Stress is everywhere

“Sir, I don’t get it!”

Those were words that I always dreaded hearing from a student. It means that we’re not being successful in either the teaching or the learning or both. At that point, I’d have to take another run at it with another strategy or explain things better or have the student take another run at it or …

These days, there is a great deal of humour on social media about parents and teachers dealing with the current schooling situation. One of my favourites was about how students are going to come back to school excelling in old-school Mathematics techniques and being proficient in handwriting. It’s one way of handling stress; use humour. I know that it’s one of my ways of coping.

I think back to my involvement with online learning. Not only were those of us involved big supporters of the concept but we also were supporters of the notion of blended learning as well. In that mode, we say online learning as another way to reach students. I don’t think that we envisioned that, for so many, it would become the only way of reaching.

I’ve mentioned recently that at least some Ontario Subject Associations have resources available on their websites. The best are correlated to Ontario Curriculum Expectations. That definitely helps the cause.

There are a lot of assumptions and things that have to fall into place in order for this all to work. First of all the students have to be connected somehow and secondly, understanding the pedagogy that goes along with all this connectedness has to be understood. You can’t just say “here’s a link – click it – and the magic happens”. Particularly in the beginning, learning is slow, tedious, and frustrating. If you don’t believe that, sign up for an online course – there are so many available now and see how you make out.

But that only works when you’re connected. Much has been written about this.

To their credit, school districts have been surveying their communities to understand where there is a lack of technology at home and doing something about it.

These are the times that test the success of any planning to address the needs. Decisions that school districts have made about technology and its importance are coming to light. We’ve seen the buzzwords over the years “Flipped Classroom”, “Video Conferencing”, “Drop or Email Assignments”, …

These concepts are a challenge at the best of times but also requires a lot to fall into place. Technology, connectivity, learning styles, devotion, … Despite these challenges, we can’t ignore the fact that it’s easier in some households than other.

If you read my interview with Principal David Garlick on Saturday, you know that he understands this and has concerns for students in one of his former school communities.

I’m certain those families are struggling.  Most English Language Learners come from families in which no one speaks English at home. Asking those parents to teach their children foreign curricula in a foreign language to them is almost nonsensical.  Plus many in the area do not have the financial means to acquire the access necessary to learn from home. The Board is doing what it can, loaning out the hardware necessary, but I’m concerned that these kids will not be able to take part over the coming weeks.

So, even if you do manage to score a computer from the district, what can you do with it when you don’t have internet access. Here’s a proposed solution from Ottawa…

That advice brought back memories of our wireless initiatives. Access points were strategically placed to try and keep the signal inside the school so that neighbours wouldn’t “steal” internet access. I can remember one decision now to not put wireless access in a gym because it wasn’t needed. That later generated a panic call from a principal who had seen me do a presentation with a 50 metre Ethernet cable and needed to borrow it for a graduation slideshow in the gym.

The idea of the parking lot access seemed like a nice outing. We could take a blanket, some snacks with a water bottle, and set up a little work area 3 metres away from someone else. That vision went south when I saw one of our Prime Minister’s addresses to the nation and the snowflakes coming down around him. Maybe it will be more workable in May. For now, maybe mom or dad could drive the car over and help work for the time necessary. Then, they could go home and bring back another sibling so they could have a turn at learning.

Even writing that description above reminds me of how the current situation is identifying and amplifying the lack of equity in society. School is supposed to be the great equalizer. What happens when school takes on a different form? We’re seeing it now, in real time.

Clearly, as a province, we weren’t prepared for this everywhere. Those 1:1 initiatives look like genius now that we’re looking at them in the rear view mirror. They have, at least, had a run at it and resolved many issues. They are the minority though. Everyone else is learning and trouble shooting on the fly.

An issue that can’t be ignored though is that these makeshift solutions are just adding to the stress on parents, teachers, and schools. Hence the popularity of the memes that are circulating. But there’s another partner in all this and that’s the students. Going to school is difficult enough anyway but all of these “learn at home solutions” are just piling on the pressure. Where are the funny memes from students trying to learn, play, and just be a kid in these times?

If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to read Shelly Vohra’s series of blog posts addressing the realities that are happening right now as she understands them. So much of what she talks about can go by invisibly if you’re not paying attention. Teachers have always been there with a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D when kids are having difficulties learning. They have also been there for emotional support and that certainly takes on a different perspective when you’re not seeing students face to face.

Students will always be students. Challenges will always be challenges. Stress will always be stress. Workload will always be workload. These are unquestionable. It’s just a completely different game and raised to new levels.

We all need to be aware that the solutions that seem so easy to make at one level just continue to pile on the stress at every level. At a bare minimum, a check on everyone and how they’re feeling should be Job #1 when connecting. Lessons are important but they’re dwarfed by more important things.


4 thoughts on “Stress is everywhere

  1. When the Ontario government announced plans to mandate online learning for secondary school students months ago, educators, students and parents raised many of these same issues. Because I live in a rural area, our internet is exceptionally slow and we have limited data. If I still had kids at home who were engaged in online learning, we would run out of data long before the end of the month. And what about our students with special needs who are used to receiving additional support? And what about assessment – what will that look like in an online course? As a primary and kindergarten teacher, my assessment is based more on observation and conversation with student while they engage in learning, not on products. What does that look like in an online classroom?
    I think it’s so important that educators are striving to connect with students, and provide learning and support during this crisis. But we have to remember that not all students have equal access to online learning. Not all students will have support from parents/caregivers. And many families are dealing with a myriad of other stressors right now, especially if they have elderly or medically fragile family members. Imagine the stress of having a family member in hospital right now! Or a family member whose surgery has been cancelled. So many people are under financial stress and aren’t sure if they will have a job when this crisis ends. As caring professionals, we need to consider how we can continue to promote and support student learning while also being considerate of the exceptional stressors currently impacting families. How can we best support the students, families and communities we serve?


  2. Doug, I’ve had to read and think about your post a couple of times already this morning, and I feel as though they’re going to be more. I think that you might have just given me my one word for my conversation with Stephen Hurley soon. 🙂 You definitely have me reflecting more on relationships, and how solidifying these relationships online is one way that we can have the connections to check in on people and support each other. Parent engagement has always been a topic of interest for me, but now, these relationships with families seem to matter even more, as this stress component spans beyond kids and educators. So much to think about here. Curious to read about what other people have to say.



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