Providing Education during a School Closure
Beginning April 6th, 2020, BCD started offering a full program in Distance Learning. This program involved 1:1 tutoring, full class participation in Live Blocks, Home Distance Learning visits, home delivery of school supplies, and engaging on and offline activities (including continued courses in art, PE, foreign language and social fun.)
Our Head of School met each day live with the school community as well as held online family meetings throughout the time off campus. Our teachers rose to the occasion and we learned a great deal. We don’t know what the future holds, but we are planning to open school in person for the 2020-21 school year. If school is forced to close for any amount of time, we will continue our Distance Learning Program, but we will do so with cutting edge resources and experience gained from this year.
From the Head of School
Berkshire Country Day School is committed to continuing our mission of inspiring the individual promise of every student, that each may become an exemplary citizen of the world even during challenging times. As a school, we are committed to delivering a meaningful and supportive educational experience for all students through alternate methods for teaching and student learning.
The following Distance Learning Plan outlines an approach to maintaining instruction, learning, assessment, and feedback using digital and online resources for the spring 2020 trimester. This document is both for families and BCD faculty and administration as a guide and may include tutorials that are appropriate for teacher training, while others that are for families. This is a living document and updates will occur as we gain experience. Updates will be found on the online web version. We will not re-issue you the entire PDF each time we change for alignment. This document is meant to offer helpful information in dealing with a new method for learning, providing students with personal, meaningful lessons that are both modeled after the on-campus experience, as well as offering the students new experiences that enrich their time social distancing. Our plan includes experiences that take the whole child into consideration; their intellectual, emotional and social well-being. At the same time, we hope to offer continued sense of community and partnership that has been a BCD tradition for the past 75 years.
Distance Learning Plan for Spring Term, 2020
- Teaching and Learning will continue but it will look different and feel different: let go, make mistakes, have fun!
- Teaching will not be a collection of online links to consume. Students and families will continue to experience the personal touch of the School.
- Appropriate guidelines and expectations exist so that the distance learning school day does not place students in front of screens too much. Suggested daily schedules for on/off screen time by grade will help support parents and caregivers (especially in Lower School).
- Consistent, predictable methods of communicating with families is critical.
- Methods of assessing students and communicating student progress will include conferences, video chats, traditional assignments, and more.
- Alignment within each grade level and across disciplines will be a priority.We recognize that a shift to Distance Learning requires our teachers, students, and families to make adjustments and that the new approaches may feel unfamiliar and challenging for all of us, at times. Therefore, all are encouraged to approach the transition with patience and flexibility.
In a Distance Learning environment, changes and interruptions to learning may occur for a number of foreseeable and unforeseeable reasons. Our teachers and administrators appreciate this reality and will be, first and foremost, supportive and flexible when working with students and families through the implementation of this plan. We expect the current situation to improve and that BCD will improve because of this event rather than in spite of it. We will open our doors and welcome you home some day in the future and we will stand by you until that day.
What We Value
- The ability to meet our students where they are and help them grow
- Families spending quality time together
- Limited screen time
- Maximum time exploring, creating, and relating
Community Roles and Responsibilities
- Create, distribute, and update the Distance Learning Handbook.
- Establish clear channels of communications between faculty, staff, families, and students.
- Support faculty and students/families shifting to a distance learning environment with professional development/training, FAQs, personal contact, and clear communication.
- Help teachers implement distance learning and ensure high-quality learning experience for all students.
Train students about online expectations (as age appropriate). Student training should include the following:
- Overview and practice with any digital platform that might be used during school closure
- Expectations for online behavior – including appropriate approaches (language, attire) to learning, participating in any breakout groups or online chats, etc.)
- Clarity about how “performance” will be assessed with online learning
- Expectations for makeup work if students are ill and cannot participate
- Encouragement to have a buddy (or two) in the class with whom they can connect in the event that they have tech/communication problems
- Each Lower School homeroom teacher and each Middle School/Upper School advisor will contact families by phone prior to distance learning to check in.
- Collaborate with other members of your team or department to design distance learning experiences for your students
Expections during distance learning for all faculty:
- Communicate frequently with students and, as needed, with their parents. Distance learning may require more frequent communication with students and families to clarify expectations, ease anxiety, and answer questions.
- Provide timely feedback to support student learning
- Carefully document conversations with students and parents to ensure accurate record-keeping
- Continue to collaborate with colleagues to enhance the quality of distance learning experiences
- Work with supervisors to review feedback about families’ distance learning experiences and make appropriate adjustments
- Establish a buddy teacher to assist if needed. If teachers are ill, they are expected to provide asynchronous learning for students.
