Striving for Balance and Flexibility in Teaching and Grading

Kathleen DiSanto, Upper School Science Teacher

As a teacher, I’ve sought to pursue and maintain what many educators have called “a growth mindset.” This means that I always try to be open to using new strategies and methods to enhance my students’ learning.

When I studied science in high school, college, and graduate school, the teacher usually functioned as “the sage on the stage,” someone who lectured, instructed, and explained. But when I became a teacher myself, I quickly realized that students would learn more deeply and effectively if I sometimes served as “the guide on the side,” someone who provides them with direction and support as they discover information and concepts and formulate new ideas themselves. 

In the classroom, I seek to strike a balance between teacher-centered learning and student-centered learning. Sometimes lecturing is the most effective way to supply and consolidate information clearly, thoroughly and efficiently. Lectures also provide the skills, structure, and vocabulary that allow students to then pursue their own exploration in purposeful and systematic ways. Learning is like the process of building a house; the teacher builds the foundation and framework so that students can complete the structure by constructing the interior walls, rooms and ceilings.

What does student-directed learning look like? In my physics courses, it often involves practical, bite-sized activities that enable students to test skills and concepts they’ve learned from lectures and apply them to real-world experiences. 

To study Newton’s Second Law of Motion, for instance, my students perform test runs of a moving cart with a fan attached to it. While varying the speed of the fan and the mass of the cart, students time the cart to determine its acceleration. They soon discover that, as Newton stated, the greater the mass of the object, the greater the force (the fan) needed to accelerate it.  

Student-center learning can also involve group work. When performing calculations in class, for instance, each of my students writes, not in a notebook, but on on a 24 in. by 24 in. white board. This enables students to share their work with other students more easily, a process that often generates lively chatter and even laughter as students compare and discuss their computations. I’ve learned that a loud class isn’t necessarily a bad class, and that everyone can be a little bit silly and still learn.

I also try to achieve flexibility and balance in my grading policies. Most of my teachers in high school and college based their grading on content and details rather than process and offered no opportunities for reassessments. Instead, I evaluate my students on the skills they’ve learned. Rather than receiving one grade for an assessment, each student earns a separate score for each skill demonstrated, and during the course of a semester each skill is assessed at least three times. Recognizing that students learn at different rates, I offer each student the opportunity to take up to two reassessments per semester covering up to three skills of their choosing. 

I envision the flow between teacher-directed learning and student-directed learning, as well as the pace and progress of each student’s mastery, as a wave-like pulse that surges and wanes throughout the semester. Achieving the right equilibrium in methods of teaching and assessing students is challenging but ultimately effective, rewarding and enjoyable for my students and for me. 

Restorative Circle Builds Character and Community

Kathy Dunn, Associate Head of the Middle School

When a student breaches standards of good citizenship, schools have traditionally responded with punitive measures, such as after-school study halls, Saturday detentions, or even suspensions. But recent research has shown that such threats of punishment and restriction do very little to improve students’ future behavior or enhance their self-awareness and growth. Moreover, systems based on rigid discipline contribute to a stressful atmosphere in which teachers are seen as enforcers and students are less likely to tell teachers about the infractions of classmates.

With these insights in mind, our Middle School has moved this year toward a restorative model that treats student discipline as a learning process. Rather than imposing a set of fixed penalties and procedures, the school asks students who have broken the rules to take responsibility for the impact their behavior has had on others and to repair the damage they have done. 

We do this by convening a “restorative circle” where a student who has made a mistake meets face-to-face with the students and teachers who have been affected by their actions. The student also invites one person – a friend, teacher, or coach – to be present for support.  

In the restorative circle, the student listens as each person describes what happened, how they were affected by it, and what needs to happen for things to be better – for restoration. The group then discusses possible resolutions of the problem, adjusting their responses to the specific nature of the offense and the particular attitude, needs, and situation of the student. Finally, their conclusions are summarized in a written agreement that everyone in the circle signs. 

This collaborative process, in which each person has an equal voice, provides an opportunity for students and teachers to work together to build a stronger community. In the circle, teachers become humanized and seen, not as punishers, but as partners who express their honest feelings about what has happened and contribute to finding solutions.

