Lessons for All in First Week of Virtual Classes

Groton kicked off remote learning on April 2, stretching the minds and imaginations of teachers and students alike.
While many might not have dreamed of online class discussions even a month ago, the global experiment in virtual learning went smoothly.
The week began with a virtual chapel talk, hosted on Zoom, followed the next morning by a virtual faculty meeting. The Academic and IT departments had been working with teachers to help them understand their online teaching tools and how to put them into action.
On the first day of virtual classes, both teachers and students were ready—armed with lessons and good humor. Classics teacher Mary Frances Bannard was surprised when she saw the names of her Latin 1 students on the Zoom platform. “A bunch of them had changed their names to the names of characters from the stories we read in our textbook, so that when I came into the Zoom, I was met by Quintus, Horatia, Orbilius, Agamemnon, Flaccus, and Scintilla,” she said. “It was a pretty great way to begin online teaching.”
Like many faculty, Academic Dean and math teacher Kathy Leggat wasn’t sure just what to expect. “I breathed a huge sigh of relief as soon as it started to go extremely smoothly,” she said. After some free-spirited (and unmuted) discussion, Ms. Leggat split her Algebra 2 class into virtual rooms for small group discussions, then moved from room to room, listening in. Her conclusion: “My class was a blast.” 
Chief Technology Officer Elizabeth Preston said she was moved by the journey many faculty took from skeptic to capable online teacher. One challenge she recognized was that many teachers, through their expertise and experience, craft lessons to address questions before they arise. Now some were forced to confront the unknown, the sense, she said, that “I’m putting this out there, but I don’t know what issues to anticipate.”
The learning curve itself proved valuable. Headmaster Temba Maqubela found online teaching to be an excellent form of professional development. “It is exhilarating to be a learner as a teacher,” said Mr. Maqubela, whose students provided Zoom tips while he taught them organic chemistry. “Giving a group quiz where I can see the students collaborating, contradicting each other, and finally reaching consensus on what the answer should be is more intense on the screen, where all the facial expressions are evidence of the critical thinking and decision-making.”
Virtual activity began this week outside the classroom as well: some advisory groups met remotely, the Academic Support and Counseling offices offered guidance online, and the Admission Office held webinars for newly admitted students with faculty, parents, and students.
Next year, the trial-by-fire of virtual learning may be a memory, but for some, it will be one with lasting impact. “There’s no question in my mind that I’m going to be a better teacher,” said Ms. Leggat. “It’s really made me rethink how I teach.”