Mohawk College

How this Pandemic has Impacted Learning for our Kids

ClassroomToday, we set out to understand why this goal is so important. What is the full extent of how this pandemic has impacted learning for our kids. And to find out, we had the frontlines ahead, you’ll hear from three different educators, from schools with different focuses different teaching modalities, and different age groups. And while we learn about some important silver linings to the past couple of years, we learned to why there’s also no substitute for getting kids back into the classroom, listen in…


Marc Brims, Head of Academics, UTS

Dan Olds, Cooperative Learning Teacher, Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School

Barb Jensen, Teacher, Peel DSB

Climate Change Leaders

Liz Beatty 00:05

Hi, I’m Liz Beatty. This is the new healthy building podcast. We dig for stories that transform communities and save the planet one building at a time. Of course, the folks at Thomas coal Inc cleaner air for schools and climate change leaders know well the challenges facing schools these days. That’s why they’re driven to share technology like REME-LED and duct sealing that can make classrooms and in person learning as safe and healthy as possible, as soon as possible. Today, we set out to understand why this goal is so important. What is the full extent of how this pandemic has impacted learning for our kids. And to find out, we had the frontlines ahead, you’ll hear from three different educators, from schools with different focuses different teaching modalities, and different age groups. And while we learn about some important silver linings to the past couple of years, we learned to why there’s also no substitute for getting kids back into the classroom, listen in…

Marc Brims 01:18

U of TMy name is Mark brims, I’m head of academics at the University of Toronto schools. UTS is independent school operating on the University of Toronto campus. And we have an affiliation agreement with University of Toronto.

Liz Beatty 01:34

Now, UTS is known to for its merit-based admissions, attracting diverse and exceptionally talented students from grades seven to 12. And, of course, didn’t do it like everybody else, they’ve now really embraced a hybrid model of online and in person learning. As the kids are heading back to school,

Marc Brims 01:56

I think we still do have about 35 to 40% of our students learning from home. And we’re offering a teaching and learning model that’s hybrid. So, it makes for just less bodies in the building, which gives people a little bit more space. And I think just, it’s a little bit more of a comfortable environment because there are less people present in person.

Liz Beatty 02:22

But as with many teachers, Mark is a parent too. And what he’s experienced with his younger children, has been more challenging. Indeed,

online learningMarc Brims 02:33

my sons are in grade, grades two and three. And despite the best efforts of their teachers, I mean, they had excellent lessons plans for online learning. But without shoulder to shoulder guidance and supervision, it’s hard for them to stay on task. They’re very vocal about the fact that they don’t like it. The interactions that they have with their friends at school are critical, right for the social emotional learning and well-being aspect of growing and learning as a kid. The only positive thing they had to say about it was they enjoyed the chat function because they were blasting emojis or GIF, GIFs or whatever read through support teacher.

Liz Beatty 03:17

But the value of this face to face interaction isn’t limited to students alone.

Marc Brims 03:23

It makes it more difficult to function to be honest with you that little hallway conversations that you have, or just being able to quickly pop into someone’s office, you miss those kinds of critical interactions, that kind of happened naturally at

Liz Beatty 03:38

work. Again, there are those important silver linings.

online learningMarc Brims 03:43

I think with any change, there are always, you know, mixture of opinions. So, some people I think, certainly prefer to teach online, as compared to teaching hybrid, which is the situation we find ourselves back in now. But we had a lot of good supports as well, like we have a head of teacher learning technology and research and she was able to really provide a lot of support to teachers and there’s a lot of capacity building to shoulder to shoulder, you know, teachers helping each other out tips and tricks and how to leverage digital a bit more intentionally to support teaching and learning. So, I think I mean, it’s, that’s one of the pros that’s come out of the pandemic, I think I think everybody has upskilled quite a bit in terms of leveraging digital to support, teaching and learning.

Liz Beatty 04:36

Still, technology can only do so much and building that all-important sense of connection and community, even among these high achieving students.

Marc Brims 04:46

Yeah, engagement is key. I mean, especially at the outset, we really tried to drive home that message that it you know, engagement over rigor, and that’s a tough seller School because it’s our students are very, very talented academics is kind of number one. So, to kind of shift a little bit just in terms of, you know, trying to create community in your classroom versus compliance, and an engaged youth check in with students every day to see how people are doing. And that kind of thing for sure. But certainly, for prolonged periods of online learning. And when we’re in lockdowns, I mean, teachers and students alike, I think feel a little bit of a loss of connection with each other.

Liz Beatty 05:39

But with kids coming back to school, Mark pointed out the growing awareness of how our physical learning environments, impacts student wellness and learning.

Marc Brims 05:49

Our school building has been under renovation for the past three years. So, we’re slated to move back in March, which is exciting. But just even that environmental change, having a brand-new building to go

back to, and even on site having, you know, a gym available for students and staff to use. Those types of supports, I think, are nice to have.

Liz Beatty 06:16

And of course, we had asked about the ventilation piece in this wellness picture.

classMarc Brims 06:21

You know, I think, just on the ventilation point you just touched on, I think, you know, people are starting to really focus in on learning environments in a way that they may not have in the past. I think it’s always been important but even more important now than ever. So, we’re thinking about how to use our time and space a little bit more intentionally to support wellbeing for students and teachers.

Dan Olds 06:59

My name is Dan Olds, I’m a Co-op teacher at Pauline Johnson High School in Brantford, Ontario.

Liz Beatty 07:06

Like Mark, Dan sees that some form of online learning is here to stay.