This process has the potential to shift the culture of the Middle School away from one of rules and compliance to one of responsibility and community. Students come to understand that the actions of one person can affect everyone and that each of them plays a role in setting and supporting standards of behavior. 

Under a punitive system, students who make mistakes fear punishment, so they’re often defensive, deceitful, and evasive when confronted. Likewise, students are hesitant to tell teachers about others’ negative behavior because they don’t want to get anyone into trouble. This leads not only to a toxic culture of gossip, rumor and factionalism, but also prevents teachers from ever hearing about hurtful student actions and behaviors that need to be addressed.

Under the restorative model, where the consequences for breaking the rules are more supportive than punitive, students who misbehave are more willing to admit their mistake, and students who witness misbehavior are more likely to share the information with teachers. This year, in fact, more students than ever before are coming to tell me about infractions, and this openness has helped our school to confront these issues quickly, openly, and effectively.  

Some of our sports teams, advisee groups, and classes have begun to use the restorative process to resolve issues among their members, and I hope this thoughtful, responsive process will help our school become a healthier, happier, and harmonious community. 

Language Provides Access to a Wider World

Ron Garcia, Upper School Spanish Teacher

Learning a foreign language is a gateway that enables us to meet and interact with people from communities very different from our own, thus enriching our understanding of them and of ourselves. This power of language to bring people together has been abundantly clear as I’ve accompanied groups of students on service trips to the small, impoverished town of Tobati in Paraguay each March for the past two decades. 

The idea for this annual two-week excursion began during my boyhood. Each year at Christmas time, my family and I visited Tobati, where my mother had grown up. As a boy in Indiana, I had heard Spanish spoken only in my home, so it was exhilarating to visit Tobati, where the little linguistic world of my family was expanded to a wider atmosphere. 

When I became a Spanish teacher, I knew I wanted to recreate my childhood experience for my students by bringing them to Tobati. During these excursions, students work side-by-side with Paraguayans to build schools and playgrounds, upgrade medical facilities and water supplies, and harvest crops.

On these trips, I’ve observed that almost all of our students were able to communicate in Spanish, not because they spoke flawlessly, but because they were confident enough to take risks, to make mistakes in grammar, agreement and pronunciation, but nevertheless be understood. This reinforced the important lesson that the goal of learning a second language isn’t perfection; it’s being able to communicate effectively in real-world situations.

In Tobati our students learn other lessons as well. They encounter abject poverty and witness the realities of inadequate food, water, housing, education and medical resources. This, of course, instills a deeper appreciation for all the economic advantages they enjoy in the United States.

But they also come to understand and appreciate a way of life that is, in some respects, superior to our own. The American dream of meritocracy, which promises that hard work and talent will bring great success, is almost completely absent in Paraguay, a place where most people are born poor and are likely to remain so for their entire lives. 

But oddly enough, most Paraguayans are happy. They don’t view poverty as the result of failure or a lack of work ethic or talent. In fact, their challenging conditions contribute to collective community efforts and to tight connections among families, friends and neighbors. 

Life is lived at a much slower pace than in the U.S. People always greet one another with a kiss, a handshake or a hug. Meals, however simple, are leisurely and joyful.

In Tobati, American students, who often struggle with stress and pressure in their lives, meet joyful, outgoing and friendly people who face all types of significant challenges every day but are completely at peace with themselves.

One of my fondest moments during every trip to Tobati comes on our last evening there when our students collaborate with Paraguayan children in small groups to choreograph, rehearse and perform inventive and elaborate dance routines for the entire community. Americans and Paraguayans put away their inhibitions and give themselves fully to the music and spirit of the moment. 

After this joyful, refreshing and inspiring event, our students bid their final farewells to the children. It’s no wonder that everyone is crying.    

Statistics and Economics Plunge Students into the Real World 

Tracy Deeter, Upper School History and Math Teacher

What can students learn from projects as diverse as constructing a chain of paper links and bouncing a Batman action figure on a rubber-band bungee cord? 

These are some of the enjoyable and instructive classroom activities I use in my Advanced Placement Statistics and Economics courses to strengthen my students’ reasoning skills and their ability to approach complex problems with open minds, keen observation and objective analysis. 

