Dear Harding Academy Community,
Once again we are seeing positive movement in terms of the fourteen day trend of positive cases in Davidson County and we remain hopeful that this trend will continue. We also know this is a long, slow march towards containing the spread of the virus in Davidson County, Tennessee, and our country. Steps we are taking now to prepare for school are critical for the healthy and safety of our community on August 20 and beyond. We not only want to open school in person, we want to stay in school and that is only possible with everybody’s help in upholding the following principles to keep Harding Academy safe:
Follow the best practices for controlling the spread of COVID-19, including the wearing of face-coverings, frequent hand-washing, maintaining appropriate social distancing, and keeping our social interactions away from school to small circles of friends and family.
Restrict our travel, particularly to areas designated as COVID-19 hotspots.
Truthfully complete the daily wellness and temperature screenings required for anyone coming onto campus.
Adhere to the established protocols if positive for COVID-19, symptomatic for COVID-19, or having been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Hold each other accountable to meeting these expectations.
When we do return to school in person, everything will look and feel different than we’ve experienced in the past. As our first four chapters have outlined, much of what we are doing has changed to adapt to the needs of our new pandemic environment. How we teach and how our students learn will also be impacted. What follows in this Chapter is what you can expect as we launch the 2020-21 school year as it relates to Teaching and Learning at Harding Academy.
The Opening Weeks
I should be clear about how we will enter the school year as it relates to our teaching and learning: we will be easing into it. Prior to the pandemic, education was undergoing seismic shifts. The changes around dynamic teaching and learning that our strategic planning team considered last year - those we were able to observe on the leading edge of innovation in schools - we confronted last spring. The disruption was not new, but the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of these approaches to teaching and learning.
Ironically, as the pandemic has accelerated our instructional innovation in many ways, it also has taken away some of our best opportunities to leverage our children’s social nature towards their learning. In our current phase, students will be in assigned seats, in rows facing the teacher, socially distant and with very limited peer collaboration - a throwback in many ways to the old one room schoolhouse model. This is necessary as a preventative measure and to facilitate contact tracing if/when there is a positive case. We hate this. But it is necessary. We will be posting homeroom and advisory lists to CompassNet tonight - a week earlier than in years past. So much has gone into the creation of these lists, especially considering the context of our new reality, that we will not be making any changes to those lists.
I have said it before and I will say it again here: I have never been prouder to be associated with Harding Academy then when someone mentions how incredible our teachers have been in managing this shift. This summer has been no different in that the training and unit and lesson development have continued unabated. You will see that our plans for in person, distance learning and remote learning represent a significant step up from what you experienced last spring. However, I cannot - and I ask that you do not - expect perfection out of the gate from our teachers in these new modes. Like all great innovation, we learn the most from the mistakes we make and I want to be sure that our teachers feel the grace and support in those moments so we can grow in our craft and challenge your children in their classrooms. I thank you ahead of time for that.
So, as I said above, we will be easing into the start of the school year.
First, we want to focus in the first couple of weeks on safety routines (handwashing, disinfecting, social distancing, etc.) and classroom routines (morning meetings, behavior agreements, goals for the year, etc.). Setting this framework - especially coming off a spring spent remotely - is like tilling the garden to provide the best possible growing opportunities for our children. We know children thrive within well understood guardrails and this will be critically important this year.
Second, we will take the time to assess our students’ learning. Pivoting to remote learning last year was an unprecedented move in the history of the school and we have been developing an assessment regime that will give us a comprehensive understanding of where each of our students are on their learning journey, allowing us to meet them there and help them grow. Practically speaking this will entail a combination of standardized assessments (ERB Milestone and our Gates Reading), formative assessments (short, ongoing check-ins for understandings and opportunities for feedback - these happen daily and in countless different ways), and summative assessments (times where we determine how much a student has learned and internalized as it relates to the learning outcomes we set for them last year).
Modes of Teaching and Learning
Since the spring, we have been developing capacity to offer our program across three modes of teaching and learning: in person, distance learning, and remote learning. In person is exactly as it sounds: students and teachers are together in the classroom following a daily schedule with core classes and specials. Distance learning is the mode in which students who have opted to stay home will tune into the classroom and access materials in order to learn at home while class is happening in school. Remote learning is when all students are learning at home and the entirety of instruction is virtual/digital.
Distance Learning: Students who opt into this program will receive direct communication from their respective division directors with details around expectations. They will also hear from their homeroom and/or grade level Learning Effectiveness teachers with an introduction to the program. These students will tune in via Google Meet to live instruction in the classroom, managed by the teacher, and complete the work either in real time or independently. In addition to communicating with the homeroom teacher or advisor, the Learning Effectiveness Teacher will be following up one on one for accountability and to answer any questions.
Remote Learning: We will be offering more synchronous (real time, face-to-face via Google Meet) instruction in our remote learning model this year. In the Lower School, you can expect that synchronous instruction will occupy the morning, with independent work being allotted to the afternoon. In the Middle School, over the course of the spring, we significantly ramped up our synchronous instruction and this year you can expect that we will follow a schedule similar to a regular school day.
