A-REALL Submission #3: Structure of Abuse in the Theatre Industry

In our discussions about thinking of a flower as the model for the structure of racism in institutions, I felt that it paralleled my own recent thoughts on the theatre industry, and my own experiences. In light of statements and work done by We See You White American Theatre, I have been stirred to think about the practices in my own experiences as both an actor, and a part of the system of industry preparation, and what they have done to perpetuate the cycle of abuse and racism in the theatre industry.

My piece is a root system composed of the parts of the culture that have been ingrained into me by my training and upbringing in the theatre and music world, a stem composed of the institutions that are “just the way it is,” that also perpetuate the culture of abuse in the theatre, and the flower representing the interpersonal and internalized exchanges I have either experienced or been a part in perpetuating. I used clip art and Canva to put the composition together. 

A-REALL Creative Response #2: Affirmation

Frequently, when I think about challenging the racist systems and society that I am part of, I am overwhelmed with a sense of paralysis at the size of it. In the discussion of power, in particular referent and expert power, I realized that I may not be able to change the whole world, but the power rests in me to change the places where I encounter it. The movement exercise resonated in my heart, so the image of the heart being my power center was one that I wanted to examine, particularly when I feel paralyzed by the size of the problem. The exploration took the form of an affirmation, the text of which is layered over the watercolor image of a heart exploding with power. The music is called ‘Sweet Hope’ and is stock from Canva. Given more time, I would play something similar on piano myself, so that all of the pieces are created by me. 

Affirmation

A-REALL Submission #1: Identity

Identity, pencil on paper, 1/2021

the thing that you need most in this business is to know who you are and what your product is, and to be unashamedly that thing no matter what anyone says to you or what box they want to put you in

I have created a visual representation of my identity (or lack thereof) as a White student with a big voice in a Musical Theatre graduate program. It is pencil on paper, and includes the titles of every song that I was assigned throughout graduate school that was written to be sung by a character of color.


One statement that has stuck with me for over a decade is a throwaway comment that my vocal coach made once during a coaching (and I’m paraphrasing, because I remember more the way it made me feel than what he said): “Julie, the thing that you need most in this business is to know who you are and what your product is, and to be unashamedly that thing no matter what anyone says to you or what box they want to put you in.” It hit me in the gut and has never left. There I was, studying in this program that so many people wanted to be part of, and I didn’t know who I was, because everyone was telling me to be things that didn’t feel right. I was being assigned scenes and songs written specifically for women of color, and being denied the opportunities to perform scenes and songs with which I identified for my entire graduate program. There were not many people of color in my graduate program, but my two best friends, the one Korean woman and one Filipino woman in my program were assigned the same 6 songs and 4 characters in every class–regardless of whether they could sing them, or if they could identify with the characters. 


I chose pencil on paper, with no color, because the experience made me feel grey- without color, nuance, or a personality that I could identify with. I felt such a great conflict because of the experiences of my BIPOC classmates in both the graduate and undergraduate programs. While I was given ‘permission’ to sing whatever songs that sounded good in my voice (and only those songs- believe me I tried to sing more appropriate repertoire), the only permission my BIPOC colleagues were given was to sing the songs that fit the identities that had been ascribed to them. And no one was happy or vibrant because no one was able to be themselves; they were expected to act how they were told to act. Where is the Art or Beauty in that?

Google Classroom Organization Hack

I love me some Google Suite. But I hate Google Classroom.

There. I said it. Google docs and the rest of the suite for education is amazing. Google Classroom is not. The main reason I am not a fan is that it is so generic and not very customizable. I like pretty things that I can manipulate to look the way that I want them to look. Google Classroom doesn’t work like that. But that’s not my problem.

I thought my students were lying to me. They kept telling me they had no idea that there was work due.

This issue had arisen in my classes a few years ago. Every once in awhile, students would tell me that they had no idea that an assignment was due or coming up, and that they couldn’t find it, despite my having put it in Google Classroom, like a good little teacher. I thought my students were lying to me. They kept telling me they had no idea that there was work due. Then, my entire Drama 3 class, full of students who’d known me for years, told me that they couldn’t see an assignment. I started to believe… just a little.

