Grand Erie at Home: The Secondary Classroom Goes Remote

When a second lockdown due to COVID-19 was looming late last year, Patti Zadanyi, art teacher at Hagersville Secondary School, had the foresight to send her students home “with as many art supplies as they could carry.” 


Right: Art teacher Patti Zadanyi’s workspace at home includes a webcam taped to a task lamp so she can demonstrate artistic techniques virtually.

“Preparing lessons as a teacher of a hands-on subject is difficult during remote learning, especially when you don’t know if your students will even have pencil crayons or paper at home,” says Zadanyi, who points out that in-class art lessons typically consist of students observing her modelling a technique, and then close observation as they try the task themselves. “I observe how they hold their drawing pencil, mix their paint, use leather punches, thread needles, build things with clay, prepare their printing plates, use the printing press, and the list goes on and on.”


Right: A sample of work created by Patti Zadanyi’s students.

Necessity is the mother of invention, however, and soon Zadanyi had come up with a way to translate this practice to the virtual space as best she could by taping a webcam to a desk lamp so she could better shoot the angles necessary for students to observe her work. 

When Zadanyi started teaching in 1990, doing the job virtually wasn’t in her wildest dreams – computers were just starting to become tools educators used, usually to enter marks. 

“It’s funny to think about that now,” she says. 

Roger Winter, music teacher at Paris District High School, has similarly transitioned a very hands-on subject to the world of remote learning. 

“Music is a performing art, and our bands usually have several opportunities to perform throughout the school year,” says Winter of Paris District High School’s yearly Remembrance Day, commencement, Christmas and spring concerts that had to be cancelled. “There are so many skills that come out of performing – teamwork, discipline, responsibility, community involvement – it can be difficult to find ways to replicate that online.” 

Students and teachers alike have addressed this as best they can. For Winter’s students, virtual band rehearsals take place regularly, and there have even been opportunities for virtual performances with community partners. Guest speakers – or in this case, performers – have also enhanced virtual learning.

“A highlight was having Eric Abramovitz of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra join the Grade 11/12 music class for a private 45-minute virtual concert during one of our Teams meetings,” says Winter. “He performed some music, talked about his career as a professional musician, and spent some time answering questions the students had for him. I know that he inspired them!” 

In Jeremy Theobald’s construction technology class at North Park Collegiate and Vocational School, not being in the workshop has meant he’s really needed to pivot his teaching, but being at home has brought new opportunities – and the chance to utilize some of the skills of the trade. 


Right: A virtual job-site visit with a City of Pickering property inspector provided Jeremy Theobald’s students with a glimpse into the field.

“I try to include activities that get students up and active, and away from their computer screens, to apply some of the things we’re learning about,” he says. “Students have been measuring their dining room tables and using calculations to come up with a cost for the materials; they’ve investigated their kitchen drawers and the desk they’re working from to find wood joinery and evaluate the construction; they’re looking at how their homes are built and sending in pictures of their windows. They’re looking at their homes in a new way and making connections to what they’re learning in school.”  

With so many changes to the ways we live, work, and learn this past year, Grand Erie’s Mental Health team has been developing resources for students, parents, and staff. 

“For many people, their stresses and worries are a natural and understandable response to the challenges and uncertainty of these times. For some, this time has come with multiple stressors and too few resources to cope,” points out Piyali Bagchee, Grand Erie’s Mental Health and Well-Being lead. “But from the beginning there have been acts of kindness, and people reaching out to ensure that others are cared for. People have persevered and steadfastly found ways to accept, adapt and move forward.” 

Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan prioritizes Well-Being, and with everyone at home, the focus has shifted to creating welcoming, supportive spaces with our virtual connections.

For Delhi District Secondary School drama teacher Kaitlyn Bishop, creating safe, inclusive spaces in the classroom is integral to fostering an environment where students feel comfortable expressing themselves and taking risks in performance. 

“I use ‘temperatures’ at the beginning of each of my classes in the morning where students identify themselves on a scale of one to 10 for how they’re feeling; this gives them an opportunity to share and test their devices, and for me to take attendance and to start building the classroom community that day,” says Bishop. “Some don’t want to share every day, and that’s fine. Others run with it because they need the conversation for mental health that day, and I always share as well to keep them feeling like I am a part of their day too.”

Bishop says this community-building has paid off, and students’ adaptability and willingness to share has surprised her. 

“But it was definitely important to build that sense of community online first.” 

Her students are also building unexpected life and career skills in an increasingly digital world where Zoom calls have replaced so many of the in-person conversations we have.

“We’ve discussed keeping your profile situated in the camera, the background, and body language in a video call, as well as voice skills, pace, and clarity to make sure that the others can hear you clearly,” she says. “I never thought that these would be the performance skills that I would be teaching in high school drama!” 

Photography and video by Grand Erie Communications.

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