Northeastern teachers focus on student well-being as they adjust to distance learning

Northeastern teachers focus on student well-being as they adjust to distance learning

One month after Ontario students would have returned to school from March break, students, families and teachers are getting used to a new kind of learning. 

Teacher-led learning resumed for students throughout the province on April 6. What exactly that looks like varies by board, school, and teacher, with each figuring out what works for their students and circumstances. 

Meredith Coulas teaches a grade 2/3 French immersion class at Lansdowne Secondary School in Sudbury. She says she puts in six to eight hours of work preparing a single hour of online learning for her students. 

“I’m doing it because I care about my classroom and I care about my students, and I care about myself as a professional, and want to do a great job,” Coulas said. 

“But I completely underestimated how much time it was going to take me.”

Different approaches

Coulas gives students assignments to work on in their own time, and has also opted to meet with them by video call twice a week. 

“Meeting them online wasn’t something that we have to do. I just found it, for me, I want to see them, they want to see me. It gives us an opportunity to practice their second language,” Coulas said. 

She says every student in her class has access to a computer or tablet. But she says she’s spent a lot of time teaching parents how to use programs they aren’t familiar with — as well as learning new technology tools herself. She also knows families are facing many different kinds of stress at home, so she’s not worried about students showing up for each online meeting, or completing all of the assigned work. 

“I tell my families, I don’t want any tears, this isn’t meant to be an unhappy experience.”

French immersion teacher Meredith Coulas is meeting with her students via video call twice a week. (Submitted by Meredith Coulas)

For high school teacher Stéphane Ostrander, there are no video conferences with his whole class, but he’s still in touch with his students daily. He teaches media and vocal music at Sudbury Secondary School. 

“I have, you know, two kids under four. And to try to set up video lessons and doing that sort of thing, I just knew right away wasn’t going to work for me,” Ostrander said.  

“What I’ve done is I’ve created some assignments and some learning projects. Some kind of open ended stuff for the students that they can work on, and work on at their own pace” 

Ostrander says allowing students to work at their own pace has been particularly useful for his classes, as some of his students are working or babysitting, and may not be able to do the work during regular class hours. 

Algoma District School Board

Lee Mason represents elementary school teachers in the Algoma District School Board, as district president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. Lee says the board has developed lessons for each grade level that are being used across the board.

The board covers a large geographical area, and many students and teachers live in rural areas, where internet access can be more limited. Lee says the lessons are distributed to families at the start of each week, either online, or in hard copy. 

“So that everyone is getting a chance … to touch on those core concepts moving forward equally. So it’s not related to whether or not you have access to the internet, whether or not you’re able to download things, whether you have pencil or paper,” Mason said. 

Lee Mason is the president of the Algoma Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. (Submitted by Lee Mason)

Mason said the activities have been developed with the intention of being “generic” enough that students don’t need special resources or supplies to complete them.

“We have to keep in mind that we don’t necessarily know what supplies are going to be available. How people can’t just run out to the store and get popsicle sticks and those kind of things.”

Focus on student wellbeing

Mason said the primary concern for teachers right now is student well-being. He said the goal of the activities is to provide a “continuation of learning at home.” 

“At this point It’s not really homeschooling, it’s not teaching. That’s not really feasible in the situation we’re in right now.”

For Coulas and her French immersion class in Sudbury, she hopes her students will maintain their language skills and continue to learn, but like Lee, she says those are secondary concerns at this time. 

“We’re trying to ensure the wellness of our students. And in some ways for me, the learning is happening, but it’s sort of, it’s as a vessel to check in with the kids to make sure they’re OK.” 

Everyone is adapting to new realities these days. That includes students and their families, and of course teachers who are working to help students keep learning… from a distance. We checked in with some teachers to see how things are going for them. 15:40

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