Finally, we went to distance learning, and I was the parent trying to help my daughter maneuver Google Classroom. We knew she had work due, but could not find it. When we finally found the assignment, I figured out the problem– it didn’t have a due date on it. Now… there are a variety of reasons not to put a due date on assignments. Mine include not wanting them to turn it in, as well as repeated assignments, among other things that I can’t think of in the moment… because I’m trying to get to the hack. Anyway… if you don’t give it a due date, it does not show up as an upcoming assignment on students’ screens.

So, ok, now I know. But kids are doing all of their work online- shouldn’t they know that they have work??? Yes. They know they have work. But they still can’t find it. Just this morning, I searched for half an hour for a health assignment for my daughter in her GC. I finally had to ask the teacher, who definitely thought I was nuts, emailing her that she needed to put due dates on it, when I’m sure she was told she didn’t need to to it.

TRUST ME. YOU NEED TO PUT DUE DATES ON ASSIGNMENTS IN GOOGLE CLASSROOM.

You can link students directly to the assignments, or to an entire topic in Google Classroom.

Screenshot from my Google Classroom. Click on the 3 dots to copy the link to the assignment.

That’s not the life changing part yet. This is where it gets life changing: by clicking on the 3 dots to the right of any topic or assignment in Google Classroom, you can copy the link to the assignment. In and of itself, this is no big deal. But, if you combine this with other tools, it is pure magic!

I have a website for each class and a Blog that I update weekly (which updates the website). This is redundant, but I do it this way, because the blog is accessible to anyone, while the website is only accessible to users within our organization. By posting the links to the units or assignments into the Blog, with the due dates, everyone can find the assignments they need to find, without having to beg me to find it for them.

MINDBLOWING

YOU. ARE. WELCOME.


of course, this probably won’t matter anymore, beginning next week, because my district just bought another management tool for assignments, that supposedly integrates with Google Classroom, but I will believe it when I see it. Until then….

YOU. ARE. WELCOME.

Two weeks in…

We are 2 weeks into virtual learning. Whew- what a whirlwind!

I love technology, and I love teaching virtually… BUT there have certainly been more frustrations than successes so far. So, I’m going to complain a little. First: no breakout rooms. I understand the reasoning on both sides of the argument, and it seems valid. BUT. Why did we wait until the first day of school to say so? Isn’t that capability one major reason why the platform we’re using was purchased? So… my curriculum for my Intro students has to change completely. Since that is the bulk of my teaching load, that is frustrating and exhausting- mainly because I am now flying by the seat of my pants creating new materials that I would have created over the summer when I had the time. Also. being the camera police is exhausting. But I’m making some headway, and they’re starting to get into it.

A few tools that have helped:

OMG. Pear Deck is amazing, and not for all of the reasons that it is amazing in terms of student engagement (those blew me away, too). My singular and strong crush on Pear Deck was solidified by the fact that when I click on a video to play during a presentation, it plays. Every time. Our district has purchased premium accounts for us, so I haven’t experienced the free version in my classroom, but this one thing is a lifesaver when presenting via teleconferencing platforms.

The class Google Site and Blog has proved to be incredibly helpful, along with figuring out a system for assignments in Google Classroom. I’ve said before that I don’t love Google Classroom, but this week, I was able to better articulate why. In education, we do things the way we’ve always done them, without asking “why?” and Classroom is set up for this. I don’t believe in “homework.” That’s a whole separate blog post, but it boils down to honoring students’ family time, and providing them with equal guidance and assistance with learning (and being realistic about the fact that not every parent is able to do this for various reasons). Anyway… I still need to communicate with students what they need to do/know by the next class. In the regular classroom, that would mean posting it on the white board. They know what to do/bring to class, and what is a graded assignment based on the way that I post it. The problem I have with Classroom is that it doesn’t put it on kids’ to-do lists unless there is a due date on it, which makes them thing that everything is due at a specific time and graded. So, I had to hack the system to work for my style of teaching- I told the students yesterday that if an assignment was in GC and “ungraded,” it was just material that needed to be covered by the due date. If it was marked with a number of points, it would be graded, though not in GC (it’s not our official gradebook, and I don’t want to open the can of worms that would come with discrepancies). Voila! The kids were relieved, and now they know how I’m communicating. But, I will repeat this in the blog/website over the weekend, so that everyone is clear.

