When learning went online back in March, our Board was transitioning between Google and Microsoft. My teaching partner, Paula, and I started to use Microsoft Teams with our kindergarten students for some small group playdates. We definitely did not use the platform to its full potential, but we were determined to learn more about it for this upcoming school year. Thankfully I had the opportunity to experiment with Teams as part of my summer position as one of the Site Leads for the Virtual Camp Power. There is nothing like learning by doing, and I definitely did that here. By the end of camp, I had a way better understanding of MS Teams, but it was playing around with it for this year that helped me see more of its potential.
Back at the end of August, Paula and I created the shell for our Class Team.
We basically used MS Teams as a substitute for our Class Blog. While it was great to get families familiar with the platform, and have a space to share updates with parents, we realized that we were missing something important: parent engagement. All of the ideas and resources were coming from us, but how could we get students and families also connecting with us? Over the years, Aaron Puley has taught me a lot about parent engagement versus involvement, and we really want families to have a voice in our classroom.
Considering our goal, we invited parents to connect with us through Teams. They could send us messages, ask questions, and share ideas. As I mentioned in a tweet last week, a few parents have started to do this.
We wanted to try and engage families beyond this though. We know that wonderful thinking and learning happens at home, and seeing and hearing this learning in action, can support us as we plan for kids. Thanks to Aaron‘s suggestion from many years ago, in the past we offered extension prompts at the end of each of our blog posts. We invited parents to comment on the posts and share what they did at home, bring in the work to share in class, and/or email us about what they tried. We continue to love offering these home extension possibilities, but we wondered if families could upload learning directly into MS Teams. This is where our private channels came into play.
While we have the main channels that are accessible to all, every child has a private channel on MS Teams. The only people that can see this channel are us, the child, the child’s parents, and other staff members that might be working specifically with that child. This is how the Teams portfolio option began for us.
Slowly wonderful is happening thanks to these private channels.
Overall, uploading directly into Teams is very easy to do, with families just having to “Start a New Conversation,” and attach photographs and/or videos to the messages. Then nobody is frustrated by email messages that are too big to send or even the need to open a browser and login to an email program when Teams might already be open.
As we post our extension activities each night, we also suggest Teams for sharing learning. Not everybody is doing it right now, but more are doing it each day.
It’s a start, and this start makes us incredibly happy. Not only does our Class Team now include a family voice, but student portfolios include home/school connections. We think this could provide a powerful message to parents about how we value learning done at home as well as at school. This thinking aligns well with the Kindergarten Program Document and with our beliefs around the important role that families play in student learning.
Back in March, I think that we were most hung up around the synchronous video calling in Teams and the need to see more than 6 or 9 faces. Now though, we realize that Teams has many more possibilities beyond just video conferencing. How do you use the digital tool options supported by your Board? How do you ensure that families have a voice in these online classrooms and/or teams? As we all adjust to teaching during a pandemic, there is a lot of new to explore and uncover. If ever there was a time to share, I think that it is now. My hope is that others will tell about what they’re doing, so that we can all learn a little bit more together.