TASIS Faculty Rises to the Challenge

The entire TASIS Faculty is working incredibly hard to make the best of a difficult situation and ensure that our students continue to learn as we confront the coronavirus pandemic. These dedicated educators have done a heroic job transitioning to a whole new world. We would like to call attention to some of the early successes as TASIS completes its first week of distance learning.

To be clear, no one is saying this is perfect. Students desperately miss the social aspect of school. Yes, some have also expressed concerns about an excessive workload, the amount of time they spend in front of a screen, the challenges posed by being in different time zones, and the frustration of dealing with technical difficulties while grappling with different learning platforms. But given that this was the first week, and in light of the extraordinary position they’ve been put in, it is fair to say that these teachers—and the academic leaders and technology coordinators who have guided them—have risen to the occasion when their students have needed them most. 

In the words of one High School student. “Even though we faced an unexpected problem in school, TASIS already had the solution to this problem. I am really grateful to be in a school that takes care of all its students.” 

And while TASIS wisely began preparing to pivot to a distance learning model more than a month ago, putting the School well ahead of the curve, let us pause for a moment to consider what many educators around the world have been asked to do. Ken Buck, an American educator and school board member, summed it up nicely when he posted the following message on social media a few days ago:

We gave educators almost no notice. We asked them to completely redesign what school looks like and in about 24 hours local administrators and teachers “Apollo 13’ed” the problem and fixed it. Kids learning, children being fed, needs being met in the midst of a global crisis.

So let’s focus on the positives of the current situation at TASIS for a moment, shall we? As we reach the end of our first week of distance learning, we offer a look at some of the encouraging feedback from students or parents in each division.

High School

High School students were surveyed toward the end of week one and asked, how is distance learning going for you on a scale of 1–5, with 1 being “not well” and 5 being “very well”? Of the 126 responses, 41 percent were a 4 or 5, 37 percent were a 3, and 22 percent were a 1 or 2.

When asked if they think that they can continue to learn in each subject, 47 percent responded with a 4 or 5, 32 percent with a 3, and 21 percent with a 1 or 2.

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Here is a sample of their positive comments:

“It has been an amazing experience. In my opinion it is essential for all students to experience this during high school.”

“Distance learning is way more productive for me than face-to-face learning because I have a chance to look back at the recordings and the teachers teach at a slower pace online, which is also good. Also, even though I have been a bit distracted in some classes because it is initially a bit hard to adapt to this way of learning, I have a sense that I will eventually adapt very easily and that I’ll be more focused than in the usual setting because I can choose to look only at the screen and the teacher’s face and no one else’s. I don’t have to worry about the usual circumstances that one may worry about in a face-to-face class setting.”

“Distance learning is going well. I’m still adjusting to the whole thing, and I’m having a little trouble trying to balance all of my classes’ assignments and new guidelines for the structure of the class. I feel like I am learning just as well as normal school because my teachers are really putting a lot of effort into all the Zoom and Google Meet calls.” 

“Modern way of learning—I love it!” 

“I feel connected to my teachers and have a lot of time for studying and working while in self-quarantine.”

 “I feel like distance learning is allowing us as students to be very independent in our studying. The online apps used for classes have been working well, and I have been able to contact my teachers at any time,” 

“All classes post their assignments and videos that explain the topic. Teachers also include other resources to help explain the topics and facilitate the learning.”

“I feel like I’m putting more effort into my work than I would do at school, so that is good.”

“Distance learning is a new experience for all of us, including the teachers. All of my teachers have been very helpful by answering any questions or concerns we have. The one thing I have found hard is the online meetings, as it has been difficult to attend all of the classes because I am in a completely different time zone. However, I am able to watch the recordings and complete the work successfully.”

“It is going pretty great; it seems like we are still in the classroom.”

“So far this program has been working pretty well. Obviously it doesn’t fully simulate the class experience, but it still delivers the right amount of information.”

“All the teachers explain very clearly what they expect from us and are available to help us individually.”

“Initially I was worried that with distance learning I wasn’t really going to learn anything new, but it’s actually going pretty well and I understand all the material that the teachers explain.”

“I’m still learning a lot of things easily.”

“I genuinely like the method of distance learning, as students have more independence to manage their time and most of our classes are actually more productive and easier to follow as we are able to directly see the “white board” or presentation on our screen.”

“Some of my teachers host discussion boards that are always open and record the lesson, which is very useful.”

“I’m better with learning on my own and understanding things at my own pace, and I think that has helped me with distance learning.”

“The Zoom meetings my classes have had have gone pretty well, and Google Classroom has been a great tool for assignments.”

“Zoom has been a lifesaver, and WhatApp has also worked well for communicating and getting a quick response from both classmates and teachers.”

