How this Toronto school pivoted in the face of the pandemic

When the global pandemic hit North American shores in mid-March, schools across the GTA responded in different ways. We sat down with Justin Medved (Director of Learning Innovation & Technology) at The York School to learn about their “Continuity of Learning Plan” and how a small school responded to the challenge.

Before the school went off for March break, you had your “Continuity of Learning Plan” ready just in case. How did that come about?

Having worked overseas for a number of years, I still keep in touch with a large community of school leaders from around the world. The international schools in Asia and Europe were a few weeks ahead of us, so I could predict with confidence that we would not be returning after the March break. This gave us a little time to practise with our distance learning platforms and ensure that all our staff, teachers and students went home with a device. At the same time, we started work on our “Continuity of Learning Plan” (CLP) site. We needed a way to communicate and support our community in a responsive way, and the CLP site provided us with a way to do that.

What were some of the things you had to keep in mind when building the “Continuity of Learning Plan”?

At the core of our plan were the following pillars:

  • Maintaining Connection & Relationships 
  • High Engagement & Fun 
  • Promote Health & Well-being 

With the help of technology, we were able to provide students with a nice balance of daily synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences. Students thrive under structure, so we took our existing timetable and adjusted it for the age and stage of our learners. If you look at the plan, you’ll see how the JK–2, 35, 610 & 1112 school days differ. Our teachers provided our students with some of the most creative and innovative learning experiences during the school closure. For many, this meant reimagining and reinventing lessons from the ground up. We were also mindful that the school day could not be as long and prompted movement and “getting up and out” as much as possible.

Your portal includes not only academics but wellness and fitness as well. What was the thinking behind that?

Our community extends to beyond the classroom, and we knew that the pandemic has huge mental and physical health ramifications that could affect our students, teachers and parents. Through our platform, we wanted to provide our expertise to help them navigate through these times. The mental health and well-being implications from this prolonged school closure are now being fully understood. We tried our best to support our students by giving them outlets to connect and process their experiences together.

What has been the hardest part of the transition to online learning?

Nothing can replace face-to-face teaching and collaboration, so it was hard missing the energy you feel in the hallways every day. Virtual classroom engagement started up a bit awkwardly, but by week two, our community started getting into the groove. Thanks to our incredible citizenship team we were able to keep our community close through our weekly virtual assemblies, community campfires and things like our annual Art Battle going virtual this year. Our Student Council organized videos to express school gratitude towards frontline workers, and we were even able to host the 2020 IB Film Festival online. This event showcases the movies created by the students enrolled in the IB Film Diploma Programme course at The York School, Branksome Hall and Upper Canada College.

Looking towards the fall and “reopening,” how are you approaching your planning?

We have learned much in the past three months. We have pushed the limits on distance learning and have upskilled our staff and students in an incredible way. Over the summer we are investing in infrastructure and planning that will allow us to respond to a number of different scenarios. In a strange way, we have been preparing for this moment for two decades. As a school that has always placed a strong emphasis on technology integration across the curriculum, we were ready for this. The planning for the “next normal” has begun, and I am confident that our teachers, staff and students will rise to meet whatever challenges may come.

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