The Educator Network at the TDSB: Now I’m doing laps…

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Educator Network Story: Toronto District School Board

In 2020-2021 we interviewed literacy workers in Ontario about blended learning and the pivot to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s one of the things that Shelley Lynch from Toronto District School Board told us about adapting to remote learning, the power of collaborative learning, how Educator Network (eNet) helped and her approach to professional learning.

Interaction and support

One reason I like being at TDSB is that I like the interaction. I like the energy of sharing ideas and resources. For those of us who want to help one another and are willing, and who are brave enough to say—I think sometimes some people, they’re very independent and solitary, or they don’t want to say they need help—so the people who are willing, are getting together.

If someone helps you, I think then you’re more willing to pass it on and help other people.

I think the teachers who manage their time best multitask, but that’s not me. If I’m teaching students, then I’m teaching students, I’m not doing computer stuff. What I would do is stay after class and do all my computer work because I could not go back and forth and do either thing properly. I used to envy the other teachers who manage that better, but I just know it’s not me.

Training: the good, the bad and the beautiful

I would say you’ve got to give people more training at the beginning, not just drop them in the deep end and let them sink or swim because that’s not fair to the instructor and it’s not fair to the learners. One thing that sort of frustrates me a bit with my school, is everyone’s just supposed to magically do the job all on their own with without any sort of training or sharing much. If I had a problem like if my computer wasn’t working or whatever I would go to [the coordinator] but she didn’t have the time or knowledge and skills to give me what I needed—she was swamped herself and I knew that. We desperately needed some technical support and the MTML Silver Linings Cafés stepped into the breach.

At the beginning, I didn’t know how to how to do things online. I started off doing what I did in the classroom and step by step, I changed and improved. I wish I’d got more of a training, not just something to read or look at—I was busy enough—an actual training session where I could talk to someone and someone could show me something. I wish I’d got more of that, because I feel like I stumbled along figuring things out for myself. Your sessions [at the MTML Silver Linings Cafés] were a lifesaver, Tracey, because we had nobody helping us or telling us what to do or how to do things—we were just dropped in the deep end. I started understanding Zoom better, but I think that during the first three months—April, May, June—I think I was too exhausted because I was doing everything myself. If I’m exhausted, I lose my creativity. I need to have some energy left to create.

Some of these other things that you’ve shown me [at Silver Linings Cafes and AlphaPlus workshops] look interesting, but I have not integrated them left to my own devices. Eventually I might stumble across one again and say, “Oh, that would be good—how can I integrate that?”

Your sessions where you throw a lot of many things at us at once are too much for me. I think some people like it but it’s too much for me. I’d be happier adding things one at a time. I would ask someone like you, “Okay, I’m doing great. Now what is the next good thing for me to add?” Don’t ask me, tell me what the next good thing is for me is to add in. I will trust you and either it will work for me, or maybe sometimes it won’t work for me, but I trust the process. I have to make things my own, but first I have to integrate them.

In September, there was the whole Canvas start-up.

[Shelley is referring to the Educator Network Planning Your Digital Toolbox series of workshops facilitated by AlphaPlus for the Toronto District School Board instructors. In these sessions, the instructors decided to learn how to use the learning management system called Canvas.]

I will say that out of that, there’s been more support within the group.

[After the Canvas training, a group of TDSB instructors, with Shelley’s leadership, created a learning circle. They met every two weeks for three or four months to share strategies and resources and to learn more about Canvas. eNet facilitator, Tracey Mollins, joined the learning circle to support a deeper dive into Canvas features and possibilities.]

Fun, learning and technology – in that order

Canvas was great once I got into it. The first two or three weeks weren’t much fun, but once I could start doing it, it got better and better. Now I’m doing laps instead of battling with it. Why? It fuels my need to learn—my highest value. I learned something and it’s brilliant. It’s allowed me to expand in a whole new way that I didn’t think of before. And it’s made it more fun. My learners love the quizzes, and they love that they get immediate marking and feedback. My courses just keep growing, I keep adding things which is brilliant for new learners, too. I don’t have enough time for all I want to add and put on there. I’m saying I have more ideas than I have time to create.

For me, when I was doing so much Zooming I was exhausted. I know when I lose my creativity it means I’m just overwhelmed and overloaded, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Canvas was a challenge but in a good way. Before, it was challenging but not in a good way—in an exhausting way that drained me. Now, I get tired at times, but I’m not losing my creativity. That is a really good sign. I think it’s a balancing act. It’s how much time do I need to create versus help the learners.

In terms of resources and material, I still have some work to do on that. I’ve always scavenged. I think that there are some more online resources that I could get into but I’m not a [Instructor A] or a [Instructor B] that dives into them all. I have to bring them on board one at a time and make them my own. I think I could do more. This week, we’re doing Kahoot again because it’s fun, and they love it. I did a Kahoot and I brought in some literacy questions—things I want them to know and remember. They love doing Kahoot so that they’re doing schoolwork but in a more fun way. Could I have more fun activities? I’m really good at teaching activities. Am I really good at fun activities? Not so much. The quizzes, for example, lightened things up and there could be other things that I could bring in, like the polls, etc.

Nothing stops me. I can get knocked down, but I always think there’s a solution—there’s always an answer, there’s always someone who knows more than you, there’s always someone who can help—it’s all about communication and helping one another and if I provided some leadership there, that’s great.

I don’t think we’re going to know anything till it happens, until we’re dropped in it. “This is what’s happening next, now make it work.” Like we’re magicians.

Are you a literacy practitioner thinking about how you can respond to the ways that digital technologies are changing how we learn, work and engage in daily life? Are you wondering about what colleagues in other programs are doing? Read more about how literacy practitioners use their skills and wisdom to adapt to changing learner needs and evolving technologies at the Wayfinders Studio: The Pivot to Remote Learning or join the next Educator Network (eNet) cohort.

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