Crossroads of Education: Julie Flach

Julie Flack Technology Integration Specialist at Effingham Unit #40 Schools

When and how did you hear about the Covid-19 pandemic?

Honestly, I first heard about it on social media.  As social media goes, I was first skeptical of the impact that it would have in our area since I consider us a rural area.   I hadn’t heard much about it before the school closure on Friday, March 15.

How did your role change when schools were closed?

The largest shift in my role as schools closed was supporting teachers and students remotely and assisting teachers with adjusting learning to a totally new learning environment… over a weekend.  Teachers had a very short amount of time to prepare for a new way of learning completely online or via paper packets..  Our professional learning is typically face-to-face and interactive.  Now, we were going to need to learn about educational technology at a very rapid pace in a virtual environment. 

In addition to supporting teachers, we were now faced with supporting students in a variety of different learning environments at home with varied accessibility and support.  At school, equitable access is controlled since we are providing equipment, resources, and teachers to support learning.  At home, technology access and home support varied greatly, so considering all of the different environments became a new aspect of reaching students at home.

What did you and/or your school do to support remote learning and the needs of students?

I’m so proud of the work that Unit #40 teachers and administrators did to continue learning during the pandemic.  Our teachers provided learning opportunities and support to students and families while being flexible and mindful of the challenges that families were facing.  Above learning, teachers and administrators went above and beyond to ensure that students were safe and had resources to learn..

What was the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was addressing all of the different inequities in our area.  As far as access to technology goes, it isn’t simply an economical issue as many live in geographical areas that do not have reliable internet access.  Also, as society has shifted to handheld, mobile technology (cell phones), many families don’t have access to computers in their homes, much less one computer for each family member.  

What was the biggest frustration?

The biggest frustration was knowing the challenges that our students and families were facing and having limited ability to fix the problems.  The need for internet access and devices for all was instantaneous, but these are issues that take a great amount of time and planning to address.  We wanted very much to “fix” all of the problems, but had no way to do that immediately.

Were there new things that you learnt about/for your role?

I already knew that our schools rise to every challenge – even a global pandemic.  The learning of educational technology and troubleshooting has grown exponentially in the past 6 months.  (I see the increased interest in the educational technology tools as quite exciting!)   What I learned most about my role was that I needed to offer a variety of flexible learning opportunities for teachers and families to access the help that they needed when it was timely for them.  We learned to offer flexibility and choice in learning for students and teachers to help them be successful in a multitude of different environments at home.

What did you realize that you take for granted?

I am grateful for our daily face-to-face interactions. I took for granted how much we connect, share, and learn from each other in those short interactions that take place during passing periods, traveling to the office together, or troubleshooting a jammed copier.  We missed the positive “word of mouth”, whether it be for encouragement, technology tips, or teaching tips.  I am grateful for each day that we are in the building together this year. 

Are there things that you might appreciate more after the pandemic ends?

Wifi, smiles, and high fives!  (And being able to browse the Effingham Library in person!)

What are things that you learnt during the pandemic that you think will carry forward into life post-pandemic?

The pandemic has reminded me that learning can take place anywhere, anytime with today’s technology.  What’s most important about learning and growing isn’t exactly about the determined objectives, but that we continue to learn and grow each day.

With my family, I hope that we continue to learn every day, take our days at a little slower pace, and enjoy the time that we get to be together at home.

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