Our Future Is Strong, Start of School & Distance Learning (Edition #8)

Dear Good Shepherd Families,

"Our Future Is Strong" is a series of brief, informative emails/posts which began on April 30, 2020 to keep the community informed about our preparations for our return to campus.  

In this eighth edition, we will share our start of school plans. Our division heads will discuss our distance learning program and the changes we have made to create an experience that more closely aligns to the Good Shepherd experience you know and love.  

Start of School:

After considerable consultation and deliberation with area independent schools (both religious schools and non-religious schools) and our Board of Trustees’ executive committee, school will begin with distance learning on August 26th, and on-campus learning will begin on September 8th. The first days of school generally include setting expectations, procedures, and ways of being a classroom community. These activities will happen as online experiences. We will also take time to review our protocols for returning to  campus so your children are confident and ready for September 8th. 

We are working on our Meet the Teacher plans, as well as evaluating plans to allow for small numbers of students to be on campus during the initial distance learning time. We would prioritize the children of our faculty members and the children of essential workers. We will share more of these plans with you as soon as possible. 

Our Parents’ Day Out program is still on schedule with its September 14th start date. 

Distance Learning:

We spent considerable time this summer working on our distance learning program. We know we need education to be nimble this year, as we will have some students in distance learning and some on campus. Our goal is to integrate teaching and learning models that are effective and engaging, no matter where students are located. Below are various ways the distance learning experience this school year will be different from the spring. A more detailed plan will follow as we approach the school year. 

Integrated Teaching Strategies:  

Our goals for distance learning have been aligned with what our philosophy of excellence in pedagogy means for us. Students learn best when they immerse themselves in a learning experience, such as project-based learning, collaboration with peers, choice in their learning, and authenticity in their work. Through these experiences, our students gain content knowledge, along with skills that support critical thinking, problem solving, and the application of those skills. As we have continued to build a bridge for learning, we notice students reflect, self assess, and articulate connections from their learning to the experiences they have in the real world. We have identified practices for distance learning that will continue to support these connections, no matter the student’s location. During the summer, our faculty have not been idle! They have been considering ways to shift their teaching and learning models in order to engage students who are at home or on campus. A few examples of some of the teaching and learning models your children might experience this year include: 

  • Project-based learning - Our teachers are working to develop more experiences for students to gain knowledge by investigating and responding to authentic, complex questions through inquiry. These projects allow for students to collaborate with their peers, take time away from screens to create, and use the world around them to learn and apply their knowledge. 

  • Integrated projects - Grade-level teams are working together to create cross-over experiences  through multiple content areas. The integration of knowledge and skills in one content area scaffold and support learning in another content area, such as math, language arts, and history. This allows for knowledge to be layered in a way that is more like real-world experiences. You may see some integration with our fine arts teachers to incorporate art or music into projects that were once “self-contained.” You will also notice the use of a variety of technology applications so students can communicate and demonstrate their knowledge through video, drawing, creations, and reflections. 

  • Flipped learning -  You may see your children gaining content knowledge at home during after school hours through videos, screencasts, articles, or presentations so their lesson has been “flipped.” This allows the teacher to use Zoom times, or face-to-face times during class, for small group work, the practice and application of skills, as well as more one-on-one time to clarify and dig deeper for better understanding of a concept. 

  • Hyperdocs - Hyperdocs are digital documents in which a variety of learning components are hyperlinked to guide students through their learning cycles during asynchronous work. 

We know meaningful relationships between students and teachers are the foundation of effective learning environments. We understand the importance of continuing to build and maintain these relationships while on campus or at home. With these educational practices we have chosen, the relationships and learning will flourish as our students continue to collaborate and interact socially with their friends and thrive as active learners.

Learning management systems:  All three divisions will be utilizing learning management systems. Early Childhood (EC) and Lower School (LS) will be using Google Classroom. Middle School (MS) will be using Schoology. For students in LS and MS, the management system will be a place where assignments and due dates are posted, information for parents and schedules will be available, and parent education pieces will be stored. For students in EC, Google Classroom will be a management hub designed to provide parents a central location for information on schedules, assignments, and resources. Students will access their assignments and post their work through Seesaw.

Schedules: Daily classroom schedules will contain asynchronous and synchronous assignments for distance learning  environments to reflect a more typical daily classroom schedule. In addition, policies for Zoom etiquette or “How to do school from home,” parent roles, and student responsibilities will be communicated to our families.  

Synchronous Learning Sessions: Zoom sessions, scheduled during school hours, will play a large role when students are learning from home. Whole group sessions will be used for relationship building, class construction, and social emotional support for students. Direct instruction will be delivered through small group sessions spaced across the day. Teachers and division heads will work together to create a balanced program to account for the amount of student screen time, and one-on-one sessions for remediation, extension, and assessment will be used.   

Assessments and Grading: Assignments and opportunities for practice and application will be posted to Schoology for MS students and displayed in Google Classroom for LS and EC students.  Both platforms can be easily navigated by our students. In the spring, we utilized a flexible grading system for our emergency distance learning. We will return to our more typical grading system to assess student progress and mastery, regardless of location.

Uniforms: School uniforms are an important way to help students focus on school and learning. Just like arriving at school helps students switch to school expectations, wearing their uniforms also helps students prepare to learn. Further, uniforms will help students who are at home feel more closely connected with the students at school. With the changes we have made to the distance learning program, and the ways in which students will interact online and in person, we believe it is crucial all students, whether they are learning at home or at school, wear their uniforms. Students will be expected to wear their uniforms anytime they are engaging in Zoom sessions or in other platforms where they are video-conferencing into class. 

Please expect the next edition in this series in two weeks, or sooner, if there is information to report. We have also posted the series on our Coronavirus (COVID-19) webpage for your reference.  

Together we are #gsesStrong, 

Julie McLeod, Ph.D.
Head of School