Substitutes and Google Docs FTW

Life and learning go on even during times when teachers struggle with personal loss and grief. Google tools can help keep the worry about how students are doing with the substitute from adding to the load.

My mom passed away last week.  It happened on a Friday. The weekend was tough and I was looking forward to Monday so I could throw myself into work and forget my pain for a few hours.

She and my father were still in California, in the same house I grew up in. I had to go back. I had to look in on Dad and make sure he would be okay in his grief and his transition to living alone for the first time in over fifty years.

I told my students that they would have a substitute for the remainder of the week and bought a plane ticket.

In my years at Skyline High School in Oakland CA, having a substitute was always somewhere between difficult and a catastrophe. Any week, I could hear the commotion from another room along the hallway. Kids would be in and out of the room. There would be the noise of boisterous talk and music. If the door were open, I could look in and see kids sitting on desks, texting, talking, or playing games. I dreaded that scene ever playing out in my room.

Each year, it would take several weeks, but I would train my students how I wanted them to behave when I wasn’t there. With a solid system to use and students used to my respect in them and my expectations of them, I could be sick or in a meeting with little worry.

One consistent worry in Oakland was that the substitute would fail to find and give my students their work. Despite my system and the training I gave my kids, if the substitute didn’t distribute and collect the worksheets and graphic organizers, even my best kids would end up wasting the day.

This year, in a new school, I’ve found an addition to my substitute system that has alleviated this worry, namely Google Docs.

This new wrinkle isn’t advice for everybody and is dependent upon my new privilege of working in a school with one-to-one laptops for the kids.

I’ve been loving Google Docs this year. My students taught me how I could use it to help facilitate their work and learning. They’ve taught me how this tool can use this tool to make days away even easier.

On Tuesday, before I left to go home, each of my teams set up a Google Doc for their work while the substitute was there. Each team shared the document with everyone on the team and with me. Before each class period was over, I had uploaded to their Docs all of the work I wanted them to do while I was gone.

I flew on Wednesday and recovered and mourned with my dad on Thursday. On Friday, I checked on each teams Doc and found that everyone had been working hard.

The work from two of the teams definitely showed signs of them trying to do as little as possible in order to complete the assignments. The others show genuine desire to do well. Friday morning, I added comments to each teams work, encouraging each to dig even deeper into their reading and thinking. All day Friday, my computer “binged” as teams resolved my comments.

Even a continent away, with only a few hours of work, I could monitor and support my students’ learning.

Even during a time filled with grief and worry, it was one less thing I needed to worry about.

Thank you Google.

How about you? Do you use Google in your classroom? Any favorite tips you want to share?