‘We don’t have a playbook on this’: An inside look at the new ‘learning from home school’ in Winnipeg

WINNIPEG — Schools in Manitoba have been in session for a little more than two weeks now, and for many teachers and students that means connecting through computers.

“Teachers are doing the exact same things they were doing, with the same passion, the same energy, just we’re doing it through a screen now,” said Thaddeus Bourassa, a grade six teacher in the Louis Riel School Division (LRSD).

“That’s how we’re connecting with our families.”

Bourassa is one of several teachers in the LRSD’s ‘Learning from Home School.’

A meeting space in the division’s office was repurposed in order to adapt to new, home-based learning.

“We don’t use words like ‘remote’ or ‘virtual’ because really what we’re working here to do is to build relationships and community with this group of students,” said Darcy Cormack, a principal for the ‘Learning from Home School.’

Teachers are spread around the room, each with their own station.

Of the more than 15,000 students in the division, about 500 have been approved to learn from home. Cormack said staff from across the division were reassigned in order to make this all a reality.

A new position was also created after students expressed concerns in the spring about needing more time with their teachers.

“The instructional intern will be a liaison between the classroom teacher and each student in their classroom, and will do follow up phone calls and team meetings with students and parents to ensure they’re on track,” said Cormack.

These positions are filled primarily by university students who are studying education.

French immersion is also being offered for students in grades one through eight — something the division said was important to do.

“Going to school in French is what these students know best, and it certainly is what they want to return to after the pandemic,” said Jeff Anderson, a principal for the ‘Learning from Home School.’

The teachers who are taking part in this school have their own dedicated class, which is similar in size to what you’d get in a brick and mortar classroom. Teachers will also soon have a space to create some pre-recorded content to add to their lessons.

Given all the changes this year, the teachers have also become the students.

“We don’t have a playbook on this. There isn’t a quick Google search,” said Bourassa. “I’ve always considered myself a lifelong learner, and for any teacher who’s returning to the classrooms or from a context where you’re teaching students, and you’re using a program like Microsoft Teams, it’s new.”

For students taking part in home-based learning through the LRSD, assessments will follow the same timeline as those in a physical classroom. Teachers will still have conferences with parents, and report cards will be given as normal. 

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