Dear Cranbrook Families,
I write, first, with my very best thoughts for you and your family’s wellbeing. No matter the work or challenges ahead, your family’s health is most important.
Second, I write anticipating the opening of CK Online. The past dozen days have been busy and informative. Schools across the county have shared lessons learned from their own voyages into full distance learning. This dialog, and the further thinking of Cranbrook’s division heads and teachers, have given good structure to educating Cranbrook students in this new format.
I write today with some broad reflections and to set the stage for our work in global distance learning. The schedule for next communication is:
On Sunday, March 29th:
- Division heads will be communicating with you at midday.
- By evening, CranNet – our universal portal – is refreshed and reorganized to be a single ‘one-stop shop’ for information. We did this to curtail families receiving an endless stream of emails regarding the opening of school.
- Here, on the landing page for all parents, you will find the “CK Online Resource Gateway” with an All Schools Guide to CK Online, all division-specific information, and links to other resources. This is where you will go to find:
- information on daily schedules at each division
- expectations, roles and responsibilities while we are in distance learning mode
- communications guidelines
- grading and tuition policies
- whom to call when you have questions
- how to access counseling and other Cranbrook Schools resources for health and wellness, academic support, etc.
- On Monday afternoon, March 30th there will be class-specific communications and updates to CranNet from teachers to students and families.
- At the start of each school week, teachers will offer students class-specific “overviews” of the week ahead, so that students know broadly what to anticipate each week.
- Teachers will then offer students daily or as needed updates on class topics, assignments, etc.
As we move to CK Online, we must recognize that the act of moving the Cranbrook curriculum entirely online, for nearly 1700 students, would be Herculean under any circumstances. To do so, in short order, while most community members are under state-manded ‘pandemic sheltering orders,’ is unheard of.
Nevertheless, we are fully committed to our educational mission, and—most important—to our students and your families. Know: we are going to be ok. Because, as a community, we are choosing to walk together through uncharted waters, taking measured steps, and making opportune and calculated adjustments as we go forward.
Ultimately, it is our objective to keep Cranbrook students engaged, on track with their studies, and in good stead — academically and personally – long after this crisis has subsided.As an independent school, not subject to state instructional time mandates, we define the appropriate education for our students at each grade level; rest assured, all Cranbrook students who are in good academic stead at this juncture will be able to progress to either graduation if they are a senior, or the next appropriate grade level.
As we move forward, I underscore:
- A Generation-Defining Moment
We cannot underestimate the effect the experience of this pandemic will have on us – parents and teachers – as well as the generation of young people we are raising. We all will remember for years where we were, how we spent these days, and with whom; if we were diagnosed or knew someone who fell gravely ill; how we absorbed the pandemic’s economic impact. Most important, this pandemic, and the world’s response to it, will shape how our students understand—and what they value about—the public good and their role as citizens; companionship and solitude; health, wellbeing and medical care; our schools, homes and workplaces; the responsibilities of government as well as that of family, friend and neighbor. This experience will define for them what community—in all its forms, in good as well as tough times—can and should mean.
Therefore, these unprecedented times demand a different mindset about schoolwork and school. You have invited our teachers into your homes; and our teachers have invited you and your child into theirs, during a time when everyone has significant personal, and professional concerns, and we all are sharing limited resources. While Cranbrook students will remain engaged and stay on track with their studies, our objective is not to replicate every aspect or the full richness of our face-to-face classes; that is impossible. Rather, with every available technology, we will creatively re-envision our academic work for a new fully digital, and remote, environment.
Expect that classes will look and feel different than what your child would have experienced on campus. And know that our teachers, at all divisions, are keenly attentive to:
As educators our job right now is tangentially about content and foremost about care and connection. At a time of global uncertainty our teachers are committed, first and foremost, to being fully present for their students, serving them with abiding care, compassion and enduring relationship. Cranbrook’s faculty are seasoned educators whose love for young people transcends any particular technological tool they might employ. When every student leaves a Zoom class and knows that they were heard, cared for and that they and their thoughts mattered to adults they trust outside their home and to their peers, we have done our most important job.
- Big Picture Intellectual Engagement
In this unusual setting, teachers cannot follow their original syllabus. They are thinking now beyond numbers of sentences translated, problems solved, stories or paragraphs read and picking the most compelling topics or material. Teachers are not lessening the rigor, but—as the best educators do—modifying their program to meet the needs of the day-at-hand, with the day-to-day academic goal of deep intellectual engagement.