“Submitting homework has been trouble-free, and my teachers respond rapidly to any questions and grade assignments quickly.”

“The way that teachers have been putting out the work and giving us updates every day has been effective. I like how we are using Google Classroom.”

“The teachers have been available during our class periods if they are not hosting an online meet. My teachers have control over the class and don’t go off-topic.” 

“Assignments are clear and the material that we need to complete is clear.” 

“I believe that the teacher-student connectivity so far has been very efficient and that the teachers have managed to stay very informative even through a screen.” 

“The teachers are really understanding.”

“The platform most teachers use, Google Classroom, works very efficiently and allows me to stay on top of my work. Also, I like the fact that most teachers are always available during our regular office hours.”

“I believe that classes are generally more focused, there are fewer disruptions, and it is very well-organized most of the time. The material is actually clearer because teachers share a lot of notes with students, have a clear schedule, and also post a lot of work on Google Classroom to make up for the extra help sessions or individual meeting times that we would have in school.” 

“The video calls are easier to learn from since there are fewer distractions. As a day student, I get more time to do work since I don’t have to commute from home to school.”

“Meetings have been productive and teachers have been very considerate of our time and assignments. They’re always available to answer questions and help us with any doubts regarding our work.”

“Something that I think is going to work well is that I feel like I’m going to be more prepared because of how regularly I check my email. This will challenge me to be more responsible and upload my work on time.”

 “Teachers are very on top of handing out everything needed and Google Classroom is very useful.”

Middle School

Middle School students were also surveyed toward the end of week one and asked, how is distance learning going for you on a scale of 1–5, with 1 being “not well” and 5 being “very well”? Of the 107 responses, 60 percent were a 4 or 5, 31 percent were a 3, and just 9 percent were a 1 or 2.

When asked if they feel that they can continue to learn in each subject, an impressive 75 percent responded with a 4 or 5, 21 percent with a 3, and just 4 percent with a 1 or 2.

 Here are some of their positive comments:

“I feel that the school has done an excellent job preparing for this pandemic. With great determination and diligence, a flow of non-stop concentration from the students and staff has formed. I think that the teachers are doing a great job scheduling on-time meetings and assignments.”

“It is definitely much better to be able to work on everything from the same place and with everything you need at hand. You also have more freedom to give more time to classes that you are struggling with or falling behind in.”

“I can log in to things like class meetings and assignments easily. I like that we still get to talk with our teachers and meet up online to help us understand things like classwork better. For example, my Italian teacher was able to help me with my grammar assignment Monday evening. She also helped modify my lesson at that time. My science teacher helped me answer questions when I was struggling.”

“It is going well because now that three days have passed, I already know what to do.”

“It’s going okay for me because I know what to do and when to do it.”

“It’s better than I thought it would be.”

“At the beginning of the experience it was a little bit confusing, but now it is going well.”

“I have been busy, but I am able to get my work done and connecting with the teachers has been easy.”

“I don’t have any problems with Zoom or Google Classroom, and I can communicate with my teachers easily.”

“We have been working hard, and we have done more work than usual, but it is going great.”

“It’s very efficient and fun.” 

“It is fun and every class is exciting. The only bad part is that I don’t get to see all of my friends in person anymore.” 

“It is harder than normal school, but you can get used to it.”

“I think there is a lot more work than usual, but I am doing well.” 

“The first day of distance learning was hard. However, after a few days I got used to it and it is easy.”

“I am on time to each class, and I have a confident feeling about my work.” 

“I think that distance learning is going very well; however, I don’t like it because I would rather be at school with my friends.”

“It has been a challenge, but I think I have adapted well to it.”

“It’s been better than what I expected, and even if I encounter certain difficulties the teachers are being flexible.”

“I think distance learning is a little bit hard the first few days because the teachers and students need time to understand how to use all the apps, and sometimes the due dates are not always clear. But it is a lot of fun and I’m enjoying it. I also think we are learning more in some subjects than what we do in class.”

 “It is good. I still learn new things every day.”

 “It’s going quite well for me, and I understand most of the things.”

 “I like how Khan Academy works.”

“I’ve been able to keep in contact with all my teachers.”

“The teachers give us more independence.”

“Communication has been very straightforward.”

“I have managed to connect with my teachers online and it is going very well.”

“I can easily connect to Zoom and have a conversation with my teachers. The teachers are mainly all using the same platforms, which makes it much easier. I am able to get through my work independently and can find explanations if I don’t understand something.”

“Everyone cooperates to make this experience nice, and the teachers do their best to help us.”

“I have been able to work productively and not get distracted. I have been able to turn in all of my assignments and attend every single Zoom class, which is great.” 