My big win:

Having the kids in my upper level classes create their own portfolio websites was a complete success – thank you to the genius that visited me with that idea! I learned more about their personalities from their landing pages than I had even learned in personal interactions with them over the previous three years, in the case of most of my seniors. They were also quite grateful for a way to put their college portfolios together that would work in light of life being digital these days. They are going to prove incredibly useful for showing their creative processes as the year goes on. The next question I must now ask is whether I want to do that with my Intro students… it will be great for those that plan to continue on, but I’m not sure it is worth the headache for those that don’t and will struggle. We shall see…

Takeaways:

Normally, I use the physical warmup to handle paperwork like attendance and answering questions while a student runs it with their classmates. I am going to fully participate this year, and leave the attendance taking up to Zoom reports. Getting a stretch at the beginning of every class is the best physical self-care thing I can do while we are in front of a computer all day, and more importantly, I am modeling it for my students! It is also time for a new chair. My pretty one isn’t cutting it. It will be worth the money spent not to be stiff at the end of the day. A second monitor is also a must. One just isn’t cutting it. There may be a lot that I can’t control that makes this stressful, but getting those two things is something I can control, so I will!


Virtually Organized Classroom

I’ve spent the last week or so deciding how I wanted to set up my virtual classroom for my students, so that it would be as efficient as possible for the way that I wanted to use it. There are a lot of possibilities. Ultimately, I chose what was going to be the least hassle for me over the longterm, because sure, I’ve got time now to play with things, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time troubleshooting for students needlessly, or making cutesy things that do absolutely nothing to help my students learn.

First, no Bitmoji classroom for me. Why spend an inordinate amount of time creating a clickable picture that is just a duplicate (even if it is cuter) of Clever, which is a service that my school district uses for students? Now, I love my Bitmoji a little too much, so she will still be there, just not all wild and crazy hanging from the battens in the Blackbox. Here’s an example of the header for my upper level classes, which I will be using both in Google Classroom and my class websites.

Google Classroom/Class Website Header made using Canva and BItmoji

The header is incredibly easy to make. I like Canva, because there are so many free templates and resources in there, and it’s fairly intuitive. There are free and pro versions, though you can also purchase items a la carte if necessary. The free version, linked to my GAFE account, is enough for general classroom use, though I have purchased images for play posters from time to time.

The size of the header is 1000 pixels x 250 pixels. I used a free background, one of my Bitmojis, and a text template from Canva. It took me 5 minutes to make, is personal, and is much more visually appealing to me than the default themes provided by classroom. Passes my test. One caveat, that I haven’t figured out quite yet: Google seems to clip the edges of uploaded photos, so make sure that you keep that in mind when creating the header. Canva has handy dandy guides for this. The vertical borders are fairly accurate, but I move anything that I want to be seen a bit closer to center (not a lot). I think this mostly has to do with it resizing for a variety of window sizes, but I have made the windows as wide as possible, and it still seems to cut off a bit if you don’t take this into account.

Organizing the virtual student experience:

I plan to use three main means of communication with students (and parents who like to follow along): Google Classroom, Google Sites, and Blogger. Depending on student interests and their level of interaction, I may also add Google Groups to that mix down the line. That seems like a lot, but they will all contain the same material. The point is to meet students where they are, and we all have different preferred modes of communication/learning.

Google Classroom is class central. Most teachers at my school use it, so students are familiar. It’s not without its struggles. Last year, students frequently told me that they could not see upcoming assignments in their streams. I absolutely thought they were trying to get away with something, until it happened to my daughter during distance learning this spring. In her case, the teacher hadn’t put a due date on the assignment. If you don’t put a due date on an assignment, it does not show up in their assignments list. I put due dates on all assignments, but not always on questions for discussion, so students were missing them. Something to think about… you may want to spend some time teaching your students how to organize themselves to keep track of assignments independently of Google Classroom/Calendar. Otherwise, they will only look at the to-do list on the classroom. As much as I love technology, I still keep a written calendar with important due dates; if you write it down, you’re more likely to remember it.

