSD's students, staff and community members have continually committed to learning and adapting to this new reality. 

"Although we don't know what the future will look like, one thing that will not change will be the need for thoughtful plans of learning." said Bourassa. " It's critical to provide experiences where students find meaning in their work, feel a sense of belonging, have opportunities to thrive, stretch their brains and feel a sense of mastery."
 
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