Prior to heading into the planned two-week March break, Mark Fader, Head of School at Williams, met with faculty and put in place a plan to adopt distance learning, while the students were away from campus. “I told our staff that I hope we never need to implement this plan, but if we do, we need to be ready, now,” shares Fader.
The Williams School began it’s Distance Teaching and Learning Plan on March 25th. Following their two-week March break and looking forward to their final quarter of the school year, Williams’ teachers and students are interacting virtually from home for what one can only hope is a short period of time. Working on the Plan well before it was confirmed to be necessary, teachers have successfully conquered their own learning curves, becoming familiar with new video-conferencing software and re-designing their lesson plans and curriculum to provide a cohesive and effective online learning experience for their students.
“We feel fortunate to be able to continue educating our students by implementing a strong Distance Teaching and Learning Plan that is focused on our core values of scholarship, character, and community,” states Williams Head of School Mark Fader. “I could not be more proud of our faculty, staff, students, and families all working together to help conquer the adversity we all face right now.”
Recognizing that students will be spending more time in front of the computer, which is less than ideal, guidelines for the School’s faculty include creating off-screen activities and assignments, and limiting homework so they can focus on their personal growth and wellbeing.
“Keep it simple,” urgesJane Hannon, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning, when training the School’s faculty. “This is new for all of us. You do not need to create something over the top—you need to create structure, deliver content, and create opportunities for students to both connect with each other and get away from the screen.”
Students are embracing a learning block called “Get up and Go!” in lieu of Enrichment classes like Health and Wellness, Music, Dance, Theatre, and other robust topics. From home, students participate in an independent activity and share it on a Microsoft Flipgrid photo/video board with their classmates and teachers. Students are easily grasping the new concept and love it. On the first morning of distance learning, students from across the area have their Get Up and Go activities posted. Just on the first day of this programming Connor Gingras of Old Lyme built a Lunar Capsule model, Zara Asim of East Lyme did a baking project with a family member, and Farrah Scott of Mystic followed an online exercise video. Encouraging students to explore their own interests and share their activities with friends online creates the sense of community for which Williams prides itself on.
Hannon continues, “We are small for all the right reasons. Our small school and small class sizes allow our teachers and students to connect and build solid relationships–certainly when in-person, but virtually as well. When facilitating a class, I basically am viewing a ‘Brady Bunch’ screen where all my students can see and talk with me and each other. Our faculty have been so caring in their way of preparing students to learn and create from home, it’s incredible to work with such an amazing team of educators.”
Jane Martineau, a 39-year veteran teacher and Director of Theatre at Williams has been working with her advanced acting students on a puppetry unit. She worked with colleagues to collect and deliver overhead projectors so students could create their shadow puppetry at home, just as she is doing. Martineau has been creating puppet shows out of the living room window of her New London home; inviting community members to see her puppet production of Cinderella while viewers practice safe social distancing outside.
Williams was ahead of the curve in preparing students for the possibility of needing to implement a virtual learning environment by asking students to bring home all educational materials from their lockers before their March break, and procuring appropriate technology and training for students, faculty, and staff. The School’s administration was forward-thinking and took proactive steps in clearly communicating with families to ease the stress of transitioning to home-based learning.