In the physical classroom, each student has a process journal, which is essentially an interactive notebook. Checking them is always an adventure, as I frequently wanted gloves and a mask before an international health emergency, so I was already looking for an alternative. I probably would have gone to something digital sooner, but my classroom is low on the technology totem-pole (unless its theatrical technology- we get what we need in that regard), so 1:1 is not possible. Until now. I. am. so. excited.

Instead of creating a pinterest-worthy digital interactive notebook using slides, we will be using Google Sites. Why? Artists need to keep a digital portfolio, and creating a website to do that will teach them important 21st Century Skills that will be transferable to other subjects as well. So, I will also create a website that duplicates Google Classroom in a visual format that works for me. This kills two birds with one stone: modeling the student portfolio and providing multiple modes of learning. Students will know that they can go to the Google Site for their class, and see an example of what I would like to see from their work, as well as a source for class information.

The last piece to start the class for the year is a class Blog. The benefit of the blog is that students and parents can subscribe so that they receive an email every time I post. Yes, Classroom does this, but most of us turn off Classroom notifications because they can take over your Inbox in no time. I plan to post twice weekly: Sundays (created/scheduled on Friday) and Wednesdays (our class schedule includes enrichment/support on Wednesdays, so we do not have regular class that day). I figure that this will allow me to flip the classroom by providing them with materials ahead of class, as well as giving a recap of each 2-day unit we have together. If it seems excessive, then we’ll cut it down to once a week. The blog will also be embedded on the class website, so everyone can find it.

Most of this will be copied and pasted from one place to another, so it isn’t as time-consuming as it would seem. This year is going to be difficult for everyone– why not make the communication piece as clear as possible, while giving your students/families options about how they receive the information?

One last thing...

Don’t assume your students know how to do this stuff! It is as simple as being able insert images, textboxes, and other items, but simple does not always mean easy. I spend as much as the first month of class every year teaching classroom norms and routines – trust me, kindergarten isn’t the only level that needs this. Since the computer is the classroom this year, that means our first two to four weeks will be learning how to use the Google Suite in addition to getting to know each other and theatre work.

Lower Your Expectations

August, the month that feels like one big Sunday, is upon us. No doubt, your feed is filling up with other teachers sharing their ideas. Silly me, I was thinking that since we were learning virtually this year, there wouldn’t be any insane(ly competitive) photos of people’s classrooms.

Essential Questions
I, too have perpetrated the too-cute classroom competition. 🙁

Au contraire, mes amis!

This year, the terror is the virtual Bitmoji classroom. I’m sure you’ve seen them. They are ridiculously adorable. I love them. The other terror is the Digital Interactive Notebook. In and of themselves, not terrifying. It is what they do to us that is terrifying. The terror is the feeling that you must create one or your students will suffer, which every teacher who hasn’t made one yet is feeling.

I love Bitmojis- a lot. I have entirely too much affection for my Bitmoji, and really won’t play with the Facebook Avatars, because it feels like cheating on my Bitmoji. And currently, my Bitmoji is the only version of me that looks cute after not having a haircut for 6 months. But an adorable classroom does not turn your students into super-learners. You do. If the thought of spending days (because you will get sucked down the black hole of creation for days) making a virtual version of your classroom seems like too much on top of everything else, give yourself a pass. Your students will not suffer if you do not have the an adorable Bitmoji classroom. They won’t. Let me repeat it louder for the people in the back- YOUR STUDENTS WILL NOT SUFFER IF YOU DON’T HAVE AN ADORABLE VIRTUAL CLASSROOM.

A recent Bitmoji of me.
She has since been updated to match my lack of haircut,
but I miss my fun hair, so we will share this version of me instead.

As Bit-me says, you matter. You have a lot going on right now. Spend the eternal month of Sundays doing things that will help you thrive during this crazy time (like getting your family organized). Save your clickable Bitmoji classroom for when you need a creative break. It will all happen.

