Week One

Week one of online learning! 
Week one of online learning is a wrap. And what a week it was! My head is still swirling from it, and I, for one, have learned a lot about what it means to shift, quickly, from being a school that operates on a physical campus to a virtual one. While I know I will, like all of us, learn more about this new world we find ourselves in as time goes on, I wanted to share what I have come to believe and understand this week. I hope you find it helpful.
 
From online learning to online living:
Up until this past month, online learning was an option open to upper school students at Country Day who wanted to extend their coursework because of particular interest or passion. It happened in conjunction with the in-person learning with which we are all familiar. Now, online learning is not optional, not an add-on, but it is the primary mode for schooling, and as I realized this week, for living, too.
 
For years, we have warned against too much screen time for young and old. We have worried that our children would be impacted socially and emotionally if we allowed them to spend too much time with devices. Now, spending time online is their primary way to connect socially with peers and extended family.
 
We cannot deny the profound paradigm shift this entails. We have had to adjust our mindset - right now, being online is vitally important to our children’s growth and well-being. Whoever thought that would be the case? In addition, now more than ever, we need to make time for off-screen activity, too, but what that activity is, is different than before. Playdates? They have shifted online. A parent coffee? Only via Zoom. Hanging out with a friend? Google Hangout provides a great platform.
 
We can, however, still go for a walk around the block, ride our bikes in our neighborhoods, read a book, play board games, and complete jigsaw puzzles, and discover the natural beauty that surrounds us.
 
The Impact for Parents, Teachers, and Schools:
In the past week, I have spoken to a number of parents and teachers who told me what online living is like for them. One afternoon, I was on the phone with one mom, who described what seemed an impossibility: managing the schooling of her three lower school children, who had different schedules, all while also trying to do her own work, keep everyone fed and her home clean. I felt terrible for her. But as hard as it was to hear,  it was that conversation that made me realize that, as educators, we have always created our program with the student in mind. That is as it should be in the tradition of schooling of which we have all been apart. However, in online living, this is no longer sufficient: in our new paradigm, we have to be cognizant of the parent experience, too. How might we balance the needs of students in developmentally appropriate ways while also being aware of how this impacts the daily lives of parents? This is an especially important question when we create lessons for our youngest learners, and it is one we have taken on with the urgency it deserves.
 
And what of our teachers? I cannot begin to express the overwhelming respect I have for my intrepid colleagues. In no time at all, they have had to be retrained to do their jobs. And they have taken on the challenge with aplomb. They have exemplified resilience, and flexibility, and courage. Lower School teachers have hosted virtual open houses, others have created community-building opportunities so we can connect to the community that is core to who we are, and still, others have found creative ways to celebrate our seniors, who are certainly living through a-less-than-ideal senior spring. I couldn’t be more proud of them. They are creating live lessons and videos from their homes and continue to show up for their students because they have made a deep commitment to doing what is best for the young people in their care. When I receive a note or text from a parent telling me how great their son or daughter’s teacher is, I am as pleased and happy as if the compliment was aimed directly at me.
 
A Final Thought
This is hard. It is hard for every one of us. Many of us have family and friends abroad, where circumstances might be direr. We worry about them, as they worry about us. I know each of us is struggling through an experience that we have no frame of reference for, and that has no defined end. As one mom said to me: “Every day is a new record, with more bad news.” This wears on us, and it is easy to get dragged down into despair. But we will get through. We have the strength of each other, of this community that has shown me, time and time again that it is built upon compassion, and friendship, and love. Let’s continue to lift each other up.
 
With Spartan Pride,
 
Mariandl Hufford
 
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Every Student. Every Day.

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