Even in a tech-savvy community with abundant wi-fi and no shortage of Chromebooks, parents, students, and teachers in Piedmont continue to grapple with the transition to distance learning as a result of the school shut down in mid-March.
With Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties formally — and not unexpectedly — announcing Tuesday that school campuses would remain closed through the end of the school year, educators and families face seven more weeks of distance learning, and a recent Piedmont Unified School District survey of 585 families and 86 teachers reveals the challenges ahead.
According to the survey, students at all grade levels crave more live interaction with teachers and peers, parents are struggling to manage kids and jobs, and teachers are spending hours developing distance learning activities and mastering technology while fielding sometimes critical parent emails and managing their own personal lives.
The survey was undertaken following the first two weeks of distance learning that began on March 16, with survey results presented by Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Wozniak at the virtual April 1 regular meeting and at the April 6 special meeting of the PUSD Board of Education, both conducted over Zoom. (Editor’s note: the link to survey results is for Part 2 only. Part 1, which analyzed what was working for parents, students is not online at this time.)
The survey asked students, parents, and teachers what was and wasn’t working with distance learning.
Live teaching/video teaching and virtual meetings and conferences with teacher were working for parents and students of all grade levels, while all cited too much screen time as a downside to distance learning. One middle school student requested “more interaction with teacher and classmates” and noted that long assignments forced too much screen time. High school students sought more online instruction and structured class meeting times and observed that too much work was done independently and that more should be done online together with one high school student noting the “the lack of senior activities and fun stuff.”
The majority of parent and student respondents across all grades reported that the distance learning workload was either just right or too little with a majority finding the workload too little for grades 1-8 while a majority finding the kindergarten workload and the high school workload just right.
For parents, managing their children’s education from home especially for those with children in elementary and middle school presented the biggest challenge.
“Too much work expected while we are trying to balance our own workload and simple tasks like buying groceries online,” noted one parent.
For teachers, the transition to distance learning has been time consuming with most respondents spending between three and eight hours a day developing distant learning lessons and activities.
“There is just not enough time to plan and prep meaningful leaning activities, meet with my class, meet with individual students, grade level team members, school-wide staff, ILT, and then care for myself and my family in a way that feels healthy.” For teachers, those hours are spent not only translating lesson plans into online content but getting up to speed with the technology required to deliver the content.
“I just can’t keep up and truly cannot read everything that is being sent my way,” noted one teacher.
In addition, teachers are also fielding emails from parents with high expectations.
One teacher observed that “we are especially spending a lot of time trying to deal with feedback from the vocal minority of parents who want more.” Another teacher shared that “the amount of parent emails demanding more and telling me how I should be doing my job has been really hard … I put my heart and soul into teaching and the parents leave me feeling like I am never doing enough. ”
“These are really hard, trying times,” said Board member Andrea Swenson at the conclusion of the Apr. 6 meeting. “We must try to do what is right for all students and staff.”
Board members collectively applauded administrators and teachers for working around the clock to adapt to the fast-changing situation, calling out the District’s tech team for special recognition.
Supt. Randy Booker acknowledged the difficult reality of pivoting to a distance learning program in a crisis situation. “There will be teaching and learning gaps,” he said.
Board members later unanimously approved an MOU between PUSD and the Association of Piedmont Teachers that establishes a baseline of expectations around distance learning. According to a April 6 email to parents from Booker, over the next several days, the District will publish an updated Distance Learning Plan for families, students, and staff based on the agreements made in the MOU.