Dispatches from the Virtual Learning Frontlines: PVNC school staff share their most inspiring online learning moments and inventive virtual lessons

Virtual School Screengrab

Jan. 26, 2021

We asked school-based staff to share some of their most inspiring and surprising moments of online learning during the recent weeks. Below is a sampling of their responses.

What has been the most inspiring moment for you as an educator/support staff person during this period of school closure and online learning?

Watching the students and staff light up when I enter their Google Meet. The students all turn on their mics and yell “Mrs. Clapp!, Mrs. Clapp!, Hello Mrs. Clapp! I have the same Baby Yoda as you!” and the waving and the faces they make on the camera. The amount of love I feel from my students comes through the screen and into my heart and lifts my soul up and out of my dark basement. They are my sunshine when I am stuck inside my house during the pandemic. Their shouts are my rainbows. Their questions are my warmth. Their curiosity is my fuel. They are wonderful, fantastic and I appreciate them more than they will ever know. They make me want to do a better job and be a better person.

Hungry Caterpillar Student Work

Jennifer Clapp, St. Mother Teresa CES, Learning Commons Specialist

During each class, we say a thank you to the frontline workers, specifically to the parents of the students whose parents work in those jobs. The conversations are sincere and genuine.

Angelique Dias, St. Stephen CSS, Religion Teacher

The support from the parents in our classroom has been nothing short of amazing. We are continuously getting kind messages of thanks and being told we are doing a great job. We are being told we are amazing and that their children are enjoying the lessons we are providing. These kind words and notes of encouragement keep us going and keep us motivated each and every day!

Michelle Clay & Jennifer Crigger, St. Catherine CES, French Immersion Kindergarten/Teacher & RECE

I am so excited to see all the students log on to come to library classes.

Shelley Riddell, St. Mary CES in Campbellford, Library Support Specialist

The outpouring of support from parents as well as the amazing collaboration and sharing of resources among teachers. Also I am amazed and inspired every day at the dedicated support staff who come into the building to support our highest needs learners. They are heroes to these kids.

Laura Carson, St. Dominic CES, Principal

Well it has been a life-learning and challenging experience to work through a pandemic and I know my students feel the same way. They have vocalized this with me a number of times throughout this period of lockdown. We have learned to be kind and patient with each other while working with technology. We have all grown to be stronger people while being absent from each other physically but united through technology. I am glad that I could experience all of this in my lifetime. It’s part of our history now!

Betty Lou Witt, St. Paul Norwood, EA

Getting the students to be “visual” rather than an icon on the screen or even to speak is difficult as some students suffer from anxiety being on the screen. There were a few times I managed to make them comfortable enough to “join” the class, be visible and to speak. Also having incredible creative work being handed in. That was the best feeling ever.

Liz Rennie, Thomas Aquinas Catholic Virtual School, Grade 10 and 11 English Teacher

Seeing a full class of smiling students staring back at me, excited to see their friends and educators!

Susanne Olsen, Holy Family CES, RECE/Kindergarten

“That learning never ends. After all my years of teaching, I am learning so many new computer programs, and ways of teaching, and can use them successfully, and I am a better teacher for it.”

Cathy Scott, St. Mother Teresa CES, Grade 1/2

Going beyond the limits of what I thought I could handle and learn.

Yvonne Carleton, St. Anne CES, ASDW

The most inspiring moment during this time of online learning is seeing how much our students want to learn, despite being unable to come to school. Even when there are tricky technology glitches the kids and parents try their best to work around it and be very understanding.

Belle Stewart, St. John Paul II, EA

What has been the most surprising thing you have learned about yourself as an educator/support staff person and or the students that you serve during this period of school closure and online learning?

How incredibly flexible and resilient we are together. The Catholic School Community is one that really instills the importance of our faith, community, and the power we have to support each other through this journey. No matter how isolated I have felt at home outside of the physical classroom, when we meet each morning virtually, we have a sense of community and connection despite being physically apart.

Melissa Bishop, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Virtual School, Grade 1 FI

Seeing my students thrive and find success in the virtual world AND that I am still standing and smiling five months later. 😛

Kelly Kloosterman, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Virtual School, Grade 8

Some of the most heartwarming experiences come from the students when they chime in and share their own tips and tricks with me and other classmates. When they smile and laugh on screen or when they reflect about their emotions and prayers in a very deep way it helps me to see that the connection to learning is still there with many of them.

Corrie Bell, St. Dominic CES, IAT – Primary

The ability to adapt; yes it can be hard, but sometimes it can help to better yourself and rearrange what you prioritize in your life for the better.

Maddie McGee, St. Martin CES, SERT

I have learned that we are all more resilient than maybe we thought and that we can continue to ‘lift’ each other even when times are very uncertain and stressful. I was surprised that I can still reach students and connect with them personally and lift their spirits through light hearted joking and prayer and showing that I care greatly about their wellness. They are responding positively and I have fantastic parent feedback as a result of their personal and academic growth.