In A.P. Statistics, my primary goal is to encourage flexible thinking and to approach statistical data with a critical eye. Are there inherent biases in how this information is collected or presented? Are the inferences drawn from it correct? 

To encourage this critical approach, I often ask students to first conduct a real-world group experiment with no prior knowledge or assumptions and then process and assess the results later. This method gives students consistent practice in contributing original ideas, making connections between ideas, and constructing an understanding of new content in a collaborative environment.

In the Bungee Batman Jump, for instance, students attach a bungee cord made of linked rubber bands to a Batman action figure and drop it toward the ground 15 feet below. Before the drop, each group of students constructs a linear regression model to calculate the number of rubber bands that will give Batman his maximum plunge without crashing into the ground.  

Each group asks: How accurate are our predictions for Batman’s drop? Is it wise to use extrapolation? How do outlier conjectures affect our linear regression model? 

Such practical experimentation enriches my A.P. Economics course as well. Economics is a social science that examines the way people make decisions. Students quickly learn that every decision in economics involves both benefits and costs, including overlooked marginal benefits, such as a company’s reputation, or unforeseen opportunity costs, i.e., how does the action we’re taking preclude us from taking other beneficial actions? So we engage in activities that illustrate concepts involving making choices. 

In the Paper Chain Game, students explore the cost-benefits dynamic in labor supply by creating a mini-factory. Students are divided into groups of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 people. Each group is given the same resources – a stack of paper, a pair of scissors and a stapler – and asked to create a chain with as many paper loops as they can in three minutes. 

Which group will be able to produce the most links? At what point does increasing the number of workers stop adding to the productivity of the group? What is the optimal number of workers to hire? What are the benefits and costs of hiring that number, or of hiring fewer or more workers?

Of course, not every activity in these two classes involves fun and games, but we often apply the concepts we learn to relevant social and practical issues. 

Statistics students, for instance, investigate whether research data on New York City’s “Stop-and-Frisk” program provides enough evidence to prove that police are racially biased. Economics students explore the reasons male pro golfers make more money than female pros and why Ben and Jerry’s provides financial support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Connecting concepts to real-life data, whether it concerns bungee jumps or racial bias, brings these concepts to life for students.     

Preparing Students for the Metaphors of Life

Ron Monroe, Upper School English teacher

What has been my primary mission as an English teacher? As I reflect on my 44 years in the classroom, I keep coming back to the notion that I’m helping my students to live and thrive in a world of metaphor. I hope that by thinking, writing and discussing the complex meanings found in literature, they’ll come to understand that almost everything and everyone they encounter in life is, to some degree, a metaphor embodying complex meanings.

Just as an object in a poem, a character in a novel, or a gesture in a play can be interpreted in a variety of ways, so too can the events, ideas and people my students will experience in their lives. My goal is to encourage students to look beyond superficial appearances and to realize that there’s always more to something than we see initially. I hope to equip them with the analytical skills needed to decode and navigate deeper layers of meaning, enabling them to lead more fulfilling, more thoughtful, and more productive lives.

For this reason, one of my favorite novels to teach is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Most of us are familiar with the more prominent symbols in the novel, such as the green light on Daisy’s dock and the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg on the billboard, but almost every character, incident, conversation or object in the novel also bears multiple meanings. 

We view all the events in the novel through the eyes of the narrator, Nick Carraway. But who is Nick? Is he a steadfast reporter who tells the story straight? Or does he shade the story to reflect his own biases and judgments and to hide his own weaknesses? Can we trust Nick to tell the truth?

And then there’s the complexity of Gatsby himself. In chapter 4, when Nick and Gatsby are driving into Manhattan, Gatsby gives Nick what seems to be a load of baloney about attending Oxford University, living like a raja in all the capitals of Europe, and machine-gunning Germans during World War I. But when Gatsby pulls out an authentic medal for valor from the tiny nation of Montenegro, Nick begins to think these stories might all be true. In fact, Nick doesn’t know what to think, and neither do we, the readers. And it’s just that uncertainty I want students to explore, discuss and analyze. Just who is this guy Gatsby anyway? 