OWL Meeting Pro:
Both our distance learning and remote learning modes will be facilitated by our new OWL Meeting Pro cameras and microphones which have been installed in our learning areas. Students in our distance learning program will sign into a Google Meet and be able to see and hear the teacher at their touchscreen board and also follow along in class discussions as the OWL picks up and panels out up to three speakers at a time. Students in the classroom will be able to hear students at home as they engage the teacher or class via Google Meet. You can see a screenshot from a faculty training we completed HERE
. As we get used to this powerful new tool, you can expect to hear more about its myriad uses.
iPads and Laptops: From the very first day of school we will be asking your child to go back and forth from home to school with their device, whether it is an iPad or laptop. In the case that we are forced to go to remote, we may have less than 24 hours notice of that decision and we want to make sure we are prepared to pivot to remote as smoothly as possible. Having the device at home will be a foundational piece of that.
Staffing: One of the most difficult parts of planning for the school year is how we support learning in the event we have faculty who are out because they are at a higher risk per CDC indicators or get sick. One tactic we have taken to manage this is to create three new positions. First, we have created a second full time sub position. Rachel Green, who many of you know well in her role as Assistant Director of Pursuit, will come on full time in that role and we couldn’t be more excited. Second, we have created two Teaching Fellow positions. In normal times, this would be a position where we would mentor and groom new teachers under the expert guidance of our Director of Teaching and Learning. In this new environment, we are seeking educators who have some experience in schools to come into the position and partner with teachers who may be out to add value to the in school experience for the students. So they would be co-teaching with teachers who are instructing remotely.
I am excited to say that we have hired our first Teaching Fellow, Katlin Weeks, this week. Katlin comes to us from Creekside Elementary in Franklin where she taught First Grade. She recently completed her Masters of Arts in Teaching at Belmont University. Our search for our second Teaching Fellow continues and you can find a job description HERE should you have anyone in mind.
Platforms to Support Instruction
We have challenged our faculty to prepare their units and lessons such that students who are in the distance learning program can access as much of the information as possible in the same ways as the students in the classroom. Additionally, we want to be able to pivot to remote learning quickly should the school be forced to go that route. So we have streamlined our digital instructional platforms. Grades PK through 3rd will have most of their work housed in Showbie Pro, which we used last spring and have since refined for maximum efficiency. Grades 4th through 8th will have their work housed in their Google Classrooms. Whether a student is in school, in quarantine, or in remote learning, accessing and completing work will be the same. We will continue to use Google Meet as our video conferencing platform, as it represents the most secure way for our students to access this service.
We have worked to preserve as much of the school day experience as possible. Having said that we have had to make some changes to accommodate our reopening adaptations. For example, the end of the middle school day will more closely align with the lower school to facilitate dismissal from classrooms rather than a large gathering at the depot. Also there are some specials which will look very different from years’ past.
Physical Education: In lower school, the grade level will remain in homeroom groups.In Middle School, grades will be divided into smaller groups for PE. Students will not change for PE. In grades 4-8 as they have in the past, they will wear the clothes they have worn to school. This may be school dress or Harding Spirit/PE clothes, or any combination of those. Students will be required to wear masks during PE class, and they must maintain social distancing. The program will be adapted to follow guidelines concerning the use of shared equipment.
Performing arts: In lower school, these classes will be held in the homeroom classrooms or outside. Class activities have been adapted to follow current health guidelines. In middle school, performing arts classes meet only at grade level, and will be adapted to follow guidelines concerning increased social distancing while singing or playing wind instruments, including holding classes outside, as well as adapting instruction away from a performance based course to more skill development and general music.
Art: In lower school, all special areas classes will be held in the homeroom classrooms. In middle school, students will continue to meet their art classes in the MS art room. The art program for both lower and middle schools will be adapted to follow guidelines concerning use of shared equipment, additionally each student will have their own individual art supply kit.
This is a lot to consume - I know. As always feel free to email me with any questions and/or Laura Underwood, Lower School Director, Jay Codispoti, Middle School Director or Eric Fecht, Director of Teaching and Learning.
We continue to refine and reassess our plans with any new information that comes our way. The way we deliver instruction and the outcomes of learning that we are seeking are no different - but one thing remains consistent: our mission.
All that we are doing is an effort to deliver on our mission to educate and inspire young people to become thoughtful, creative, lifelong learners and self-disciplined, responsible, caring citizens.
So to we strive to achieve our vision which states “Within an inclusive and diverse community of engaged partners, Harding Academy will set the standard for premier PreK-8 independent schools as we inspire our students’ intellectual development, embrace their balanced, personal growth, and develop well-prepared leaders and positive contributors to our 21st-century society.”
This is our north star and it underlies everything we do. We are so looking forward to taking the next steps towards it together on August 20. Please do everything you can to help us make that a reality.