In a March 18th article that appeared on the District Administration website, I discussed tips for district administrators who found themselves making the rapid move from in-classroom learning to remote learning. In the days and weeks that followed, we witnessed the unprecedented transformation of learning in this country and around the globe. While the hallways of schools went quiet – living rooms, kitchen tables and bedroom floors became the ‘new normal’ for learning environments.
And, as many of us make our final plans for the new school year, I thought it would be useful to revisit the tips I shared five months ago.
Set a Tone of Compassion and Commitment
As leaders, administrators have a great deal balancing on their shoulders – but nonetheless, should make setting a tone of compassion and commitment a priority. Teachers, students and their parents are scared and uncertain about how this new school year is going to unfold. In communication outreach to your district stakeholders, administrators need to ask for patience and flexibility as everyone navigates these uncharted waters together. Even in the best of situations, challenges are inevitable when switching over to either a remote learning environment or a hybrid model. This is the perfect time to set a tone of camaraderie and teamwork.
Just as was the case in March, it’s important to set your teachers and students up for success. Hosting a refresher session or two for your teachers and students on the technology platforms your district will be using can make all the difference in how the back-to-learning season will go. The companies that developed those tools and systems are your best resources: chances are they have developed lots of great online tutorials and instructions for teachers and students. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel—use what’s out there!
Do you have teachers in your district who already have experience and proficiency using the technology tools? Why not host live online sessions and let those teachers share their best practices with their peers? This can help set the tone for teamwork within your district.
Will you be transitioning to synchronous or asynchronous online learning? The distinction is crucial as these are two very different delivery models. Both require training, but synchronous video sessions are similar to traditional face-to-face instruction, whereas asynchronous learning represents a significant departure from most teachers’ current teaching practices and comfort zones. It will be important to provide some retraining on such topics as: how to best facilitate text-based online discussions; how to employ the right tone and voice for asynchronous learning; and how to build community in an asynchronous environment. Don’t be intimidated: a few small tips can go a long way. And assuming you have set a tone of “we’re all in this together,” there will be some tolerance on everyone’s part to give it some time.
Regardless of the learning model you choose, providing training as soon as possible (with regular tune-ups), while offering just-in-time support as teachers and students get up to speed, are crucial strategies for success.
It can’t be overstated - please pay special attention to students who need extra support. The most popular online learning technologies have come a long way towards providing functionality to address the needs of students who are hard of hearing or have visual or other impairments, but it will be especially important for administrators and teachers to reach out to their most vulnerable students to make sure they are getting the learning they deserve.
As we continue to navigate these very uncertain times, many of our teachers and students are justifiably experiencing high levels of anxiety around this global pandemic. The support we all provide them and kindness we show may just be our defining moment as educators.
John Englander is the Associate Dean of Humanities at VHS Learning.