To be honest, when I was the age of my students, I pretty much took life and literature at face value, paying little attention to ambiguity and complexity. But sometime during college, with the help of brilliant and provocative professors and classmates, I learned to live in the world of metaphor, to think beyond the obvious and to explore ambiguity and complexity, not only intellectually but emotionally. 

My life has been the richer for it. That’s why I’ve tried to create that same experience for my students so that they’ll gradually develop what Fitzgerald described as a “first-rate intelligence” – “the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”      

Sharing the Joy of Math

Denise Garcia, Upper School Math Teacher

Excitement. Joy. Pride. These probably aren’t the words most of us would associate with the study of math. Yet these are the emotions my students and I experience as we explore this elegant realm of beauty, logic, and precision.

             I first knew I wanted to be a math teacher at the age of 17 when I volunteered to tutor a younger girl in arithmetic. The pride and joy on her face at the moment she mastered the process of subtraction told me I had found my calling.

            Solving a challenging math problem requires not only perseverance, tenacity, and determination, but also flexibility, improvisation, and creativity. I challenge students to devise new ways of looking at a problem, to break it down into its simpler components, to use the known to discover the unknown.

            One of the deepest pleasures of solving math problems is total engagement in the task at hand. The process can be almost meditative. When my math professors in college would give me a take-home test, for instance, I would put my hair in a ponytail, head straight to the library, and immerse myself completely in the problems for hours. My concentration was so intense that the outside world didn’t exist. One time, I was so intensely focused on a problem that a friend sat near me in the library drawing a sketch of me and I never even noticed her presence.

            Math shouldn’t be easy. It should push your brain and use every cell in your brain to circle in on a problem and devise a variety of possible approaches. What questions does the problem raise? What might work? What else can I try? What elements of this problem have I seen before? What might I be overlooking?   

            Unlocking the secret of a tough problem through hard work, ingenuity, and patience is like cracking a safe. When the tumblers fall into place and the door opens, students experience an amazing sense of exhilaration and accomplishment.

             These are skills, processes, and experiences that will equip students in whatever endeavors or careers they pursue. Learning how to size up a problem, pursue logical steps to figure it out, and then explain your solution to others is essential, whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a governor, or a business leader.

            I love teaching math at Kingswood Oxford. Because the classes are small, I know my students well; we joke around; they feel comfortable telling me when they don’t understand something. For all of us, math is personal; when they figure out a hard problem, I’m as excited as they are. Above all, I really want my students to love math as much as I do.

Teachers Pursue Professional Development to Meet Pandemic Challenges

by Heidi Hojnicki, Director of Teaching and Learning

Despite the logistical limitations imposed by the current pandemic, our teachers’ vigorous efforts to enhance their professional growth and discover new ways to engage and excite our students have continued unabated.

Although teachers are no longer able to meet in person for workshops and group discussions, they’ve pivoted to address the challenges of both online learning and in-person classes requiring masks and social distancing. Teachers have acquired new skills, perspectives and technologies to help their students become effective, independent and passionate learners.

A Collaborative Venture

Because this is an exceptionally difficult time, connecting with one another is more important than ever. So this year our professional development efforts have focused on collaborative learning among teachers. By working together with their colleagues, teachers are modeling the collaborative learning they seek to nurture in our students.     

Thanks to the magic of Zoom technology, our teachers have continued to participate in full faculty meetings, peer presentations, remote workshops, support sessions and individual check-ins to make sure they’re encouraging and sustaining one another’s professional growth and well being.

New Resources and Strategies

Necessity has made us all innovators. Teachers share the latest technology applications, online educational resources and fresh strategies to deliver content, engage our students and help them take ownership of their own learning. 

By thinking critically about our curriculum, the ways classes can meet both synchronously and asynchronously, and how we can best meet the needs of all our students, our teachers have devised workarounds, improvisations and solutions that are creative and ingenious.

Sharing Innovative Ideas

During our recent professional development day in early January, teachers gathered on Zoom to discuss ways of implementing the school’s Strategic Vision into their classes. Several faculty members presented work they’re already doing that embraces elements of the Strategic Vision. While it was definitely more challenging to share the work of our colleagues through Zoom rather than in-person, these presentations offered us all not only creative inspiration but also a wonderful moment of connection.