Dan Olds 07:12

Interesting. Then a couple of weeks ago, we heard some rumblings from another school in our board that they had heard that students in high school were going to have to do to online credits as part of their 30 credits to graduate. So that’s something that I’ve recently heard. And I know that they’re definitely doing more online courses now. And university students have graduated and gone that we’ve talked to and teachers that I speak with that have children in university, it sounds like they’re pushing a little more online learning moving forward. And in post-secondary schools for sure.

Liz Beatty 07:50

As a teacher and a parent to Dan had concerns very similar to mark about the learning experience of his young daughter and his high school aged students.

Dan Olds 08:02

Well, I think it’s extremely important to keep that social interaction. I have a four-year-old who just started kindergarten this year, and online learning was not very beneficial for her. You know, she, she’s so much better off being in class with her friends. It not, not only does she learn a lot more from her teacher, but the interactions, I think that age especially are so important and, and it still translates into high school to like, the social interactions that they have here. Like, I think we’re in a day and age, especially with technology where there’s a lot more of introverted type people and, and being in a social setting. And no, it’s kind of helped those people that are introverted, and when they’ve been forced to be online that kind of exacerbated their, you know, that trait that they have. So, I hope it doesn’t get too far where they expanded online learning in the future, where they’re doing it more often, like I think it’s okay to have it blended in a bit. But being here in person is extremely important.

kidsLiz Beatty 09:07

Again, the biggest concern is student engagement.

Dan Olds 09:12

Yeah, we definitely saw some students really fade off with the online learning, you know, and in sometimes, you know, we didn’t hear from that student for a few days and, and they just were not engaging at all. And so it was not a good experience for them, you know, some students, we noticed that, you know, they dealt with it fine, and they came back to school fine, but others really struggled

with it and, and that two year gap now that we’ve had where they’ve been going back and forth, it wasn’t very good for them, and it’s a struggle for them to come back to school now.

Liz Beatty 09:46

So again, as his students start to head back to class, the spotlight grows on physical learning environments, and particularly on the deficits of older buildings.

kidDan Olds 09:57

Well, myself, we’re in a very old building. And I can’t remember the exact date that the school was built. But it’s it is a very old school and it’s been around for decades. So especially in the fall in September, and then towards the spring in May in June, it can be very uncomfortable in class. And in an environment like that, that we can definitely see, student engagement is not as high as it would be in a comfortable setting and the air quality itself, I know that they’ve, that they’ve had people working in here to go over some of that stuff and then to, you know, improve some air quality. But if the environment in the classroom is not conducive to learning, and whether it’s air quality, or when I’m speaking of temperature, because it can be uncomfortable, it is very hard to keep the students organized, attentive and learning.

Barb Jensen 11:01

Hi, I’m Barb Jensen. I’ve been a teacher for 33 years, and I’m newly retired. I’ve worked with the Peel District School Board for all of those 33 years and have had a wonderful career.

Liz Beatty 11:16

Full disclosure, Barb is my longtime friend. So, I can tell you with some authority, she is someone who really connects with people in the same space. So, here’s her take on the promise of learning new skills through the pandemic, but also the nut of what makes in person learning. irreplaceable.

Barb Jensen 11:37


Yeah, like, I was kind of excited by the whole thing thinking, Oh, wow, this is going to be a great opportunity. But I think where it started falling apart, was exactly what you said, that connection piece. And even you know, with them seeing their friends. And there’s certain things there are great benefits to the computer and the technology and things that we have. And I don’t think that’ll go away. I think you know, even for snow days, like we’ll pull that up and it’ll be there.

Liz Beatty 12:08

Oh, yes, snow days, are never going to be the same Sorry kids, that’s over.

Barb Jensen 12:14

But certain things I think we will, you know, grab on to but there’s that you know, the piece with their friends and they’re the collaborative piece where kids are working together and shared experiences, having that one to one time just that spontaneous. You know, if Johnny’s not getting or Liz isn’t getting the concept, you get, you know, immediately by body language. And you get in tuned with how they’re, they’re feeling about a certain concept. And you can you can nip it in the bud.

Liz Beatty 12:51

And funny in our digital age, with devices separating us into our own bubbles, often separate rooms. It’s the in-person collaboration and leadership skills learning that we’re missing from everyday life.

Barb Jensen 13:05

It’s true, it’s there’s skills that you know, learning to walk, it’s, it’s, you know, like those little fundamental yet fundamental. It’s not just about you know, the pencil Paper things.

Liz Beatty 13:22

I had to ask, having worked most of her adult life surrounded by little people, Surely, she felt her immune system must have taken a beating.

Barb Jensen 13:31

Maybe that’s the that’s the secret. Maybe it’s because I’ve been exposed to so much that my new year titanium bringing on sneezes right in my mouth. Well, I’m not even joking.

sneezeLiz Beatty 13:52

I have to take a moment Yeah. God bless our teachers, and everything they do, to bring learning to life for our children. To learn more about REME- LED, which by the way features a three-foot sneeze shield which Barb could have used and duct sealing and all that TCI, Cleaner Air for Schools and Climate Change Leaders are doing to improve in-person learning. Visit I’m Liz Beatty. You’ve been listening to the New Healthy Building podcast. See you next time.

Host & Executive Producer

Liz Beatty is an award-winning feature writer, broadcaster and podcaster. She’s won the 2020 Gold Lowell Thomas Award for Radio Broadcasting from the Society of American Travel Writers. And North Americana took both 2020 Gold and Silver Lowell Thomas Awards for Best Podcast.

Find more Podcasts at

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