MBS holds Virtual Learning Conference
Mountain Brook Schools held the first week of its Virtual Learning Conference, The Great Virtualcation, from March 30 to April 3. The goal of the two-week conference is to equip all MBS teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful when eLearning begins on April 6.
“We knew that it was important for our teachers to learn how to execute an online lesson,” MBS Superintendent Dr. Dicky Barlow said. “I think what we underestimated was the impact it would have in allowing our teachers a chance to exhale and realize that they are fully capable of doing the work.”
The conference began with a keynote address from Barlow, who expressed his confidence in teachers to excel in an online setting. He also encouraged them to prioritize student well-being and relationships.
"You don’t need to worry about replicating the classroom,” Barlow said. “I’m asking you to love and care for your students, to establish a relationship with them that you’ve already built over the year, and extend the learning.”
eLearning instruction will focus only on essential material that students need to master before advancing to the next grade level. In regard to content, Barlow said that less is more given the stressful, unprecedented circumstances students and teachers now face during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re going to do the next right thing in everything that we do,” he said. “This is a new frontier, and it’s a terribly anxious time, but we’re going to continue to work together, and if we pull together and if we do the best we can with our community, we will thrive.”
Each of Mountain Brook’s six schools held virtual breakout sessions following Barlow’s Monday morning address. The next three days of the conference then consisted of live professional development video sessions via Google Meet that were moderated by MBS administrators, principals, and technology coordinators. All videos were archived and made available to teachers for on-demand viewing.
“We wanted them to be recorded so that at any time participants could go back and watch them based on their schedule,” MBS Director of Technology Suzan Brandt said. “But even if they participated in the live conference, they might also want to go back and review something.”
The Tuesday professional development sessions centered on best practices for eLearning, while the Wednesday and Thursday sessions centered on digital instruction. Teachers learned about the many online learning platforms and tools available to them, such as Canvas, Google Classroom, Seesaw, and Adobe Spark.
Brandt said she heard from many teachers throughout the week who told her they now feel less hesitant and better prepared for the transition to eLearning thanks to the conference.
“We wanted them to be familiar with online learning and understand what the environment was like, to practice in it, to become familiar with the different tools and options that they have for delivering instruction," Brandt said.
In addition to the main sessions, the conference featured prerecorded tutorials and office hours for one-on-one and small group instruction. MBS Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Missy Brooks and Director of Student Services Amanda Hood also hosted live chats addressing how teachers can best serve students who have educational plans in place.
“We just wanted teachers to gain confidence in their ability to deliver instruction virtually using the tools that we have and understand with a little more depth what those tools could actually offer them and the ways they could meet the needs of our kids,” Brooks said.
No live sessions were held on Friday to allow teachers time to prepare instructional material for the first week of eLearning and watch any sessions they may have missed. The conference will continue April 6-10 and provide information about specific tools that will help teachers move forward in eLearning. The district also will focus next week on supporting students and parents as they make the transition.
Mountain Brook Schools has developed a comprehensive eLearning plan that enables the district to continue providing an effective, challenging, and engaging education for every one of its students through the remainder of the academic year. The plan can be viewed here.
“I never imagined that our team could put together such a comprehensive plan from top to bottom in two weeks’ time,” Barlow said. “I could not be more proud of the administrators, leaders, teachers, and staff in their preparation.”