Updated: Apr 17, 2021
For this school year to be successful, we have to take the 40,000 foot view and make sure we have the systems and structures in place to help all students, teachers, administrators, and community members work together to support student learning.
Whether your district is beginning the school year fully in-person, remotely, or in a hybrid learning model, there were clear concerns over approaches to emergency learning in the spring that we should be fixing no matter what school will look like for your district. Below are six ideas that K-12 districts should be planning for:
1. Train your students to LEARN online
It's not just about technology training. We should be prioritizing executive functioning in the same way that we are prioritizing learning padlet and flipgrid. What we got wrong in emergency learning is creating a massive tech learning curve for our students. Over-stimulating students with log-ins to platforms instead of focusing on student-centered discourse, consistent workflows, and modes of communication would be a mistake moving forward.
Learning online requires more initiative and better time management. In a US News article for college students they discuss the need for improved communication and self-discipline in order for students to be successful in an online environment. K-12 schools are beginning to acknowledge their role in on-boarding students, with one district releasing plans that prioritize student training prior to shifting to fully remote.
Advice: Give students a learning coach, a teacher in the building that checks in with them each week to assist with managing their assignments and advise them on communication with their teachers.
2. Have Open House early and virtually
Supporting student on-boarding is only the first step in ensuring a smooth roll-out of learning expectations. We must remember that families are partners in learning and get them in the loop early. When emergency learning rolled out, parents were overwhelmed with taking on their child's learning and it doesn't have to be that way.
Parents need to know how this is all going to work. Answering these questions for parents at an early open house will help parents act as allies in learning:
How can I prepare my child for an online class?
How will teachers communicate expectations and how can I stay in the loop on my child's learning?
When will I be able to check-in with teachers on my child's progress?
What is a reasonable amount of time for asynchronous work?
What strategies can I support my child with in communicating with teachers and knowing when/how to get help?
Advice: Give parents a cheatsheet newsletter that clearly defines workflows and expectations for their child, including the technology students will need to be using and all the ways their child can get support.
3. Train your teachers to teach online
I earned a doctorate online at the University of Southern California and we used 3 tech tools: G-Suite, a Learner Management System, and Zoom. My classes were engaging, rich discussions with clear expectations for learning. There is no reason why we should be exhausting our teachers with learning every technology platform they can get their hands on. Instead, we should be focusing our professional learning time on modeling online pedagogy and creating workflows that maximize engagement while minimizing the technology learning curve.
In my post on learning online, I highlight the need for student-friendly online learning and identify the following action items for teachers:
Front-load student learning - Let asynchronous work act as a springboard for live class discussions
Begin class with a quick check for understanding - Keep it simple and let students warm-up to engaging in an online environment
Prepare templates for group work ahead of time - It will help students focus and help teachers keep track of the progress of small group work
Share your slides, make your expectations clear - It helps your students focus and aids them in processing important information
Make caring a part of your routine - Let checking in on how your students are feeling be a routine in your classroom
Advice: Give teachers permission to keep technology tools simple, support them with distance learning pedagogy first.
4. Embrace virtual parent conferences
It was always bizarre to me that a common practice for parent-teacher conferences was a 15 minute time slot in the middle of your workday. Virtual parent teacher conferences will enable more families to engage in conferences, but it will also allow districts to schedule time for conferences with more flexibility. But let's not stop there, let's look for opportunities to engage with families and make sure that there are consistent feedback loops to support a successful school year for our students:
Open up PTA meetings to have consistent opportunities for parents to ask questions
Have time slots for parent-teacher conferences throughout the year so that teachers have the time set aside to support families
Hold coffee hours with families to offer support with technology and support with navigating their child's learning experience
Advice: Plan for opportunities to engage with families and communicate them consistently so that every parent feels connected to their child's school.
5. Focus on consistent communication
School districts all around me have communicated throughout the summer months on their plans for the fall, opened up family forums to ensure that all voices were heard and that districts could account for feedback, and truly spent a significant amount of time on developing out plans for opening school buildings in compliance with state guidelines. It's been great, students and parents need to know what to expect and when to expect it.
As we kick off the school year, that same steady communication must happen within the classroom and within school buildings. As a parent, I hope to see the following:
A clear schedule of how and when assignments will be communicated
Consistent meeting times for each of my kid's classes, communicated at the start of the year and consistent throughout
Consistent time for extra help and support for students so that we can plan for it in our day
Consistent communication on grades and progress in each of my kid's classes
Advice: Parents should be added as viewers to google classrooms to help with communication and grade books should be kept open.
6. Embrace professional learning communities
Teachers need time and they need us to honor that. Professional Learning Communities, or teachers meeting intentionally to co-plan curriculum, instruction, and assessment, must be a top priority for school districts developing their schedules for the upcoming year. PLC time is sacred and should be intentionally scheduled so that not a single one of our teachers feels isolated in their efforts to provide the best possible learning opportunities for their students.
That being said, collaboration on building materials and resources must be a priority in PLC time and we all need to embrace teamwork over autonomy. That last bit is hard, but our students deserve a consistent learning experience in the upcoming year and we can only accomplish that by being intentionally collaborative in our creation of student learning experiences.
Advice: Teachers should talk as a team about what they can commit to building together and where they need breathing room to add their own personal touches. Asynchronous materials may be the best place to start for building common ground.