That said, I am going to spend some time on converting my process journals (that’s my fancy codename for interactive journals in real life… as opposed to virtual life) to something digital. Why? Because I think it will make my life easier. So, it’s worth it to me. The only reason I hadn’t done it before is because we weren’t a 1:1 school, so it wouldn’t have been equitable. I will be grateful to never again have to touch a disgusting notebook covered in pickle juice (true story), or have a student leave it at their other parent’s house. When we can, we do better. And now, we can. So we will.

You have to take care of you. Accept that perfection does not exist, especially this year. I worry about all of those teachers who put all of the effort into creating these beautiful digital versions of their classrooms, but still struggle with the platform for teaching virtually. Master what you need to succeed. The rest is fluff. This is not the year to bite off more than you can handle to compensate for not being able to do what you normally do the way you normally do it. Lower your expectations. Give yourself a break. Sometimes it really is okay to just get through it. Your students will know you love them whether your classroom is worthy of Instagram or just barely making it to the Meet. You are the thing that turns your students on to learning, and if high-tech equals high stress, it’s ok to stick with what works for you.

Accept that perfection does not exist, especially this year.

– Me.

I will share my plans for organization as soon as I have finalized them. In the meantime, I will be spending the rest of this week getting my family’s google calendars aligned, so my (almost) 10-year-old knows when she can pop in to my classroom to say hi, and when she can’t. I am also attending an awesome professional development through the MSDE Fine Arts Office – Maryland Micro-credentials for Creative Classrooms – Learning Through the Creative Process. They are absolutely rocking this in a virtual setting. I have learned so much- both in the content of the class and how they are presenting it.

I am going to MC3 this summer!

Do community theatres really serve the community?

For a very long time, I have wanted to start a theatre company to serve my community. Not necessarily a community theatre, and not necessarily a professional theatre, but something in between. Something different. A place where trained artists would be able to have full time employment in their field(and health insurance!), while serving the community- and making art that they are proud of.

In the initial phase of essentially closing down our entire society, I was struck by the fact that, in general, while community theatre organizations have their basis in the community, they do not actually serve the community beyond arts entertainment (thought some also provide arts education). When we were unable to rehearse and perform, we were paralyzed, with nothing to do. As an artist whose purpose has been to serve my community and students through art, my purpose had been stolen by this pandemic. As a theatre community, our collective lights had been snuffed out. 

As the bottom of our entire economy seemed to fall out from under us, I began to consider… Why don’t we already have the community contacts to be able to provide food and aid to the communities we serve? Why don’t we already work in our communities to provide employment or résumé assistance to those seeking work? Why don’t we share our empty spaces as a third space for the members of our community to hold meetings or classes when we are not rehearsing and performing? Why don’t we do more to serve our communities? We should be. It is time for change. 

Why don’t we do more to serve our communities?

After the death of George Floyd, when protests started first in Minneapolis, here in DC, and around the world in communities large and small, it has been laid bare that racist policies and systems are killing and exploiting members of our communities at a rate that is unacceptable. As an educator and an co-conspirator, I have worked tirelessly so that my students see themselves reflected in the stories that we tell. I have had the experience of community theatres coming to me, asking if I knew any Black actors for their production of Hairspray, or Latinx actors so that they could produce In the Heights, but unwilling to do the work of making my students feel like part of their community. I have had students in the LGBTQ+ community tell me horror stories of their treatment in theatres outside of the bubble of education (though some have experienced this in their schools, too). This cannot stand.

This cannot stand.

The reality is that there are so many more stories being written by marginalized voices than are being told. BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and female playwrights often struggle to get their work produced, not because they aren’t good, but because the gatekeepers aren’t open to their voices. Those same people struggle to even be considered for creative positions directing, choreographing, or designing productions where their unique voices will be honored. 

Now, with the world turned upside down (pardon me, I couldn’t resist), we have an incredible opportunity to rebuild the communities where we live and create. Why go back to the theatre of the past? I want to rebuild our theatre community with these ideals in mind. Let’s create a theatre space that is expansive, that changes the definition of community theatre to include our entire community, regardless of their ability to afford tickets to our productions. Let’s break down the barriers to careers in the arts by providing opportunities for mentorship and networking for the entire community, and by providing recent graduates with the chance to support themselves with a job in their field

Some may think it is impossible. If I have learned anything, it is that telling a theatre person that something impossible only serves to light a fire, and they will find a way. The one thing this pandemic has given us is time- time to work out the details. Time- to start producing readings by new playwrights with the intention of bringing them to the stage when we are back to our new normal. We have time to build the relationships necessary to build a community from the ground up. So we must.