The presentations and the values of the school’s 2020 Strategic Vision they exemplified were:

• Choreographer Showcase with creative arts teacher Kyle Reynolds addressed: 

  • partnering with people and institutions in the Greater Hartford area 
  • engaging in real-world learning opportunities 
  • working toward equity goals  
  • Collaborative Math Problems with math teacher Chris Vicevich addressed: 
    • working toward equity goals 
    • developing compassionate collaborators 
    • developing ethical problem solvers  
  • Global Cities with history teachers David Baker and Scott Dunbar addressed: 
  • developing ethical problem solvers  
  • engaging in real-world learning opportunities
  • The KO Garden: Soil Composition and Composting with science teachers Tim Allerton, Lisa Bailey and Natalie Lynd addressed: 
    • developing compassionate collaborators 
    • engaging students in real-world learning opportunities
    • leading and serving in the wider community 
    • developing active citizens 
  • The Lunchroom Recipe Project with math teacher Megan Farrell addressed: 
    • developing compassionate collaborators 
    • engaging in real-world learning opportunities 
  • The Power of Water with history teacher Peter Burdge, science teacher Josh Garrison and English teacher Beth Repp addressed: 
    • engaging in interdisciplinary learning opportunities 
    • engaging students in real-world learning opportunities 
  • Witness Stones with history teachers Katie McCarthy and Tricia Watson addressed: 
    • partnering with people and institutions in the Greater Hartford area
    • developing ethical problem solvers  
    • engaging students in real-world learning opportunities 
    • working toward equity goals 
    • leading and serving in the wider community 
    • developing active citizens

Connecting With One Another

Collaborating equitably requires relationship building. As we adults form relationships across disciplines and departments on campus, we are modeling this transformative act of working together for our students, preparing them to enter the global community knowing how to create local community. KO adults and students alike are strong, resilient and resourceful in large part because we care about each other and connect with one another.

New Methods, Schedules for In Person Classes Provide Expanded Opportunities for Learning

by Jackie Rubin, Director of Academic Skills 

All members of our school community have shown remarkable flexibility, creativity and resourcefulness as they’ve implemented in-person learning under pandemic protocols this year. In making adjustments to meet this challenge, teachers and students have discovered ingenious ways to enrich and energize the educational experience, both inside and outside the classroom. 

The new academic schedule necessitated by the pandemic has fostered rich opportunities for independent, experimental and exploratory learning. Moreover, because teachers are also adjusting to this new environment, they themselves have become learners, fostering a sense of camaraderie with their students.  

Masks and Motion      

Wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and sitting in rows facing the teacher are new and unfamiliar experiences for students who have become accustomed to sitting in a circle, moving around the classroom, and collaborating on group work. 

But after enduring the limitations and isolation of online learning last spring, students are very happy to be back to “real life” with their friends and teachers, and they’ve energetically and enthusiastically risen to these new challenges.

Speaking Up

Projecting your voice through a face mask that covers your mouth and nose isn’t easy, but students have adapted by speaking more loudly and enunciating more clearly. This enables them to practice speaking authoritatively and emphatically, a skill that will boost their communication skills when masks are no longer required.


Because teachers and classmates can’t see one another’s facial expressions, students have found kinetic ways to indicate their responses, including nodding, clapping and giving “thumbs-up” signs. Teachers have encouraged students to “go big” with their reactions, and these creative gestures make classes more dynamic and enliven students’ sense of spontaneity and fun. 

Spreading Out

Teachers have been especially creative in finding ways to allow students to engage in face-to-face discussions and work together in small groups. Literally “thinking outside the box” of the classroom, teachers often move classes to larger spaces or outdoors, which allows students to face one another during full-class discussions. Sometimes teachers send groups of two or three students to vacant classrooms, halls or lobbies for collaboration. Students also work regularly with one another in Zoom breakout rooms to incorporate remote learners and maintain the safety of social distancing. 

Exploration and Experimentation

Under the school’s pandemic-adjusted schedule, students are spending only four days, instead of five, in the classroom per week and now have 15 minutes, rather than five minutes, between classes. Each Wednesday is dedicated entirely to asynchronous learning, which provides valuable time for students to hold one-on-one meetings with teachers, participate in group extra-help sessions, meet for collaborative small-group projects, work solo on an assignment or conduct independent research.