“Now we must organize ourselves. No one is telling us what to do, and we need to be responsible and not let our grades go down, so online education is helping us be more responsible.”

“I have learned to be more responsible.” 

“I have learned a lot, and I feel like distance learning can work.”

“It’s very hard but possible, and at least every day I get better.”

Elementary School

It’s easy to see why distance learning at the Elementary School level poses the greatest challenge, as it places an enormous burden on parents—who in many cases have their own careers to worry about—to help guide their children’s learning no matter how good of a job the teachers do. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to both TASIS parents and Elementary School teachers for doing everything within their power to provide our youngest students with the tools and guidance they need to continue learning as we all await the beautiful day when we can return to a traditional learning model.

We surveyed parents rather than students at the Elementary School level, and below are some of the takeaways from the 71 responses. (All answers are based on a scale of 1–5, with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree.”)

Asked whether they find Seesaw to be an appropriate platform for distance learning, a whopping 85 percent responded with a 4 or 5. Only three respondents chose a 1 or 2.

Asked if their children have been able to complete their work in the recommended amount of time, 56 percent responded with a 4 or 5 while 23 percent responded with a 3.

Asked if their children have been able to complete their work independently, 44 percent chose a 4 or 5, 24 percent chose a 3, and 32 percent chose a 1 or 2. (Let’s keep in mind that Pre-Kindergarten begins at age three.)

Asked if teacher directions have been easy to follow, 83 percent responded with a 4 or 5. Only two parents responded with a 2, and not a single one responded with a 1.

Asked if resources have been easy to access, 79 percent chose a 4 or 5. Only 5 percent chose a 1 or 2.

Asked if it has been easy to get feedback from teachers, a resounding 69 percent responded with a 5. Another 20 percent responded with a 4.

And here are some of the responses from parents who were asked to identify what they like best about the distance learning model thus far: 

“I like the clarity of the activities/tasks to be done, the timeframe in which to complete them, the immediate feedback or availability of the teachers, and the use of a digital platform for kids.”

“The good thing is that the lessons continue and they don’t lag behind. The teachers are all available and kind.”

“I now have an even greater respect for everything Elementary School teachers do for our children.”

“I am honestly watching how teachers at TASIS and beyond are innovating through different distance learning methods and platforms.”

“It continues the school program and improves knowledge. It is also important to have daily work.”

“Fast answers from the teachers.”

 “I like to see how the teachers explain things to my son.”

 “I now have a better understanding of my child’s academic abilities.”

 “We are able to do the activities at times that work best with our family schedule.”

“It is increasing my child’s independence.”

“I see how motivated my son is by his teachers.”

 “I like seeing all the work they do at school.”

“My girls are both very enthusiastic. They love watching the videos and keep talking to them, thinking it is FaceTime!” 

“It is a new adventure.”

“I can see and recognize what problems my son has with studying and think about how to help him. This is a success!” 

“It makes children more responsible.”

“Allowing our children’s curiosity to take over in the garden and getting time to spend outside with them. Anything coming from the school is just a benefit to make our children feel they are still connected with their teachers. Thank you for the morning videos. It makes our children feel special when they hear their names mentioned.”

“We love hearing the teacher’s voices and we enjoy reading their comments.” 

“An interactive approach balanced with an expectation of self-study by the study. Teachers are readily available as needed while the students are given enough instruction to proceed on their own.”

“The kids feel through voice messages a real connection to the teacher. They are motivated to finish the work and get the feedback.”

“Our children have become more responsible, and I like the way they can involve us in their homework.”

“The teachers always help and support us online. And all very positively.” 

“You can repeat the instructions at any time and check the child’s response.” 

“I like having the ability to see all the activities they do at school.”

“It’s a great opportunity to learn new tools for the iPad and distance learning.” 

“I can see that day by day my daughter is more independent and asks less for my help. The kids try to be more independent and responsible…even if it’s not easy at all.”

“The fact that I can see that my son is able to organize his work and stay focused. Day by day he asks less for help.”

To Conclude

TASIS Headmaster Christopher Nikoloff wishes to extend his deep thanks to everyone who has worked so hard to keep our students healthy and safe and to everyone who has helped usher our swift transition to distance learning.

“I would like to thank all the teachers, academic leaders, technology coordinators, nurses, deans, residential life leaders, and our wonderful personale departments for their enormous efforts over these past few weeks,” he said. “I am also grateful to all TASIS parents for their tremendous patience and faith in us as an institution.”

“As we confront this extraordinary situation in the coming weeks, let us continue to do so together,” added Mr. Nikoloff. “And as we push forward, let us not lose sight of the spirit of the message in CS Lewis’s brilliant 1948 essay, ‘On Living in an Atomic Age’”:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented. Quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts. Not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

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