Strangely, our current reality has removed many of the financial barriers to creativity out of the equation. I intend to spend the time that I have figuring out how to keep them from being rebuilt. I may build that theatre company in the future, but I plan to use this time for building a theatre community.

Interactive Documents for Student Choice

Cover Slide of the Drama 1 Choice Board I created

When we adjusted to virtual learning in the spring, the schedule we were given was a nightmare for teachers of electives, and the students who love their classes. Four days a week were devoted to “Core Subjects,” while all electives (even core subject electives) were relegated to Fridays. Our students have 7 classes, so it is inevitable that there were scheduling conflicts.

In addition to scheduling conflicts with other classes, let’s also consider that students were not necessarily in an environment conducive to learning. They were sharing space, devices, and broadband, with their families. Some were taking care of ill relatives or younger siblings, while others were going to work because their parents had been laid off. It was unreasonable to expect students to be able to attend class at a specific time. We have to be flexible.

Due to the copyright restrictions on textbooks and scripts in a digital medium, it was not possible to continue with our planned script analysis for 4th quarter. Since students’ grades could not be negatively impacted, it would also be very easy for them to check out if they weren’t interested. So, I decided to make a choice board for my students.

A choice board allows students to choose which activities they may complete in order to earn their grade. It just so happened that everyone and their brother was rushing to figure out how to continue creating in this new medium. I found so many new links to materials that would be useful in our new virtual classroom every day that it was actually quite overwhelming, just how much was out there- and free! So, I decided to take my resource to the next level.

You may have heard of hyperdocs- documents with links to a variety of outside resources to allow students to take their own learning journey. Instead of creating a single sheet doc, I decided to create a slideshow that would achieve the same thing. They key to making it work in a slideshow is to also link the slides to each other, so that students don’t have to scroll around a lot searching for something that interests them. How do you do that? It’s actually quite simple. When you insert a hyperlink in Google Slides, you can also link to other slides. The keyboard shortcut for inserting a hyperlink is Command-k on Mac, or CTRL-K on a Windows computer.

Pictured above: the student directions slide of the choice board,
including the hyperlink back to the Table of Contents.

On the table of contents, there are hyperlinks to each of the categories for student choice activities. Clicking on these links will take students to a group of slides that may be of interest to them.

Table of Contents Slide
Each hyperlink will take the student to the beginning of that category of activities.
You’ll also see a link in the top right that will take students back to the how-to screen.

Once students get to the activity slide, they will find an activity, and links to all of the resources that they would need to complete the activity. Once they are done with the activity, they would submit whatever product they had created on Flipgrid, with the specific hashtag so that their classmates and I could quickly see what activities they’d completed. I also gave students the option to submit their work via email if they did not wish to share with their classmates for any reason. After submitting their assignments, their job was to view two of their classmates’ videos and provide productive feedback on the video.

An example of an activity slide from the choiceboard.

Each slide had a couple of common items: links back to the Table of Contents, a title indicating what the activity was, or where the resources came from, and a hashtag and category for labelling/organizing their work on Flipgrid.

Helpful hints for creating a choice board:

  1. The hardest part of creating the choice board is planning it out. Start with deciding on categories and making the title slide, table of contents, and heading slides for each categories first.
  2. Add the hyperlinks to these slides so that they are all linked to each other.
  3. Create an activity slide, and copy/paste the hyperlinks to the table of contents from the other slides.
  4. For the remaining activity slides in that category, Duplicate the slide and change the content. The hyperlinks to table of contents and the how-to slide will still work.
  5. If you’re feeling fancy, change the colors on the slides for each category.

It’s that simple! But, if you’re still overwhelmed, you can borrow mine to copy for your own use. Here’s a link to view it: Copy of Hawk Drama 1 Choice Board

I am definitely NOT that awesome at graphics.
Check out SlidesGo for this amazing Google Slides template, and many, many more!

