P.E.I. school hallways were quiet when students returned from the Christmas break Wednesday, but that doesn't mean teachers weren't busy.
"I joked to someone yesterday that the last two days have been busier for us than if we'd had students in the building," said Erin Johnston, principal of Elm Street Elementary School in Summerside.
The most recent wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, fuelled by the Omicron variant, has forced students back into remote learning.
They are not due to return to school classrooms until at least Jan. 17.
While teachers have had some experience with online learning during the pandemic, Johnston said it adds layers of complications to teaching. It takes time both for teachers and for families at home to get comfortable with the technology.
"It really is quite a complicated beast. While we are prepared ahead of time, to turn it into action is quite a feat," she said.
"We're used to having students in person. We're used to communicating face to face. We're not used to communicating with them via Google Classroom or via email in the same way."
Getting comfortable with technology
The work began last weekend.
Students and families who needed technical assistance were identified. Chromebooks were supplied to students who needed them. Paper copies of lessons were supplied to students with inadequate internet connections, and alternative modes of instruction arranged.
The technology is not exactly the same this time around, and that will take more time as well, but the changes include improvements, said Robyn MacDonald, principal of Montague Regional High School.
"The great thing about online learning this time — or remote learning this time — is that we do have access to Google Meet right away," MacDonald said.
"So we can actually see the students, and that virtual contact is so important."
Dealing with uncertainty
Mounting case counts, with more people getting sick or forced into self-isolation, raises questions about schools having the staff to keep classes going.
While contingency plans are in place, MacDonald said at her school they are trying not to think too far ahead.
"The challenge here are all the 'what-ifs'. So we're just trying incredibly hard as a staff to maintain our focus on what we can control and what really matters," she said.
"We're just going to continue to be positive and patient and work with our students and their families as best we can to navigate through this storm that we're in."