Distinctly SJND

Andy McKee on Preparing a School for a Pandemic

Andy McKee on Preparing a School for a Pandemic
Apr 26 2021

How do you prepare a school for a pandemic? Andy McKee, the Director of Integration and Technology, would say it’s all about the attitude and mindset. That, and the help of some 21st-century tools.

“Our theme for 2019/2020 was ‘growth mindset,’” Andy said. “We had in place an idea that struggle is a part of growth. It's okay if it doesn't work the first time. Try it again. All of those things that might make change difficult, like COVID, the mindset was already there. We had a vocabulary and an attitude in place.”

As days passed and it became more apparent that campus life would not resume anytime soon, leaning into the growth mindset made the transition easier. Andy also credited the school’s agility to the Bay Area Independent School Network (BAISNET), a group of education technology professionals throughout the region. In particular, insights from the Sacred Heart Atherton were immensely insightful. 

“[Sacred Heart has] schools all over the world, so they actually had a school in Taiwan who was ahead of us by three months,” Andy said. “They had closed down; they had gone to distance learning. So, [the Sacred Heart Atherton edtech professional] was already talking about synchronous, asynchronous lessons. [She] had all the vocabulary, everything laid out and shared that with BAISNET.”

With that information, Andy and other school administrators were able to act quickly to help teachers deliver curriculum from home. He prepared (or had already prepared) many tutorials on using applications like Schoology and Zoom, and also hosted virtual workshops. Andy also commended the teachers who stepped up to help with the transition. 

“There were many teachers who were willing to take that on and facilitate workshops,” he said. “[It’s] another thing that helped with teacher buy-in for the workshops. Feedback [from the teachers showed] how helpful it was to hear what their colleagues had to say, and be able to share common experiences and learn from one another's practice.”

When it became apparent that distance learning would continue into the next school year, Andy used the summer to conduct extensive research and put together resources and equipment for teachers so that they would be prepared to continue teaching from home.

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“My job was to set the table or provide the ingredients,” he said of all the preparation. “But it's up to the teachers to make the meals. And everybody did. It was incredible. At first, we were in denial for moments before accepting that we had to get the work done. We used a growth mindset to help us process the hurdles of learning new tools and methods to continue teaching and learning."

Despite the unexpectedness and the changes the pandemic brought, Andy praised the resiliency of the faculty and the independence of the students. In some ways, it’s been a culmination of his push for what he calls 21st-century learning, fully integrating technology into curriculum delivery and allowing students to be self-directed learners. However, he is very much looking forward to the day everyone comes back together. 

“There's nothing like a campus filled with students and teachers,” he said. “[My] appreciation for the presence of colleagues, friends, and students has really deepened. It's something that you totally take for granted in the real world, but that joy, that spark, I appreciate it more than I ever did. I hope we can continue with the lessons we've learned from trusting students, the lessons we've learned with stepping outside of our comfort zone, and providing a little more autonomy. But I really look forward to having everybody back on campus again.”

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