MAUSD stories, Part 1: routines

An MAUSD elementary school student participates in remote learning.

Editor’s note: This is a project of the Mount Abraham Unified School District’s Community Engagement Committee (CEC). The Addison Independent is hosting this content as a service to the community. Names of the interviewees have been withheld in accordance with the commitments made by the CEC for the project. (Click here to read more about this project.)
Part 1: What does your working life as a (student, teacher, administrator) look like these days? What have been the biggest shifts in your everyday routine? What does a typical work day look  like for you during this time?
First we do Lexia (an online reading program) and then we do some math on papers, and then we do some more Lexia. We work on computers and paper. We get the papers from a packet that the school sends us. They send it on the bus. When you finish a whole entire packet, another one comes with different schoolwork. You are supposed to finish the packet in one day. I also look at the videos of my teacher reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to us.  She is reading that book to us because we are studying how chocolate is made. On some days we Zoom with friends and the teacher, and sometimes it’s a small group from our class, and sometimes it’s just my teacher. My teacher asks me what I’ve been doing and I tell her and then she asks me what I’m doing the most and I tell her I’ve been reading. She asks me what I’m reading. Some days the work is hard. If it is, I ask my mom or my dad for help. But on Lexia your parents can’t help you. I mostly have Lexia read to me. Sometimes I read to myself. It is mostly different books. When I click on my name, they are books that my teacher has picked for me. I’ve been getting word packets where I write words and letters. I have been writing about what I’m grateful for. I’m grateful for my family because they keep me alive.
So I try to do everything in the morning so for the rest of the day I can do some fun stuff. All my schoolwork happens at home. Other people usually do it all day like in normal school. We start at around 9 a.m. before the bus comes to bring food, and sometimes some work or fun stuff to do. I finish at about 11:30. First I do reading – using Lexia or Get Epic – for about 20 minutes. Then I look at the Learning Plan and start working on that. I finish at about 11:30. This is a good schedule for me because I have some stuff to do and I can spend more time with my family.
It looks like you’re not at real school, so it might be funner, but at real school you have your friends which makes it funner and easier. But they’re not there and you can’t see any of your friends at all. The school bus brought us a computer and we do most of our work on the computer. We have a remote learning plan on the computer and we follow what it says. I read the plan all by myself. I see my teacher just on Zoom meetings. Sometimes it’s a group meeting with part of the class and sometimes it’s a Zoom meeting just with my teacher. (In the meetings with just the teacher) the teacher and I talk about what types of books I’m reading and is the math work easy enough for me, and sometimes she tells me something about how much schoolwork we do a day. It helps me do stuff. If I have done handwritten work, I can hold it up to the screen to show her. She also sends us videos of her reading “Charlotte’s Web” to us.
A typical day: get up, eat breakfast, sometimes have an advisory Zoom call, do a few hours of schoolwork on my Chromebook. After, I will try to get outside, eat lunch, get off of the screen. Usually I have a Zoom call in the afternoon with Zeno Mountain Farm, which is hosting a Cyber Camp for everyone in the Zeno community.
I’m not going to school and not getting personal instruction time with my teachers. We have a couple of Zooms every week but it doesn’t feel the same. The teachers are doing an amazing job helping us learn, but I worry about how we’re going to account for what we’ve learned during this time. It would be nice to have more work on paper and not be on the computer all of the time.
Most days are very different depending on what classes I have that day or the work I have to do. I try to organize the night before so I can wake up in time for all my lessons. I work around my classes. I get up later, which has been sort of nice for me. I get up probably around 10. I hang out and have breakfast with my family. I have afternoon classes, which have been great. Teachers have been flexible about that. In the later afternoon, I try to get outside and I think that has been a nice thing about this time; people have been taking advantage of the time to get outdoors more. I spend time having dinner with my family in the evening, and usually do schoolwork after dinner.
I think everything has really changed from when we actually went to school to now. I can just plan around my classes and any other thing that I want to do. It is very personalized and unique to myself — everyone can do that. I plan to make sure that I am meeting all my deadlines. Spending a lot of time on the computer has been a lot different. Another big difference is not being able to have the human interaction that we get every day at school, which I think is pretty important to learning. We try to mimic that with Zoom calls — after figuring out how to incorporate that kind of learning into Zoom calls, but it’s really not the same. Three of my seven courses have one Zoom class a week; another AP course has two Zoom calls a week. There are also office hours for the courses that don’t include regular Zoom calls.  