- Provide daily lesson plans using the Lesson Plan template, upload each day by 9:00 PM what will happen the following day.
- Check in with classes during the times designated in the distance learning schedule.
- Engage with students professionally as if teaching in a physical classroom (professional attire, language, setting, etc.) Be mindful of what viewers are seeing in the background during a video session.
- Maintain Sycamore gradebooks posting grades for advisors by Thursday of each week.
- Attend Division, Department, Grade Level, and Full Faculty meetings via conference or other designated platform during distance learning.
- If there is a need to step away from a live Google Meet session, an away message should be activated
- Utilize any work-day time that isn’t direct student contact time for planning, collaboration, curriculum work, assessment development, etc.
- Attendance: Teachers are expected to take student attendance and enter it into Sycamore daily.
- Staying mindful of the resources and tools families may or may not have in their homes, develop projects and activities (including videos) for students and hold classes as per the usual schedule.
- Stay in contact with classroom teachers and administrators.
- Upload lessons in the Google Drive using the Lesson Template.
Lower School Classroom Assistant Teachers:
- Communicate regularly with classroom teachers to identify ways you can support students and contribute to distance learning
- Monitor student learning and provide feedback to students, as requested by the teachers and teams you support
- Participate in grade-level planning and division meetings
- Use any non-student contact time to plan, develop curricula, collaborate, and support other areas of the school.
BCD understands that a shift to a distance learning approach will require our students and families to make adjustments. Yet a continued partnership with parents and guardians can play a vital part of ensuring the success of the plan. Administrators, the technology department, and teachers are all available to support and guide students (and parents/guardians/caregivers) should they need help. Below are some guidelines for parents/guardians/caregivers to help students achieve success with distance learning. Overall, we encourage you to embrace this time at home as a new adventure with great possibilities. Enjoy your family!
Establish a Regular Schedule for Your Child & Stay Engaged with their Learning
Once distance learning is initiated by the School, it will be important for parents/guardians/caregivers to help students establish and maintain a routine and structure for their day, beginning with a regular bedtime and wake-up time each day. While some of our students may want to stay up late and sleep in, establishing a regular school day routine will help your child retain a sense of normalcy and stay engaged in learning. Be sure to help your child build in “breaks” during the school day, encouraging them to stand up and move around so they are not remaining sedentary throughout the day. Begin and close each “school day” with a brief check-in as well as checking in throughout the day at regular intervals to ensure that your child is successfully engaging in distance learning. Reach out to your child’s teacher if you observe your child struggling to stay focused. Setting clear expectations with your child about regular school day hours will help your child maintain a schedule and stay on top of his/her schoolwork.
Create a Study Space for Your Child
Productive learning relies on a conducive environment. We recommend that you create a separate, quiet space in your home for your child to study. The family room sofa with close proximity to television or your child’s bedroom may not be the optimal place for your child to learn. We recommend that you choose an open area in the family living space (kitchen table, dining room, etc.) to avoid isolating your child and to allow parents/guardians to monitor your child’s learning and screen activity. A room with strong wireless connection will also be important.
Stay in Communication with your Child’s Teachers
Your child’s teachers and the administration will maintain regular communication with parents/guardians/caregivers. The frequency of the communications will depend on your child’s age, developmental stage, and level of independence. While teachers are available as resources for your child and for you, please keep in mind that our teachers will need to be in regular email communication with all of their families, so we ask that you be mindful when communicating with teachers, strive to be succinct, and focus on the essential. Please use email (not texting) as your primary method of contact with teachers.
Encourage Independence and Allow for Productive Struggle
Stay engaged in your child’s learning by asking them questions and having them share their thoughts while encouraging their independence so they can take ownership of their own learning. Some productive struggle is essential to learning, so we ask that parents allow their children to grapple with problems and come up with ideas for tackling them. Stepping in too quickly to help solve problems will deprive your child of the opportunity to learn, try new approaches, and gain greater independence and confidence. If your child becomes discouraged and/or overwhelmed by schoolwork, please reach out to your child’s teachers, advisors, or administrators.
Help your Child Maintain Social Contact with Peers
It will be very important for your child to stay in social contact (through virtual means) with their friends and peers during distance learning periods. Encourage your child to interact with friends through Facetime/Google Meet or through phone conversations if social distancing is required. They can form study groups created by their teachers or informal groups that they develop on their own. Social interactions, such as virtual lunch buddies, will help your child stay connected and feel a part of the School community.
