Digital Learning with Heart
Courtney Caldwell, Director of Teaching and Learning

By Courtney Caldwell, Director of Teaching and Learning

The past few weeks have made me prouder than ever to be a member of this community.

As the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic became increasingly apparent in the past few weeks, I began reaching out to friends from my international teaching days to get their advice on digital learning. Many of them have been engaging in this new frontier for weeks and provided excellent tips for structuring the day and individual classes, how to maintain a work-life balance and the best systems for checking in with students. As the COVID-19 outbreak began, around the globe, teachers began sharing best practices for digital learning. It has been powerful to be a part of the educator community coming together to crowdsource digital learning globally.

Over the course of two days, our faculty joined together to embrace and learn new tools like FlipGrid, EdPuzzle, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Forms and Polly Polls. These tools enable us to frequently assess student growth and allow them to engage with us and one another so we can keep our community of learners intact. Our teachers became students to learn the best ways to continue teaching and mentoring our girls. And, throughout all of this outreach, preparation and learning, we knew that merely planning for our students’ continued academic success would not be enough.

As Director of Teaching and Learning, I deeply care that students have engaging, thoughtful, creative and challenging lessons every day. Experience has taught me that this simply isn’t enough to sustain them (or us). We bring our full selves to school every day. Therefore, the more whole we are, the more space we have for learning and growth. Strong curricula are only part of what the Forest Ridge community provides. We have an additional responsibility to educate the full person in the Sacred Heart tradition.

While the current method of teaching has changed, what we want for and expect from our students has not. During the last few weeks, we have seen the students embrace and build on the skills we focus on every day; problem-solving, compassion for others, joyful purpose and so much more. They are technology problem-solvers. They are mentors to one another (and sometimes to us, if we’re honest). They are team-players, willing to try new things, patient and resilient. They have demonstrated tremendous flexibility, as seen by the adjustments we’ve already made to our schedule and expectations. Together, we are working hard to find the balance between maintaining rigorous standards, taking breaks from screen time, creating time for family and helping the girls find new ways to nurture their friendships.

The shift to digital learning has provided opportunities in unexpected ways. I see students advocating for themselves in ways I haven’t seen previously. Last week, for example, two students pinged me on Microsoft Teams just to chat. I was thrilled and we were able to commiserate as extroverts during this somewhat introverted time.

The ASB officers reached out to the faculty for help brainstorming ways teachers and students can continue building community from a distance. Students are having lunch together over Microsoft Teams. Some advisors are having advisees write snail mail letters to one another (imagine that)! Students have even requested a tab on our website for volunteer opportunities they can safely do from home.

A Forest Ridge student is smart, thoughtful and curious. She’s also willing to take risks and be innovative and determined, even when the situation is not ideal. She knows that we’re all staying home not just to protect ourselves but to protect the greater community. All of us miss being at Forest Ridge, maybe even more than we thought we would. In the meantime, we’ll continue the work of being thinkers with resilient hearts.


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