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This week was totally unplanned! We did not anticipate or plan to talk about back to school. However, since it is sounding more and more like a full/normal return, we have been a little anxious and unable to focus on our planned content.

As such, we have decided to share our thoughts, reflections, and also some of our ideas for how to prepare for the school year.

If you like what you hear, we would love it if you could share this episode with a colleague or friend. And make sure you subscribe so that you don’t miss out on any new content!

We would love to hear from you – leave a comment here, OR check out our FLIPGRID!

Show Notes

Social media and following the news can be such a positive experience, but can also be a source for anxiety and stress. With September looming, and communities slowly reopening, there are reports and messaging out there that suggest a full reopening of schools may be announced.

back to school reaction
Our reaction to a normal back to school

While it can be difficult to put ourselves out there, our anxiety got the best of us, and we couldn’t focus on producing the episode we had planned. Instead, we decided to go with it: we hit record and spoke about all of our fears, our anxiety and our reactions to what seems like the inevitable announcement for September and back to school.

While we may return in September to “normal” class sizes, etc., schools will very likely end up having to go back to remote at some point due to an increase in spread. How do we mentally prepare for a normal back to school? How can we make sure we use any/all face to face time to prepare our students for remote?

These questions, and more, are what we discuss in this episode, so let’s get started!

Exposure to technology & building community

If back to school really is “normal,” then we need to make sure that technology and community building are our initial focus – NOT curriculum. A return to normal means interacting with hundreds of people a day, so the likelihood of outbreaks and school closures is inevitable. As such, we need to make sure that we use whatever time we have to focus on these two areas.

Google Jamboard

Jamboard is a digital white board with a whole variety of uses. You can use it collaboratively, to record lessons, etc. so it is a perfect tool to teach your students.

We recommend using Jamboard for getting to know you activities. You can assign a board per student, or you can divide boards based on interests, where students can share something that they are good at, or that they enjoy. This creates a connection between peers, and also begins to build a relationship between you and your students.


One of the most challenging aspects of the school closures and the shift to remote learning was ensuring that all students had access to a device. For the new school year, it is important to make sure that students each have a device.

Are you in a 1-1 board that ensures all students have a device? Embrace it! You have a huge advantage. Have the students bring them in, and use them right away to get to know the tools!

If not in a 1-1 school board or district, make sure you take an inventory, check for functionality and chargers, and see about distributing these to students at the beginning of the school year so that you know that access to technology will not be a barrier for students.

Tech tools for staff

Not only is it important to ensure that students have devices and the technology to be successful, but it’s also important to ensure staff are ready for the school year as well.

One example of a device that will likely become helpful in case of school closures is the wacom tablet. This device would allow teachers to create lessons where they can write on the screen as they are recording (using screencastify, loom, etc.). This is great for remote lessons, etc.

Library spaces to engage students

In normal times, the library has become a space for students to connect with one another, to study or work on their courses, and also to relax. It is no longer that traditional quiet space designated only for research or quiet study.

So, how can we provide library programming within the context of a pandemic? The library can really become the centre for the school community, particularly if schools have to close again. There is a unique opportunity for teacher librarians to carve out a virtual space to bring staff and students together.

Some ideas that we have to shift the physical library space to a virtual space are:

  • Engage students online through Instagram, Twitter, Sites, etc.
  • Developing training resources for students to complete online tutorials all about plagiarism, referencing, Google search, databases etc. – but with a gamified twist!
    • Create a badging system to help motivate and incentivize students
    • Create a point system where students can earn school swag
  • Training resources for staff too!

Developing all of these resources can be quite overwhelming or daunting. Consider collaborating between schools to set up these tech learning spaces online, and to develop these resources together!

Do you run a badging system to train teachers and/or students or that you use in your library? We’d love to hear from you! Leave a message on our FLIPGRID, a comment below, or send us a message on Twitter!

Pandemic Paralysis

We aren’t sure if this is a real thing, but we are feeling it! How do we prepare for back to school when we don’t know what’s coming? We have shut down and aren’t sure how to begin. Mentally we know what needs to be done to prepare for a new school year, but we just struggle to move forward

Possible solution? USE YOUR PLN! Reach out to colleagues, or other educators to collaborate and plan together. It will help you to shift and get back to a point where you can approach work again. There’s something to be said about being accountable to others.

Tips for Back-to-School

What can exposure to online tools look like? Here are some tips or strategies that we have compiled to help you determine how to move forward, and what school can look like.

Tip 1: Flipped Classroom regardless of format

Flipped classrooms are a great way to start off the school year. This format gives you the opportunity to explicitly teach how to watch a video – to pause, write down questions, etc. You can then get your students used to bringing those questions with them the following day.

EdPuzzle is a great tool for creating these videos! And they have a certification course geared towards blended and flipped learning. We have mentioned this tool before before, but check it out and see if it can help you for this coming school year.

Also, be sure to check out these resources about Flipped Classrooms, and don’t forget this episode all about blended learning to help you figure out what format works best for you and your students.

Tip 2: Intro Unit on your LMS

Having a device does not mean that students can navigate the online platform that they have to use, or that they know how to use the tools they need to be successful in your course.

This is the chance we didn’t have back in March – so make sure students have a device, and then explicitly teach them all they need to know about the online platform, as well as the tools they will need.

Tip 3: Teachers are people, too!

Make sure you take the opportunity to make connections with students. They need to remember you as a human being so that if/when we shift to remote learning, students still know who you are.

Tip 4: BreakOutEDU for Brightspace

BreakoutEDU is an educational escape room. Traditionally, a kit comes with a lock box, a variety of locks, and a few other neat tools. You set up clues around the classroom that lead students to the combinations that will ultimately lead them to victory!

The traditional kit won’t be an option during a pandemic, but have no fear! There are digital options for escape rooms with an educational focus! This could be a fun way to learn about Brightspace (or whatever LMS you have), and a great way to build community as well.

Want an episode about BreakoutEDU? Let us know!

Tip 5: Self Care is Important

This one is tough for most people to talk about, and we are no different. There is a lot of anxiety about covid and back to school. Our physical and mental health are at risk with a “normal” back to school plan. It is difficult to prepare yourself physically, mentally and emotionally for this coming school year.

Many employers and unions have shared resources for people to access mental health supports. It really is important to acknowledge how you are feeling, and to ask for help. It does not make you weak to ask for help – it actually makes you a strong person to admit that you need help.

Here are some resources that we have found. We will continue to add to this list as we find more resources.

Do you have mental health and self-care resources? Please consider sharing with us, and our listeners by commenting below.

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