By building in more time for non-classroom learning, the school has provided students with expanded opportunities to take risks, to discover new interests, and dive deeply into subjects that fascinate them. Through group work online, students have more time to teach one another and to enjoy interactions with classmates and teachers. They also have more freedom to pursue their intellectual, artistic and creative interests, such as reading, painting, writing, singing and playing instruments. 

Resilience, Reflection and Renewal

The school has responded to the challenges of the pandemic with ingenuity and flexibility. By devising new classroom strategies and innovative schedules, our teachers have enabled students to take more responsibility for their own learning, to hone their communications skills, and to savor more time for personal reflection, growth and renewal. These have always been fundamental goals of a Kingswood Oxford education. Necessity is the mother of invention, and our school intends to continue many of the learning strategies devised to adjust to the pandemic, such as additional open-ended work, a more skillful incorporation of technology and a less rushed pace of learning, even after the pandemic ends. 

Applying To College in the Age of Covid-19

by Jami Silver, Director of College Advising

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 continues to dramatically alter the college admissions landscape. Many of the methods and markers that colleges have traditionally used to evaluate candidates have been disrupted or de-emphasized. Meanwhile, the pandemic-induced recession has led both students and colleges to reassess their financial realities and priorities. 

While these shifts pose significant challenges for college applicants, they also provide the opportunity for students to discover, explore and communicate their unique interests and their true selves.

• How the Pandemic Has Changed the Admissions Process 

Standardized Tests

Colleges have been reducing their reliance on the SAT and ACT for several years now, and the pandemic has dramatically accelerated this trend. Because in-person administrations of these tests have been greatly reduced, fewer students have been able to take them. As a result, many more colleges have now made these scores optional or discontinued their use altogether.


When secondary schools turned to online and hybrid learning last spring and this fall, students completed fewer tests, papers, and other assessments, and grading of necessity became more subjective and generous; some schools simply adopted a pass-fail system. Consequently, grades earned during the spring/fall semesters of 2020 are not always reliable indicators of achievement.


The suspension of traditional, in-person extracurricular activities, such as clubs, athletics, publications, and performances, as well as summer internships, academic programs and sports camps, has deprived students of certain opportunities to demonstrate to colleges their talent, breadth, creativity, and leadership.


While the cost of financing higher education has been skyrocketing over the years, the financial pressures of the pandemic have forced many families to reconsider the realities of paying for college. More students are applying for financial aid and prioritizing cost as a factor in deciding which colleges they apply to and choose to attend. At the same time, many colleges, facing diminishing enrollment and tuition revenue, have been forced to reduce the financial aid they offer.

• Who Are You? What Can You Control? 

Students can no longer rely on the traditional checkboxes of the admissions process. Instead, students now have the opportunity to focus more intensely on what they love to do, why they love to do it, and who they truly are. The pandemic has provided students with more time to explore their authentic passions, whether it’s building and launching a model rocket, taking an online course through a Mooc (like Coursera), writing poems or short stories, starting a blog or podcast, volunteering at the election polls, or reading everything Dickens, Morrison or Wharton ever wrote.

• How Students Can Communicate Their Passions to Colleges

The college essay and teacher recommendations continue to be important in evaluating applicants and offer an opportunity for colleges to “get to know the student” beyond traditional indicators. 

The essay allows students to convey their passions, personality, character and style. Through storytelling, introspection, self-revelation, anecdotes and humor, students can put an emphatic exclamation point on their unique imprimaturs. In supplemental essays, which are geared to specific colleges, students can show how their identity and goals mesh with the values and culture of the college.

Likewise, teacher recommendations celebrate not only a students’ intellectual and academic abilities, but also their enthusiasm, effort and character, especially in response to the challenges of online learning. 

• Money Matters

A student’s answer to the question “Who am I?” is now likely to include “Which colleges can my family and I afford?” The economic consequences of the pandemic and the $75,000-plus costs of exclusive private colleges, have led many families to take a fresh look at less expensive public universities and to prioritize financial aid in choosing a college. While every family’s financial situation is different, it’s important that all students and parents think realistically and strategically as they try to match family resources with college costs.