While teachers will still assign things to do–sentences, stories and problems– we are concentrating on how those activities excite the mind and reinforce skill-building. We will take advantage of the fact that, in this environment, we can differentiate in myriad ways, letting students explore individual passions and move at different paces. And we are focusing on how, through the things we choose to assign, students show us mastery, not just tasks accomplished, which we required for homework. Indeed, what is “homework” or “classwork” now—when by necessity there is no separation between home and school? It is all part and parcel of what has always been at the core of a Cranbrook education: intellectual engagement.
Every school, nationally, is recognizing that “pandemic distance learning time” is different. For example, under the current circumstances, the College Board has revamped its traditional 3-hour Advanced Placement exam to one that takes 45 minutes; nationally, all teachers, at every age level, are pulling back on the expectations with which they walked into this two weeks ago.
At the outset Cranbrook teachers have been advised to temper their pace and modify their plans to reflect the following:
- It is unhealthy—for any of us—to sit through hours of Zoom calls or hours of uninterrupted screen time; for most, a 30-minute convening of class where students are fully engaged, is more effective than one that lasts 60 minutes (where most students passively listen or just look like they are listening).
- No home, particularly under the current ‘sheltering’ orders, can have the same reliable structures and routine as a schoolhouse. You already know well that your children’s lives are full of distractions: you who are working-from-home; the needs of their siblings; imperfect study spaces; limited and shared technology resources, and old- fashioned cabin fever.
- Technology will fail us: audio will be scratchy; Wi-Fi will be weak; some students may need to step in and out of class, depending on things beyond their control in their homes.
Know that because of these universal factors, peer schools agree: we should count on 30-45 minutes total engagement per class meeting, per day (particularly for upper and middle school.) We all must embrace that particularly at the start, every lesson or class discussion will take longer than we think, and new, important logistics (i.e. figuring out how to mute, how to share, or how to not talk over each other) may take time.
At all divisions, please expect that class meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday this week will be largely re-introduction and checking-in. It is an opportunity for students to welcome us into their homes, to see teachers in their digital spaces and – most important - to tell us how they are doing. Teachers and students will use this time to download or test their technology and get comfortable—in these new classroom settings and with digital etiquette. As a community we may be in this mode for some time, so we must pace ourselves, beginning slowly and moving on Thursday and Friday into class topics and core activities.
A healthy School-Parent Partnership is critical to everyone’s success. For nearly 100 years, Cranbrook teachers have always committed themselves to our students’ best interests. That will not change as we make this pivot to global distance learning, and as we discover unforeseen challenges, adapt, and leverage the best of this modality. We all will make mistakes; and we all will recover from them.
I ask that we - both parents and teachers - all are patient, respectful and kind with each other as we get started and into the weeks ahead. The global and national situation remains fluid and depending on the trajectory of the pandemic’s local manifestation, Governor Whitmer’s current date for school campuses to remain closed, April 13th, may be extended.
In partnership, know that
- If you have a concern about your child; I ask that you, first, consider how immediate your concern it is. This modality is new for all of us and initially we are all novices; let’s proceed with the good faith that most issues may be comparatively minor, compared to the challenge we are surmounting, and will resolve themselves naturally.
- Of course, if your concern is urgent or serious, contact your child’s teacher directly, as you would normally do. We ask that you use email and arrange to talk with them at an appropriate time, outside of the digital class time; teachers will be offering online “office hours” or would be happy to call you.
- The administration will be soliciting formal feedback on the structure of our global distance learning work at the end of the second week of class. We are eager – sincerely -to gain your insight, be nimble and adjust CK Online to best serve our students.
- Once classes have begun division heads, aided by our technology team, will be working with our Mothers Council’s and Dad’s Clubs to facilitate – through some digital means - the appropriate and important fellowship we enjoy and so appreciate when we can be on campus.
My colleagues and I feel privileged to share this moment in time with your family. Educators who walk through a moment like this with students will have a lasting effect on their sense of self and sense of the world, its stabilizing forces, and its humanity. I do feel certain that this experience will define for these young people what community—in all its forms, in good as well as tough times—can and should mean. Thank you for walking this journey with our teachers, with your children, and with each other.