Elementary Teacher – Grade 1
My working life has two parts: a mom/teacher part with my own two kids — a seventh-grade son and a daughter who is a junior in high school. (And with that junior comes things like Advanced Placement courses and exams, and SATs and ACTs and looking at colleges — those are a lot of pieces!). I have had to create a day when there is time for being available as a mom and teaching to my own kids. Then the other part of the day is running my own class remotely. I hold two class Zoom meetings a week with the whole class, where I’m leading some kind of curricular lesson. Tuesday’s this is just me; Thursdays we have guest appearance Zoom and I’ve brought in our art teacher or music teacher or another specialist and they are doing things with the whole class. I also meet once a week via Zoom with our grade-level team and the principal; I also meet once a week with my grade-level team teacher partner and we plan and prep together. I meet once a week with the math team and I meet once a week with the literacy team. I also have special one-on-one Zooms for kids who need it, and need a little extra TLC during the week. For Grade 1 we’ve created learning slides, so we are preparing videos for morning meeting, we’re preparing videos for math. We have a new integrated literacy and science unit so we’re preparing videos for that.
It looks different for different families, but I’m doing lots of communicating with families through Zoom, emails, texting, phone calls — depending on the parents’ needs. That happens throughout the week as well.         
My morning starts around 7:30. From 7:30 to 8:30 I’m usually answering parents’ questions on emails, or texts, getting them started for the day. During that time students usually answer my attendance question for the day on Google Classroom. I also do my check-ins with kids and shout-outs to families to keep cheerleading them on. I also send out highlights in lesson for the day — things to be on the lookout for. Around 8:30 is when I prep materials for the following week, Zooms with my class and for meetings that take place in the 10-2 time frame. 3:30-4:30 is another time for me to communicate with people: email, text, check in with students who did not answer the attendance question of the day. I try to end by 4:30 to get outside and get some fresh air.
There have been so many shifts in the way I’m working, from in-class teacher to remote is a whole different way of connecting. It is hard as a first-grade teacher where kids need that social one-on-one time with you as a teacher but also with each other. There’s a shift with my own two kids, where now home has become school for part of the day, and mom has become a support teacher for part of the day. There’s also the shift of, gosh, stamina, and on being on a screen and communicating with people that way, and figuring out ways to make it work so it doesn’t feel hard. Materials that you unroll is a shift: now you are adapting what you would have taught and you’re changing it so it works at home, in a remote way for families and with the materials that they may or may not have at the house, so you’re thinking outside of the box for sure. So there is a shift in what our educational plans are for the rest of the year.
Middle School Teacher – Grades 7-8
My own kids are in second grade — so I wake up EARLY to get a moment in before teaching and parenting chaos. I write out a schedule for our girls for the day in the morning. Then I’m alternating between instructional time with them and independent time. Their reading time of 45 minutes a day, or if they go outside for an hour — this gives me moments to do my teaching work. Each day is as regimented a schedule as possible to toggle between parenting and teaching. However, it’s hard to coordinate given the changing and in-flux nature of so many variables, though this may be ironing out.
Our teaching team is doing the same units of study we had planned before school buildings closed, but we have pared them down to the essentials. Most of our instruction is via Google Classroom. The lesson and directions are typically given in video format AND in written format. I spend a lot of time sending emails to clarify instructions, answer questions, etc. Mostly, kids submit their work via Google Classroom. When you create an assignment on Google Classroom, you can set it so that it makes a private copy for each student that they can revise. Then they submit it. Teachers see all of the work in one folder. Teachers can comment on the work using comment boxes or make suggestions directly on the work.
We have about 50 kids on our team. I probably make 3-5 individual phone or Zoom calls each day. (I try to focus on the kids who seem to be struggling or who I have not heard from via email or Google Classroom.) I call students individually when they are struggling or I have not heard from them. If it would help them to have particular documents in front of us, I send them a Zoom invite in the moment and we both hop on so we can look at a document with screen sharing together. Sometimes I also set up Zoom calls and invite multiple students to attend to get help with the same issue, if it seems like they are stuck on the same thing. I also have a weekly advisory check-in on Zoom when we get to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices. Our team as a whole is also offering some optional activities that are synchronous. For example, this week one teacher offered a book group and another offered an opportunity to watch the film they were analyzing together and to chat about it. The week after break I am offering a review session where kids can play a review Kahoot game. I am also using a technology called Flipgrid. Students create videos of their responses. This gives students an opportunity to express understanding in a way other than writing. Other students can see the videos their peers post, so it is a way of learning collaboratively.  
High School Teacher
I check my email first thing, which is normal for me. Then I post a question for my advisory and check throughout the day. This is how we take attendance in high school. Student have until 3:30 to answer and we mark them present. Lately I’ve been posing a joke. Then I do grading and planning, and then a number of Zooms with different people. Then I take a big break midday, and here’s why: I found I wasn’t getting a lot of student emails and questions in the morning. I wasn’t getting them until afternoon or even evening. So I asked our Administraive Team, “Is it OK if I take a big break, do my own thing, then get back on when the kids are on?” That might be 3:30, 5, it might be 8 p.m. I can be there for them better, and also take care of myself.
