Our COVID-19 Experience
The COVID-19 pandemic brought immense change to our school community. Mid-year, we needed to recreate the way that we structure learning, for both staff and students. In essence, the staff created and deployed a second school year start, based largely on the collaborative work that we had already been doing for the last few years.
Our COVID-19 restart, was built on the following principles:
- we would lead with kindness, compassion and understanding
- we would continue to make the theme of building a positive school culture a key cornerstone of any learning that we designed
- we would put people first
- we would work together, collaboratively, to solve any challenges that we faced
As the school year closed in June, our staff noted some significant silver linings from our April-June experience:
- we are ever grateful for the connections that we have with each other and, especially, with our students
- we are all learners, and we have the skills and flexibilities to adapt to ever-changing circumstances
- we all grew in our capacity to adapt to the technology required to deliver learning remotely
- we have an increased appreciation for the 2nd OECD Principle of Learning – The Social Nature of Learning
- our shared experience forced the sharing of skills and information, and that, in turn, strengthened the bonds between the adult learners
- the human piece to learning is at the core of all we do
Scanning is an important part of our learning community. We listen to our voices—student voice, parent voice, and staff voice—to generate questions to guide our learning.
Our scanning continues as our school grows and evolves, and we continue to shift the emphasis between our three identified school pillars: Learning and Assessment, Collaboration and School Culture. While all three are always continually developed, the additions of grade 6s (September 2018) and French Immersion (September 2019) have pushed School Culture as the foundational piece that we are using as a point of focus.
To do this, the Curricular Leaders and Staff have worked collaboratively within our learning communities to develop questions around building positive school culture within all of the changes happening at our school. We used scans internally:
- Surveying parents about our school culture at our Parent-Teacher nights
- Surveying students to help build a set of Rights and Responsibilities that we can all use to help guide our conversations and discussions
- Surveying Staff to build sets of questions that we could use to support conversations with our local middle schools as we work to build our own learning communities in positive ways and inclusive of new grade levels and learning programs within our school
We started the year with a more flexible style of timetable that was built using a collaborative process the previous year. We needed more flexibility to provide a program that better suited a younger cohort (grade 6), and also didn't neglect the needs of the grade 9s who were staying with us. With no 6-9 models to borrow ideas from, we had to work collaboratively with Staff to build a model that would work for us. Staff agreed that the best approach was to move forward with our best-made plan, and then collect feedback throughout the year to support the positive changes and challenges that we would encounter over the year.
Following Winter Break, Staff collated this information, and ran in through the filters of our School Pillars (Learning and Assessment, Collaboration and School Culture), and the best middle school research we could find:
- The Association for Middle Level Education's (AMLE) Successful Schools for Young Adolescents—16 Characteristics
- OECD's The 7 Principles of Learning
We use these documents to ground our thinking in research and to make sure that any questions that arise are grounded in the best research and pedagogy, and not reactionary and based on emotion.
In the end, considering all of the changes to staff and students, our focus for the next year kept pointing us towards building learning communities that support a positive school culture.
Developing our Hunches
After designing, and refining the questions, our Staff felt that the questions we wanted to ask were as follows:
Q. "Did we do enough to plan for and welcome the grade 6s?"
Q. "Did we forget about our grade 9s?"
Q. "What parts of our new timetable worked the best?"
Q. "How can we maximize the flexibility of our new timetable?"
Q. "Are our new learning communities effective?"
Q. "How would our ideal learning communities work?"
Q. "What structures can we build that help make the school the most positive place we can have for our community?"
Q. "How can we include student voice in the answers to these questions?
Q. "How do we add a French Immersion program to this discussion?"
Q. "How do we make sure that our new French Immersion learners become part of our larger school community as opposed to a program within our school community?"
We have a strong culture of learning at Glenrosa Middle School. Our staff are intentionally collaborative, and there is always an active development towards building and maintaining a growth mindset for all learners. We continue to access support from the District's Instructional Leadership Team (ILT), and also believe that we have the expertise in our community to frame our own unique culture of learning.
This year, we experienced the first year of a 4-grade timetable that blended many different middle school models into one unique experience. It is truly a hybrid that captures the best of what we could find. On one hand, we are moving towards a true "junior" middle school model with our grade 6 and 7 learning communities where teachers are generalists and learning is becoming more and more flexible and individualized, and, on the other, we value the depth that our specialist teachers bring to the learning experience in our grade 8 and 9 learning communities.
This year, our learning took a triangulated approach:
- We immersed ourselves in the most relevant middle school research and philosophy that we could find
- We allowed ourselves to "experience" the changes to our learning plans, and then documented, discussed and reflected upon those changes
- We built questions for teacher teams to explore in other school settings within the District, so that we could learn from our District colleagues and deepen our own understandings
Over the course of three months, we built a set of diverse teacher teams, and arranged for those teams to visit other schools in our District. We chose schools that were a little further down the "junior middle model" road than we were, having transitioned to 6-8 grade configurations previously, and we visited two French Immersion middle schools–one long-established and the other newly transitioned. Our teacher teams worked independently of each other, and shared results of their visits with the larger group at Staff Meetings. The ensuing discussions led to "tweaks" and changes to our timetable for the 2019/2020 school year, including:
- adjustments to both core and exploratory learning time
- adjustments to our daily schedule to accommodate breaks and transition that better supported our youngest learners
- increasing leadership opportunities for our oldest students, while also widening the opportunities for our younger learners
- planning clubs and activities to give students more opportunities to connect with Staff and students in positive ways during the school day, at lunch and after school
- building learning communities that best support our student learners
- building learning communities that best support our adult learners
- a renewed Mentorship program to provide both a monthly focus to support our school goals, as well as the opportunity to provide a guided approach supporting topical challenges that arise during the school year (for example, social media concerns, Internet Safety, bullying, etc.).
As we continued to scan our school community, listening to the voices of our students, parents and staff is ever important. We will continue to use our Three Pillars of GMS to drive our inquiry process:
- Learning and Assessment