Making Your Virtual Classroom Comfortable

Before the students ever make their way into our classrooms, we spend days creating a welcoming and inspirational environment. We lay things out just so to improve classroom traffic, set up our bulletin boards and whiteboards in such a way that students will always know where to go for tools and information, and we do everything possible to make the classroom (in my case a Blackbox) a great space for being creative. We make signs with expectations, how-tos hanging over the sinks (I really hate it when the custodial team has to clear the paint out of the drain trap for the hundredth time in a school year), and decorate to let our personality shine through.

The virtual classroom should be no different. Think about what is normally in your classroom and come up with a virtual equivalent. If there isn’t a virtual equivalent, is it something your school needs to provide to students, or can they find something that will work in their own homes?

In a normal year, I teach my students how to run a physical and mental warm-up, and then put them in charge of it. Each day, I post on the whiteboard the name of the students responsible for the warm-up, as well as the students who are responsible for the next day (this takes care of when someone is absent). It is one of the best choices I’ve ever made- it allows me about 5 minutes to complete attendance and other teacher-y paperwork, while the students are still being productive. Bonus: administrators absolutely love it when the students have the ownership to run the class without any prompting from me!

Think about what is normally in your classroom and come up with a virtual equivalent.

This year, I plan to create a Google Site that has all of this type of information. There will be a “whiteboard” that has the objectives for the day, and the warm-up assignments. There will be a space with their homework assignments/due dates listed. It will have the Google Class Code and links to all of our resources. It will look like it does in my classroom. Kind of. Maybe, if I’m allowed in there before school starts, I will take a pic of the whiteboard and it will actually look like my whiteboard. So that when we return to the classroom, they will already know where to look and we can hit the ground running.

Yes, I know. Google Classroom already does a lot of this. But how many of your students claim they don’t ever see homework in classroom? It IS a real problem. I thought they were making it up until I experienced it for myself while trying to help my 4th grader complete work from home. Some of her teacher’s assignments did not show up in her stream as being due, even though they were. But that’s neither here nor there- different students process information in different ways, so we have to give it to them in different ways.

Teach them how to use the technology.

I know, not our job, right? Let me ask you this- how many awful slideshows do you want to have read to you this year? My answer is zero. I’ll get enough of that during our back to school PDs, right? Spend the first week of class showing them around the room, so to speak. Give them pointers on Slides/Powerpoint, Word/Docs, and Sheets/Excel.

They’re not learning it anywhere else.

Trust me- they’re not. Every year, at least two of my students come to me and tell me so, along with profuse thanks for knocking a presentation in another class out of the park. But this year?

The technology is your classroom.
And they need to be comfortable in it to be successful.

Next, check out their learning environment. Tell them what you would like to have and ask them if they have it. You may not be able to get it for them, but knowing that they have 3 siblings also learning virtually will definitely explain why they get booted from your class on the regular.

what do you want them to have?

  1. A quiet place to learn. Preferably a different place from where they sleep.
  2. They must wear clothing they can move in to class every day. If you can, discourage pajamas.
  3. Space to move. We do a physical warm up every day. They need a space the size of a yoga mat. That’s it. More is better, but we will make do with what we have.
  4. A pencil and paper. I know… we’re on a computer. BUT WE USE COMPUTERS TO BE ABLE TO FORGET INFORMATION, NOT TO LEARN IT. If they write things down, they will learn them faster. Not everything. Even though it’s easier to read docs, I will accept photos of written work, if they learn better that way. Unless it is a project for assessment. Those need to be typed. We use a process journal in our classes, so I have them get a composition book at the beginning of the year and use it for everything.
  5. If possible, ask your school to provide students with (legal) hard copies of scripts. I know that you can use digital scripts, especially with 1:1, but being able to annotate a script by hand is much more effective for most learners.

I know you’re stressed about doing it better than you did it in the spring. It seems that everyone has stopped talking about you as a hero, and instead focused on just how awful this spring was. THAT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. That’s about so many other things. Don’t take it personally.

Creating your virtual learning environment is not as hard as you think it is. Take it one small manageable step at a time. If you prepare your virtual classroom environment to reflect your regular classroom environment, you will set everyone up for success.