A Massive Shift from In-Person Learning to Online: 11,000 students in Two Weeks. How did we do it?

This past February with the incoming Covid-19 virus we realized early that we would have to do some online learning for certain centres, so we looked at the small one-class pilot that we were running from Canada for bright students in Pakistan to see what we could do. Then, at the beginning of March, we realized that we needed to look at switching all the students over. It was looking like all the schools might not re-open after spring break, and within 2 weeks we switched from an in-person after-school school, to a virtual after-school school servicing 11,000 students. Our students didn’t miss a beat. They started up right away when classes were to start at the same timings, meeting with all their own classmates. It was a crazy time, but there was a reason why we were able to shift in a massive way, and that is what I would like to share.

What we did:

  1. Drip, Drip, Drip Training

Training for an online system requires a lot of new skills, and 99% of our teachers had never taught online before, so we had to train everyone. We decided to train them on the basics first. So, during the first week of virtual classes, we taught the very basics for our teachers to teach the content that needed to be taught, in a virtual classroom setting. No bells and whistles; they were to do it in a very simple way. Every week the teachers attended a course (once at the end of the week), by grade levels, and were taught how to add on the next level of complexity for the virtual classes.

We use Teams for the online classes, and our teacher training used Teams, so the teachers were experiencing the platform as a student and seeing the possibilities to use as a teacher.

2. Communication

Communication was, and still is critical. The chats in the Teams meetings for the training served as a way for every teacher to reach out daily and ask quick questions. Anyone who knew the answer, answered. In addition, during the first 2 weeks, our Teacher Education department held 1-hour time slots for teachers to come in and ask the trainers any questions they wanted each day. If a teacher didn’t have a question, they still attended the “meeting”, muted themselves and listened to all the questions… just in case they hadn’t thought of something before. All the principals also listened in and attended the training.

The ability to get answers within minutes, if not seconds, was critical. People felt that they were being listened to, that they didn’t have to wait, and they also felt like everyone was there with them… almost like they were in the same room working beside them.

Communication was open to everyone in the organization, so that everyone felt that they could reach out to anyone at any time. As the CEO, I attended as many training times as possible, answered questions and shared my experiences teaching online. Being able to take away any boundaries to good communication allowed everyone right up to the executive team to see what was happening at all times and to help guide the 100s of questions and problems at any time of the day, or night.

We ensured that in the early days that parents were sent messages almost every day to inform them of our plans and to ensure they knew what to do.

3. Resources

Basics for the online curriculum were provided to the teachers. This allowed the teachers to focus on the delivery and to use their questioning and other teaching skills.

4. Familiarity with the Platforms

Our company was using Teams for corporate communication and therefore, people were familiar with the platform. Our teachers had also used Brightspace by D2L for the asynchronous after-class resource and marks program. Therefore, people felt that they could do it. It is similar to presenting students with higher-level ideas at a young age, (but not going into detail), and when the concepts come up later in upper grades they aren’t as intimidated with the new material because they think they already know how to do it. The teachers and principals reacted the same way.

5. Support

Everyone supported everyone else. It was incredible. Not only was the support in every department there, but people were happy and thankful. At the end of every meeting the chat boxes were filled with “thank you’s”. No one dared to complain about too much work, nor did they count their hours. They were there to make this a success!

Teachers also did a lot of practice teaching with each other. The peer-to-peer reflection and learning eliminated a lot of problems.