Susan Chapla wholeheartedly believes in kids, families, teachers, and schools with every fiber of her being. She is also a straight shooter and as straightforward as anyone you will ever meet! Susan is the principal of Van Arsdale Elementary in Jefferson County, Colorado. Van Arsdale is a PEBC project school that has embraced the workshop model, inquiry, and thinking strategies, while always maintaining their vision of sustaining a compassionate community dedicated to the success of every learner.
As school districts in Colorado began moving to remote learning, I started noticing various trends on social media… everything from digital resources, memes thanking teachers, Pinterest-worthy home learning environments, musical parodies. This got me curious, so I reached out and asked Susan, “How’s it really going?”
“Seamless! I am so proud of my staff, students and families. It has been amazing!” Susan shared.
Needless to say, I thought Susan would say something positive, but I did not expect, “seamless!” So I dug into our conversation with curiosity, and left in awe.
Susan, tell me about the past few weeks. How did you and others in Jeffco pivot so quickly from traditional schooling to remote learning?
Well, in mid-March it was obvious that schools would be closing, at least temporarily, so I met with our Digital Teacher Librarian (DTL) and Instructional Coach to discuss options for our community. Here’s how the first two weeks played out:
Monday – Wednesday:
- My DTL, Instructional Coach and I met with teachers and teams to find out which digital platforms their students were familiar with and started pulling together additional resources that could be helpful.
- We facilitated an early morning staff meeting to assess needs, fears, and challenges and used this as data to develop a bulleted “to-do” list.
- The district notified families that schools would be closed the following week.
- We surveyed families to assess technology needs.
- Grade level teams began to collaborate with each other, our DTL, and Instructional Coach.
- Our DTL and Instructional Coach met with teachers individually to ensure they could use Google Classroom and/or other platforms.
- Parent volunteers cleaned, organized and helped distribute 187 Chrome Books to families.
- Students took home everything they might need for remote learning.
- Everyone worked and collaborated to have their Google Classrooms up and running
- Teachers had the day for preparation.
- I was at school to assist with additional Chrome Book distribution and troubleshooting.
Tuesday – Friday:
- Remote Learning was implemented for students.
- Sent out a survey to all families.
- Newsletter was electronically distributed with pictures of kids learning at home, funny anecdotes from families, and tips for supporting on-line learning at home.
Wow! That must have been an exhausting two weeks! What have you learned so far?
Professional Learning saved us! Our DTL has been leading the way with various forms of technology and resources so our teachers and students are familiar with Google Classroom, Flip Grid, Padlet, Khan Academy, See Saw, Go Noodle, IXL and other applications. This was key because every teacher had at least one resource to tap into. Our teachers have also spent the past couple years, working in partnership with PEBC, to establish successful cycles of inquiry.Our students understand the inquiry process, know how to research with an inquiry question in mind, and can collaborate with one another digitally to create products. So our teachers are designing content based inquiries for students to dive into. We also have had to focus on Short Constructed Response for our UIP goal, and the district has provided a ton of resources. In retrospect, this has been really helpful, as our students now have more experience reading and responding to digital text on technology.
Parent feedback is really helping us adjust our plans to meet the needs of families. After the first week, we sent out a survey to find out what was working and what was not. First off, our families were amazed by how much their children learn each day! We found out that providing timelines and limiting the quantity of the work are critical. Timelines are important to help students to stay on track, but they need to be flexible to account for parent work schedules and the need to support multiple learners within one household. Quantity of work needs to be limited to about two to four hours per day. This includes time for reading with parents, brain breaks, applying math in fun ways, getting outside, and spending time together.
Susan, you are so positive! Have you had any major struggles or obstacles?
The community at Van Arsdale is very close. Teachers are missing their students; students are missing their teachers and peers; teachers are missing their colleagues. We are using things like Google Hangouts and FaceTime but are looking into better ways to stay connected virtually.
Our current system is very challenging for our Special Education students and providers. Our amazing Special Education teachers are connecting with students one-on-one for support with their core work. They are also managing an incredible amount of paperwork. We are going to make some modifications to various assignments so that the work is differentiated based on needs.
As we look ahead, our teachers are now focusing their planning on supporting students with new content, not just review. We know that we have two more months of learning and new standards that we don’t want our students to miss.
Susan, if you were going to draft a list of “conditions for success” what would be most important?
Schedule: Create Consistency
- Monday: Teacher Planning and Student Catch Up
- Tuesday – Friday: Remote Learning
- Create a schedule where all students have the same special (art, music, PE) on the same day, if everyone has art on the same day this alleviates stress on families with multiple children.
Timelines & Deadlines:
- Don’t post all of the work on the first day of the week. For some students, it is too overwhelming and for others they finish way too soon. Both scenarios are stressful for caregivers and families.
Collaboration & Resources: Work Smarter
- Share the workload across the team
- Access district resources
- Select two or three digital tools, and use those exclusively
- Create a typing club for students to improve their keyboarding efficiency
Communication: Stay Connected
- Share successes, stressors, funny stories & resources
- Use social media in productive ways
Create a positive, growth mindset for adults and students
- Remind everyone that failure is part of learning something new
- Support families as they take on a new role during a time of stress
In closing, Susan knows it won’t be easy! She also knows there are tons of unknowns coming up, as well as many opportunities for her staff to continue to support learning and community. As they say at Van Arsdale, “Once a Mountaineer, Always a Mountaineer.” The teachers, families, and students at this school are in it TOGETHER!
Susan was interviewed by PEBC Senior Director of Professional Development Design Michelle Morris Jones. Michelle has worked with PEBC since 2002, supporting teachers, coaches, and leaders, both locally and nationally, in the area of instructional practices that support literacy and understanding across grade levels and content areas. She leads, designs, and co-facilitates a variety of literacy, workshop, and leadership institutes, including the Thinking Strategies Institute.