I respond to lots of emails. It used to be when a student asked a question in the classroom, I could address the whole class. I do a lot of individual work, one-on-one work … which is great, and it certainly keeps me busy! I’m checking emails until about 8:30 p.m. It would be easy to be on all day long, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. But that’s not good. The midday break is the biggest shift in my routine, and I find it to be more responsive for kids. I’m a morning person. Getting up early in the morning and doing school has never been a problem for me! However, it’s not the easiest thing for students. Taking a walk in the middle of the day has been a welcome shift. Oh, and my science lab classroom had no windows. I have a little office set up at home that has windows! I can look out windows now and I’m enjoying that. It’s refreshing at this time.
Elementary Principal
So there is a new rhythm. I go to school in the morning and help with the launch of the food buses and staff. Right now we have a stable group working on the buses. We started with a rotation of staff, so every day I was sorting out who was going on which buses. But then we decided it would be safer to have a stable crew, even though that changed the equity of people’s work hours. The rotation was to make sure that the support staff had somewhat equal work hours and risk. But then we decided we were introducing risk by rotating the staff, so we went to a stable roster, sorting academic materials into bus bins and putting them in the order at which they arrive at kids’ houses. Initially I was riding the buses but I came off of that as I realized how much other work there was. Teachers prepare the academic materials that get delivered to kids’ homes. Some teachers come into school to bring the materials if they have a complex task or if they need to use resources that are in their classrooms. Other teachers send us things to be copied or to retrieve from their rooms. Suport staff that have been working the buses come back and work on preparing the materials: they photocopy, make packets, sort art materials — whatever needs doing. While the buses are out, I’m emailing, and in meetings via Zoom with different workgroups.
We have a mandatory all-staff meeting once a week on Zoom and an optional drop-in meeting once a week. I meet with the classroom teachers once a week, with the student support team (counselor and behavior specialists) once a week, and I meet with the unified arts teachers once a week, and then other people by appointment for various reasons. Every Wednesday morning, all morning, it’s administrative team. So I have a lot of Zoom meetings.
I try to drop in on classroom Zoom meetings also so I get to see kids. Every class has class meetings at least once a week. And then we’ve been doing some professional development also online, so I attend that. And then, handling requests from families; or troubleshooting kids that are not participating.
It took us a while to develop an attendance system and a communications tracking system, which we now have. That takes a little maintenance. Stuff like that.
High School Principal
Working life looks radically different now. Instead of beginning my morning greeting students and adults I wake up to check email, listen to voicemails and review my Zoom meeting schedule for the day. My Zoom meetings can begin anywhere between 8 and 10 a.m. each day.  I have yet to be a part of Zoom meeting that was much shorter than an hour. Zoom meetings typically take place throughout the day. In between Zoom calls I return actual phone calls, check in with my leadership team, teachers, families, etc. Somehow I try to find time to chip away at larger projects that I have going. Spending so much time online makes all the days blur together! 
In addition to building a system for remote learning we are still finessing and building our proficiency-based learning system to better meet the needs of our students. Another LARGE project is the master scheduling process for next year. We are changing up our schedule a little bit next year in the high school and somewhat radically in the middle school to be able to offer things like foreign languages and exploratories in grades 7-8. This is a huge undertaking and is challenging when you aren’t in the same room with the key players. We also have a number of facilities projects that require planning and attention so we can be ready to go as the state starts to open up again so the building and grounds can be ready for a fall opening. 
I am missing going into classrooms, having lunch with students (most days it is 2 o’clock and I realize I have been zooming all day and didn’t stop to eat!), meeting with people in person to discuss various things, and I really miss seeing students after school participating in co-curriculars.  No two days are the same in terms of the work; the consistent pieces are hours of Zoom meetings, many phone calls and an astronomical amount of emails. 
It’s a lot of screen time and you find yourself just exhausted at the end of the day. I try new strategies all the time — dance breaks before Zoom, ball with the dogs, standing during meetings instead of sitting, additional exercise and laughter!
These days I’m traveling less to meetings, but I’m in more meetings than before: Zoom meetings. I’m going into the office most days, occasionally working from home. It’s so much more sedentary and the lack of interaction — no contact with other adults and students — is an adjustment. There is a certain energy that everyone gets when you’re in a building with students that we are not getting. One needs to work with others to set limits, and practice it myself, so we’re not working all the time. Because you could.
A typical work day is a mix of COVID-19 related items and issues, and non-COVID-19 related items and issues. Day-to-day work includes both, and involves both present and future work. How do we move work forward? There is facilities work, bills to be paid, negotiations are happening — regular organizational functioning work needs to continue, and then thinking about them from a federal, state and local level. For example, today I was working to address local needs around food service. At a regional level, I was talking with other superintendents around guidance from the state. On a state level, I listened in on a talk from the Secretary of Education, which sometimes includes implications of federal initiatives. More focus now on state and regional work — weekly (Zoom) meetings, daily meetings with Champlain Valley superintendents. These meetings used to be monthly. The Addison County superintendents are also meeting (online) several times a week.” 

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