We’re Building the Ship as We Sail It

Today’s Contributor: William Mangum

William Mangum is CIC at Lamar Middle School. He teaches Video Game Design I and II, Keyboarding, and is Yearbook Advisor. He draws, and grows plants, when he’s not reading.

We’re Building the Ship as We Sail It
by Kay Ryan

The first fear
being drowning, the
ship’s first shape
was a raft, which
was hard to unflatten
after that didn’t
happen. It’s awkward
to have to do one’s
planning in extremis
in the early years —
so hard to hide later:
sleekening the hull,
making things
more gracious.

How were we to know? The beginning-of-year professional development for the 2019-20 school year came and went like all the other PDs I’ve ever attended, but as all learning has very suddenly become remote, those professional development sessions have become more important than any of us could have realized they would end up being.

Lamar MS

The faculty of Lamar Middle School was asked at the beginning of this school year to standardize access to agendas, assignments and notes through a BLEND (Canvas LMS) front page. During the first week of professional learning, myself and two other teachers held three breakout session tutorials. At all sessions, teachers were asked to download a front page template from the Commons that had pre-made Lamar branded buttons made for agendas, assignments and notes. After installing the template into their BLEND courses, teachers were able to learn more about BLEND specific to their prior knowledge and tech comfort level.

I have thought back to that moment, the one where it’s the end of the last session I’m teaching, we’re all standing up and heading to lunch, walking out of the classroom. We couldn’t have less of a clue what would be coming in seven months. We didn’t know it, but we had started building the ark.

After the two weeks of professional development for teachers to prepare for the shift to online learning, Lamar focused on providing parents with resources for using BLEND. We made a Smore, based on a model made by LBJ HS, and used it as an informational tool shared with parents about where our Lamar Community Blend Page could be found, what BLEND was, how they could use BLEND, and how they could find help if they needed it.

Next, we needed to ease the transition for students to online learning. Again, based on parent and student input, it was decided by Lamar’s Tech Committee that we needed a standardized model that would be used by all teachers on their BLEND front page. Our TDC, Meghan Buchanan, provided us with a distance learning template, created by the Austin ISD Tech Design. Meghan helped brand the template for Lamar, then placed it in the commons for teachers to import into their courses. Parents and students now had an easy way to find and navigate through the Continuing Learning Opportunities provided by their teachers.

During Lamar’s biweekly Zoom meetings, a comment that I’ve heard frequently is that we are building the ship as we sail it. I don’t know who first used that metaphor, but it’s helped all of us, teachers and staff, put what we are doing in perspective. As Kay Ryan says in her poem, “the ship’s first shape was a raft.” We started this year using BLEND in various capacities, some of us never imagining that our classes would end up fully online. Now, during this crisis, with the help of student and parent input, with the leadership of our school administration and the advice of our BLEND power-users, and with the tireless work of our Tech Design Coaches, we are “making things more gracious”.

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