Maureen Wayling, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Virtual School, Grade 5

The positive feedback that I have received from parents that has inspired me to create lessons that engage the students. I have learned a HUGE amount of how to teach effectively online. I feel very comfortable using Google meets and adding assignments. It has been a learning curve but one I feel I have accomplished.

Ellen Storey, St. John Paul II, Kindergarten

The students love to be in community with each other. We all can endure long hours online and still pull together as a class community even when we can’t even see each other or hear each other.

Jess Rowland, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Virtual School, Grade 6

Is there a particular lesson, anecdote, experience or story you would like to share?

Today, we read the book “Snowmen at Night” and then created our own version of Van Gogh’s infamous painting “Starry Night” including snowmen. Many parents and siblings got involved in this lesson, with one mom commenting that this was the most focused she has seen her son! The resulting masterpieces were incredible, especially considering these are Year 1 and 2 Kindergarten students!

Student Work

Michelle Clay & Jennifer Crigger, St. Catherine CES, French Immersion Kindergarten/Teacher & RECE

The virtual class trips and bringing in guest speakers has been exciting and enjoyable for students. They have been isolated from others in the community in the school setting and have enjoyed meeting guests virtually.

Lori Hay, Immaculate Conception CES, Grade 3/4

My grade 1/2 class had fun doing many “Mad Lab” science experiments during virtual learning: floating and sinking objects, liquid race- chocolate syrup, ketchup and maple syrup, and mixing solids and liquids. We found sunglasses or goggles to wear for fun during the experiments. Many students did their own experiments on Google Classroom with their parents after class, and expressed how much fun they had and how much they learned.

Virtual Science Lab

Cathy Scott, St. Mother Teresa CES, Grade 1/2

I want to share that my experience teaching English online has been a very positive one. What I like best is being able to communicate with my students about their work in real time. Because all of my materials are digital, I am able to go in and check on students’ work and provide feedback that they can apply immediately. I am able to communicate with my students quickly and privately, update comments and marks, and share materials with the click of a few buttons. My online teaching experience has been great!

Nida Kartavicius, St. Stephen CSS, Grade 9 English

I used to have an assignment in class where students were responsible for designing/creating the prayer table and bulletin board based on the Month/Virtue. I now made this a virtual assignment and we have a virtual prayer table in our online classroom. The kids have done an incredible job with this assignment virtually and have not only enjoyed creating it but enjoyed sharing their creations as well.

Virtual Prayer Table

Kelly Kloosterman, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Virtual School, Grade 8

My grade 10 French Immersion History class created a website this year to demonstrate their learning over the course of the semester. They then assessed their own learning by doing a screencast of their website. I was truly almost moved to tears by the quality of their work and the depth and breadth of their understanding.

Jennifer Bates, St. Thomas Aquinas CSS, Grade 9-12 English and French Teacher

Through an experiential learning grant, our class was able to participate in a series of virtual cooking classes with Rooks to Cooks. The students made a total of three lunches for their families and learned some important skills including how to season and taste food while cooking, how to use kitchen tools including knives safely, what nutrients are important for our health, and how to use information on food labels to make sure we are eating a balanced diet. We used a spreadsheet to calculate how much the ingredients would cost so that our parents and guardians had an idea of the budget for each meal. We applied our understanding of pure substances and mixtures to explore the effects of mixing a variety of ingredients. We also discussed the difference between chemical and physical reactions, although that is part of the high school science curriculum. The sessions were such a great success that we decided to try a baking session together just before Christmas, and the students have asked to make it a weekly part of our learning!

Collage of Student Culinary Projects

Meaghan Hegarty, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Virtual School, Grade 7

I do a podcast each morning for our morning announcements. The teachers play them at the beginning of our school day. I have had students email to thank me – that they look forward to hearing them because it makes them feel they are in the building.

Lynn Lospinuso, St. Mother Teresa CES, ILP and IAT teacher

We learned about “la maison” and students were able to share a room from their own house; the class had to guess the room based on several clues given in French. We had fun turning off our cameras and reappearing like magic in a different room of the house! We also had a whole week of Spirit Days, including Beach Day (pictured), Sports Day and Crazy Hat Day and used these themes to guide some of our daily conversations and movement activities.

Screengrab of virtual school learning

Alison Janssen, St. Dominic CES, Grade 1 FI

During pre-Covid blood drives (the last one was the Feb 2020), I had over 20 students come out to donate. During COVID, about four to six students donate every month, but I think that they are the ones who are truly dedicated and brave!  They know there is a more urgent need right now, and that there are only limited time-sensitive appointments.

Students giving blood

Angelique Dias, St. Stephen CSS, Religion Teacher

We were inspired by Inspirations in Kindergarten (@InspirationsinK) on Twitter, to have our students create self portraits using loose parts and random objects found in their homes.

Loose objects virtual project

Michelle Clay & Jennifer Crigger, St. Catherine CEC, French Immersion Kindergarten/Teacher