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April 7, 2020

Annaleigh Kress: Diving into distance learning

April 7, 2020

Annaleigh Kress is the digital age learning coordinator at the American School of Milan. Originally from New Hampshire, Kress received her undergraduate degree in educational theater from NYU and has taught at international schools in New York City, London and, now, Italy. She is a graduate of MSU’s MAET program, where she studied educational technology in Galway, Ireland for three summers. To learn more about Kress, visit her website and connect with her on Twitter at @mskress3.

As I sit here in the fourth week of distance learning and the second week of lockdown, it feels as though the world has turned upside down. Europe has now become the epicenter of the coronavirus, with Milan right at its center. Our region of Italy, Lombardy, got hit hard and fast in the early weeks of this pandemic, and suddenly we have become the focus of the news around the world. 

For us at the American School of Milan, it began the Sunday evening after our winter break, Feb. 23, when we received word from the government that students were prohibited from attending school. 

Luckily, teachers were still able to gather at school to discuss and prepare for online learning before we were mandated to stay home, too. That day was invaluable. Not only were we able to meet face-to-face in grade level and department teams, but it also allowed us to gather important resources from school.

In the world of educational technology, we’re always looking to shake things up and redefine what learning looks like for kids. We’re currently living with the exciting opportunity to live in a moment of change, while still grappling with the day-to-day logistics of this big transition. 

The first week was mostly focused on getting kids online and putting routines in place, yet it was clear that not all teachers were well-equipped with resources or skills to make distance learning a success. 

Some students and teachers really thrive in this environment, while others are struggling with the lift to a 100% online platform. To help bridge this gap, our director of technology and I put together a website where teachers could find information, tutorials and examples of the best tools for distance learning. 

With an abundance of resources and free subscriptions, we tried to be very purposeful about what we recommend to our teachers. After two days, the website launched. Our teachers are now using it as a home base for tech support and are gaining confidence in their tech skills every day.

Late last week, the virus began its significant spread to other countries within Europe. Our administrators wanted to share our resources with other international schools who were desperate for some guidance. Much like we relied heavily on the help of schools in Asia, we wanted to pay it forward to others who wanted to follow in our footsteps and share our website with them. 

Boosting morale

At first, there was an air of excitement at the opportunity to work from home in our pajamas. Waking up to a later alarm and never leaving the couch felt like a luxury. However, the fun of staying home quickly wore off. 

By week two, our whole school community felt the group sigh of “How much longer will we have to do this?” As we now enter our fourth week of online learning, and our second week of lockdown, maintaining positive morale has been one of our biggest challenges. 

So how have we been coping? With every internet trick we can think of. 

Teachers started to share baby photos for “Throwback Thursday.” Our PE teacher hosted live 10-minute workouts from his balcony via Google Meet. Another teacher created a Facebook group called Quarantine Cuisine where people share recipes of their quarantine meals. My roommates and I even formed a band and sent everyone this uplifting song “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. Another colleague wrote and recorded his own song about washing hands, and one of our teachers got her whole family involved in a video production of Ten Tips for Online Learning. 

Needless to say, we’ve been doing everything in our virtual power to lift each others’ spirits.

However, real human connections are even more of a necessity. It is easy to feel alone, bored, stir-crazy, frustrated and disheartened by this situation. Mental health can take a real hit. 

In Italy, flash mobs are growing in popularity by the day, out of a need for togetherness. Here in Milan, we applaud for all of the doctors and nurses at noon. At 6 p.m. we play music and sing for each other and, at 9 p.m., we shine flashlights from our windows. 

Children are making banners that read “Andrá tutto bene” or “everything will be okay” to hang in the streets. These small moments are the highlights of my day. 

Seeing others standing on their balconies or poking heads out of windows is a reminder that we are not alone. You are also not alone!