• The Process of Self-Discovery Continues

While many unknowns remain about what college will look like during the next few years or how the admission process will evolve, students will continue to have the opportunity to get to know themselves, how they define success and why they want to go to college. These aspects of the college process, while often overlooked, will remain very important.  

What Parents Should Know About Online Learning

by Dan Bateson, Director of Technology

In adjusting to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, Kingswood Oxford teachers have quickly pivoted to implement a variety of technological resources and platforms to provide students with effective remote and concurrent learning. Understandably, this rapid transition to online learning has raised important concerns for many parents. These include:

• Will my child be safe online?

• How adept are my child’s teachers at online instruction?

• Will my child continue to develop social skills?

• How will my child build a strong relationship with teachers?

• Will my child be spending too much time online?

• Do I have the necessary technical expertise and digital devices to support my child in online learning?

I hope the following information will help to allay these concerns and provide parents more peace of mind about online learning, enabling them to share more fully with their children the richness, depth, and delight that digital learning can provide.  

Our Students Have Been Well Instructed in Digital Safety, Literacy, and Citizenship

Even before the school moved to online learning last spring, students were well prepared for this transition. For several years, two required courses – the Upper Prep Computer course for sixth graders and the VQV (“Vincit Qui Se Vincit”) program for Upper Schoolers – have been teaching students how to:

• engage with others online with respect and empathy

• evaluate the accuracy, perspective, and validity of online information

• use technology as a source for good

• balance priorities and time spent online and offline

• be alert and know how to be safe online, such as avoiding suspect websites, detecting scams, and protecting personal information

As the school engages more deeply in online learning, these courses have provided our students with a strong foundation in digital literacy and conduct, and our teachers are continually reinforcing these principles and guidelines. 

Our Teachers Are Experienced and Proficient With Educational Technology

For several years now, KO teachers have been on the cutting edge of using technology in the classroom. This experience has enabled them to make a natural, informed, and energetic transition to online platforms this year. 

Many of our teachers are intuitively and instinctively “early adopters” who are quick to familiarize themselves and their colleagues with the latest learning digital hardware and programs. As a consequence, our students are already well versed in the use of technology and comfortable with many of these platforms. 

A group of teachers who are especially expert in technology, known as “ATCs” (Academic Technology Coordinators), provide their colleagues with frequent ed-tech workshops and one-on-one computer support.

Effective Online Learning Fosters Social Interaction

When students aren’t able to be with their classmates and teachers in person, a variety of online activities and tools allow them to interact with one another. During online classes, teachers often provide “breakout rooms” where small groups of students can meet to discuss academic topics or collaborate on projects, research, reports or presentations. Even when the entire class is gathered online in synchronous learning, they interact through discussions, presentations and question-and-answer sessions.

Technology Can Foster Student-Teacher Relationships

Though technology is clearly not a substitute for in-person interaction, teachers continue to build strong relationships with their students by checking in with them frequently and inviting students for one-on-one meetings online to answer questions, clarify class material, and discuss papers, labs and projects.

Teachers Strive for Balance in Online and Offline Learning

Our teachers believe that students should experience a healthy balance of digital and “real world” education. Thus, in addition to their online classes, students still will continue to spend a good deal of time offline as they read, study, research, and write.

Parents Are Strong Partners in Online Learning

While the levels of parents’ digital fluency and comfort with technology vary widely, parents can support their children’s online learning by familiarizing themselves with the programs they’re using, asking them questions about the work they’re doing online, and ensuring that they’re completing their assignments for each class.

Because families use different types of devices and programs, the school has chosen platforms, such as G Suite for Education, which work across multiple devices. Likewise, the school also uses several different channels, including texts, emails, social media, telephone and regular mail, to communicate with parents.  

As the role of technology in education expands, the school may soon begin offering parents workshops on technology to help them support their children’s learning.

A Learning Platform for All of Us

I hope this information will help parents to approach the online learning process as their children do – with curiosity, enthusiasm, and confidence. From my experience, as parents become more familiar with their children’s online learning, they often begin to appreciate the many opportunities for creativity, curiosity, and originality that digital resources can provide.