Wellness: Encourage Physical Activity and Movement and Monitor Student Stress
Physical movement and exercise are vital to maintaining physical and mental health, reducing stress and anxiety, and improving concentration and focus for more effective learning and retention. Parents should monitor student stress levels and reach out to the Associate Head of School for advice as needed. The health and wellness of our students is of the utmost importance to us, and so we have worked with our PE department to set aside time during the week for students to maintain a level of activity even if homebound. Parents can partner with the school by checking in on their child’s physical activity and ensuring that they participate in the activities provided. You will receive communication from the PE teacher and we will have a list of activity resources in the Google Drive folder.
During certain times in the Distance Learning schedule, some students may need help with time management. Teachers are available to assist, but it is also important for parents to ensure that students are spending this time on school work. Even if a student says that he or she is done with assignments, this is a valuable time to meet with teachers, study with peers, and master the learning outcomes for the course. Students should be actively working during the designated times.
With the potential of multiple devices being used simultaneously in a home, bandwidth could be taxed. It will be helpful if parents monitor so that one user isn’t streaming or playing video games (Netflix etc.) while another is having class via Google Meet.
Families should email the Associate Head of School to report absences per regular expectations. Attendance will be taken in each class.
Students will receive grade reports. Class grades will be provided as usual.
Our goal is to engage students for most of the day. Some of the assignments and work that students are doing will take a bit longer than the regular class period. The assignments can be completed at the student’s pace. We will not be assigning further “homework” as there is no purpose other than completing the assignments in the course of the curriculum.
Teachers will design assessments that are appropriate for the distance learning setting.
Google Meet Classes & Conference Behavior & Etiquette
- Be ready for class, come prepared. Log in to your BCD email 5-10 minutes before the online meeting. Look for an email to join an online meeting from your teacher. All students should be in a quiet place when they connect.
- If you have a headset/headphones, please use them. It can help prevent feedback from your computer/device.
- Be on time. No matter what kind of meeting you’re attending—virtual or in-person, the “on-time” rules apply.
- Dress appropriately.
- Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking.
- Speak clearly and wait for your turn. Raise your hand and wait for your teacher to call on you before unmuting the microphone and speaking. You can use the chat feature to post your comments to the class as well. Be respectful of what you write in the chat and make sure it pertains to the teacher’s discussion.
- Save your snacking for after the meeting.
- Pay attention to the teacher and be fully present in the class discussion. Do not engage in other activities online or offline while in the Google Meet.
Asynchronous Course Content
Asynchronous is the term we use for course materials that teachers have prepared for students ahead of time, and that the students complete by assigned due dates.
Students will spend the majority of their time with asynchronous course content. This content will include introductions to and explanations of new material, review material, individual student tasks and activities, and dialogue between students, their teachers, and their classmates.
Each class will begin and end with a check-in. Attendance will be taken. Most the time will be spent in asynchronous activity. This is especially true for Lower School.
Although courses vary, the strategy is to have students engage through asynchronous coursework with content that will form the basis for discussion, synthesis, or further interactive learning during Google Meet which will be scheduled with the teacher on some class days. We call this time Live Block meetings or synchronous learning.
Synchronous Course Content
Synchronous coursework requires students to be logged into the virtual classroom at the same time as their teacher and classmates. Synchronous sessions are also referred to as Live Block meetings. During these meetings, students will need to have Internet access and an Internet-enabled device with a camera, a microphone, and ear buds or a headset. All synchronous connections will require the use of Google Meet.
When students log into a live class, they are expected to be on camera and able to participate through audio for the duration of the class meeting. When they log in, students will be expected to mute until the teacher instructs them otherwise. If for any reason a student’s video or audio is not working during a live session, teachers will be flexible and work with students to ensure that they have been able to engage with the necessary content from the meeting. Teachers will ask students who are having technical difficulties to log-off and they will contact them after the class. This will be frustrating as it is sure to happen. We will do our best to mitigate that frustration. Live Blocks will occur once minimum per week for each class. B2-K will receive individual calls at least 3 times a week. Advisory Live Blocks will be scheduled by the advisor, at their discretion.
Students are expected to be present via Google Meet for the blocks outlined in the Weekly Schedule. As stated above, each class will begin and end with a check-in. Attendance will be taken. Most the time will be spent in asynchronous activity. This is especially true for Lower School.
If there is an issue that prevents a student’s attendance, she is expected to communicate in advance with the teacher or advisor to be excused. Teachers will communicate on a regular basis with advisors and administrators regarding student attendance to all classes, especially Live Blocks . Advisors and administrators will keep in regular contact with students and parents to discuss concerns about attendance and to help solve any problems that may be keeping students from meeting these requirements.
Each day, the Head of School will open the school day with a greeting at 8:10 AM on Facebook BCD Families Group. This is not mandatory.
Twice weekly, BCD will offer social moments in the evening. These will evolve in a number of ways and they are not mandatory to attend. They will be geared toward the family and done as a way for our parents and students to enjoy the BCD community. We hope to see this evolve in something uniquely BCD throughout the distancing period.
Understanding the Technical Tools
By using familiar tools, our students can adapt easily and smoothly to a Distance Learning approach. Therefore, we will mainly use Google tools as our management platform. All teachers are currently on Google and most students are familiar with the platform. Gmail, Google Meet and Google Drive will be the mainstay of communications, supplemented by Sycamore (our learning management system), and our Facebook group, BCD Families. Some teachers have found success with Zoom Conferencing and this a platform we accept if everyone is able to log-on. Additionally, teachers have been instructed to offer new platforms such as YouTube and a variety of other useful educational online tools and sites to supplement the curriculum.
Home Workspace Setup
Again, it may seem trivial, but the way in which you designate corners or rooms of home can have major impacts on productivity, focus, and mental well-being. Make sure you choose a dedicated workspace for schoolwork (teachers and students), keep work and home time separated as much as possible, make good use of timers, and get in some fitness breaks (our PE teacher has you covered)!
Parents and guardians: if you have not yet created an account with Gmail, we would like to ask you to take a moment to do so. Even if this is just for school related communication, getting yourself familiar and comfortable with the Google experience as a parent or guardian will allow you to take full benefit of the remote learning experience we are providing to students in every division.
Create and Join a Virtual Meeting with Google Meet – Tutorial (5.5 min) Please note that some browsers do not support Google Meet. You need to install Google Chrome to conference on Google Meet. Instructions for installing Google Chrome are here.
Here is a link for installing “Google Meet Grid View” extension for Google Meet so classes can see more people in a view window Please note, you need to install Google Chrome to enable this plug-in.
Chat and Video Conference with Google Hangouts – Tutorial (4 min)
We understand how difficult it can be having all of your children at home either sharing one or dispersing with multiple laptops, cellphones, and iPads. We compiled a list of some of the best home device-management software out there, and should you feel the need to implement, will give you greater control over how much time your children are spending on social media, games, and beyond. In addition, these tools can help steer students clear of malicious or inappropriate content. Please remember, no software is perfect.
Screen Time Monitors & Turning Off Apps and Games
Below are a list of a few options for families who wish to secure their devices and website filtering during and beyond remote learning. Many of these products work across different platforms, such as iPhone, Android, Windows, and Mac.
- Qustodio – Website – Intro Video
- Net Nanny – Website – Intro Video
- Circle – Website – Intro Video
- OpenDNS Web Filtering – Website – Setup Instructions
While everyone’s wireless and home network situation is different, there are a few ways you can boost connectivity. One, of course, is paying for higher bandwidth Internet speeds; aside from that, here are some options you might be able to utilize:
- Google Nest Wifi – Home Mesh Router
- Ethernet over Power – NETGEAR Powerline AC1200
- WiFi Extender – NETGEAR Wireless Extender
Live Block Logistics
Teachers will work to help students navigate the world of virtual meetings, and students are likely to teach their teachers a few things as well. None of us will be experts at this overnight, but expertise will come with experience.
- Students should use a headset or ear-bud style headphones for live meetings.
- They should not use their computer speakers without a headset as this can cause feedback or an echo for other people in the meeting.
- Teachers will show students how to mute and unmute themselves to make contributions to a discussion or to ask questions. When not speaking, students should remain muted to avoid feedback, an echo, or background noises.
- Students need a reliable Internet connection, which may need to be wired if the strength of a WIFI signal cannot be relied upon.
- If the video is not working, students should make sure that any other programs using the camera are closed to try restarting their computer and logging back into the meeting.
- For video best practice, students should set up the camera so that light is in front of them and their device is angled to show their face.
- Maintaining and up-to-date browser and checking for software updates on a monthly basis is recommended. It is also recommended that students restart their computer or device on a regular basis to minimize issues.
The BCD Tech Team is available for faculty, students, and parents who need technical support related to distance learning.
Please try the following steps before contacting the Tech Team:
- Check to make sure that all necessary connections (USB, power, etc.) are plugged in properly.
- Run any updates.
- Shut down, then power on the device that isn’t working properly.
If you need tech help, please send an email to:
[email protected] with the subject: Tech Request. In the email, please give your name, your child’s name and the nature of your problem. Our tech department will respond to these requests in the order that they are received as soon as possible. To date, our tech support has been in overdrive getting everyone set up. They are the frontline for Distance Learning and they are here to help you. Please refrain from texting, calling or emailing for help outside of this protocol.